A rich sensory experience featuring exquisite cinematography and a score by Academy Award™-winning composer Alexandre Desplat, Tale of Tales interweaves three enchanting sagas about universal themes of life, death and love. Overflowing with surreal, dazzling surprises, this intoxicating cinematic spectacle is a delirious excursion into the dark heart of fairy tales.
In the kingdom of Longtrellis, the King (John C. Reilly) and his Queen (Salma Hayek) attempt to conceive a child through very unusual means. Meanwhile, in Highhills, the none-too-bright monarch (Toby Jones) marries his daughter off to a brutal ogre while developing a strange obsession with breeding a giant flea. At the same time, the sex-obsessed ruler of Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel) is in for a shock when the woman with whom he falls in love is not quite what she seems.
Movies with interweaving story lines. Ever since 'Pulp Fiction', we've seen a whole slew of films that take three or more storylines and intercut them throughout the movie. In some cases, they work, like in the case of ‘Pulp Fiction,’ ‘Traffic,’ and ‘21 Grams.’ In other cases, they can't afford a Quentin Tarantino aaand…. they don't work as well, like in the case of ‘Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead,’ ‘Southland Tales,’ and the recent Clint Eastwood film ‘Hereafter.’ While I always admire the ambition, films with multiple storylines can feel unfocused, and none of the storylines seem to get the attention they deserve. Unfortunately, that's the case with ‘Tale of Tales,’ a movie so unfocused and without substance, it left me wondering why I was bothering with it at all.
What we have here are three separate storylines that are told simultaneously throughout the film, all of which involve 17th century royalty and mythical creatures. Our first story starts out with the King and Queen of Longtrellis (the awkwardly cast John C. Reilly and Salma Hayek), who want nothing more than to bear a child and heir. They want it so much that they make a deal with a local Necromancer (Franco Pistoni) to give them the chance of a child, but in return they must kill a sea urchin and eat its heart. If this sounds cool, trust me, it is less impressive to see how it plays out. In a laughably bad scene, King Longtrellis puts on a 17th century scuba suit (who knew they even had them back then), and duels the urchin; unfortunately, they both take final last blows and kill each other. The Queen reluctantly eats the heart of the urchin and gives birth to an albino child named Elias (Christian Lees) who grows up to discover another teenager that looks exactly like him named Jonah (Jonah Lees). With the Queen’s disapproval of Jonah’s social class, the two teens plot a scheme to trick her into thinking they are the same person. Hayek is the perfect actress for this role, and even though I wanted a little more scenery chewing then we got, she still commands the screen with her usual powerful performance. This subplot is such an interesting story that it has the potential to be a movie in and of itself, but because of its hugely anticlimactic ending, I was left a bit underwhelmed.
The second story is the least successful of the three. It stars Vincent Cassel as The King of Strongcliff. This King is quite the 17th century man whore. One day, he hears a melody from a woman he has never seen named Dora (Hayley Carmichael), but feels compelled to bed. However, Dora is actually only beautiful on the inside, and on the outside looks hideous. Dora agrees to sleep with her King only if they are in complete darkness. He reluctantly consents, but breaks his promise the morning after, and is so repulsed that he has her thrown out of his window where tree branches break her fall. She is saved by a passing witch, and after an awkward scene where Dora is forced to feed off of the witch’s bare breast, Dora is given endless beauty. Suddenly King Strongcliff lusts for her again and marries her. How long will her ruse last? This storyline feels paper thin without much depth, and is a waste of a great actor like Cassel. It leaves me wondering why it was included, and definitely couldn't stand on its own.
The last and most complete story is the third, which starts with The King of Highhills (Toby Jones), who is looking for a suitor for his daughter, Violet (Bebe Cave). He arranges a special test for those who apply, thinking that no one will pass: to identify the skin of a certain animal. Unfortunately for our King, not only does someone know the answer, but he just so happens to be an ogre (Guillaume Delaunay). After a heated argument between Violet and her father, she gets turned over to the repulsive ogre and taken to his “home” which is in a cave on a cliff. Completely frightened of her groom to be, she feels compelled to escape; but how? This is the most complete short story out of the three, and even though it doesn't seem as though it could be expanded into a full length feature of its own, it feels just right for the amount of time it is given. This storyline also has the advantage of having the only satisfyingly ending of all the three plots, and is the only one that feels like it wraps up all of its loose ends.
This film is greatly hampered by its intercut three story structure, and all of the stories have different degrees of success. It is almost like they focused so hard on the idea of having these three stories, that they didn't sit down and flesh it all out. Unfortunately, the premise of having three stories involving ancient demons and sorcerers, incorporated into the 17th century short stories falls a little flat. It is an admirable idea, but one that in no way lives up to its full potential.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings ‘Tale of Tales’ to Blu-ray with the typical slip cover that slips off to reveal a hard cover case. Inside the hardcover case is a BD-50 Blu-ray to the right with a cool background of Hayek eating the heart of the sea urchin spanning the entire width of the inside of the case. Once you insert the Blu-ray, there will be the usual skippable theatrical trailers followed by the obligatory still frame main menu that lets you navigate from there.
Shout! Factory makes an attempt at giving ‘Tale of Tales’ the regal treatment, with a 1080P MPEG-4 AVC encode that feels more like a service level transfer. Framed at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this transfer is all about interior and exterior scenes. We start out with exterior scenes that received that regal treatment, with detail work that is absolutely gorgeous, and a strong and bold color palette that rivals the majority of transfers on the market today.
Unfortunately, the interior scenes are in a whole different area of the transfer spectrum, and not the good side. There is a lot of tampering with white levels going on here, and it hurts pretty much every interior shot. They all have a white hue to them that usually indicates someone thought the interior scenes were too dark and cranked the white levels a bit too high. Remember the scene with John C. Reilly vs the sea urchin? Yeah, I had to do a rewind on how exactly they killed each other, because the white levels where so damn high that I had to strain to see through the overly bright murky water they are in.
Interior and exterior shots are like night and day in this transfer. Exteriors exceed expectations while interiors are a white and hazy mess. If the powers that be would have trusted the cinematography, I would be singing a different tune. As it stands, this is one of the most uneven transfers I have seen in quite some time with high highs, and pretty damn low lows.
‘Tale of Tales’ comes to Blu-ray with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that is front heavy at times, but effective. Don't be fooled into thinking this is going to be a ‘Game of Thrones’-esque movie with all its medieval creatures. They aren't on screen for long in this film, and all three of these stories tend to be more talky affairs. Add in long stretches with no score and you can see how this can be a more front heavy track.
But when the score does kick in, you hear it through the surrounds, and all through the sound field. The LFE track works the same way, assisting with the score, but is also given an extra boost during more action driven moments. Take the underwater fight scene for example, or the scene where Dora is thrown out of the window. Both scenes have impactful bass to them that lets you know this track has some legs.
Not every track has to be an aggressive one like ‘Mad Max: Fury Road.’ I have nothing against more subtle tracks as long as it fits the mood the movie is trying to portray, and when it is needed the surrounds and the bass kick in. This track is a good example of an audio mix that is a little subdued at times, but does exactly what it is intended to do.
The Making of Tale of Tales (56:22 HD) – I absolutely love features like this that take me by surprise and are far deeper than you would expect. This making of goes through all aspects of the production. From set and costume design, character motivations, and all aspects of the cinematography, no stone is left unturned in this relatively small Italian production.
Theatrical Trailer (1:59 HD)
TV Spot (0:50 HD)
I believe in taking a film at its face value. This is a small Italian production, and I didn't come into this movie expecting three deep and epic tales of dragons and magic. What I did expect was three stories that were balanced, felt equally important, and, more importantly, knew how to end. Unfortunately, that is not what this. Hayek’s story had the strongest performances but was lacking in the ending, Cassel’s story felt completely unnecessary and superfluous throughout, and Toby Jones’s story had the best flow, and even though you couldn't stretch it into its own feature, it has the only satisfying ending. Each storyline has its moments, and I commend the ambition on display here, but ultimately this film falls victim to a very common enemy to multiple storylines: feeling very uneven.