Season of the Witch (Blu-ray + Digital Copy)
Directed by Dominic Sena
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 95 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: June 28, 2011
Review Date: June 28, 2011
Dominic Sena’s Season of the Witch takes what might have been a provocative medieval journey movie and turns it into a generic action picture which makes very little of what could have been its strengths: a fine cast, an unusual time period that hasn’t been overused in the movies, and the possibility for marvelous, magical special effects. Instead the cast is mostly wasted, the time period is mostly thrown away (and the film is filled with anachronisms to boot), and the special effects are some of the cheapest looking seen in many a year, cartoony when they needed to be realistic and eerily gripping. This film is a massive disappointment.
After twelve years fighting in the Crusades and eventually reduced to slaughtering women and children, Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) have had enough and desert God’s army. Eventually captured, they’re sentenced to take a supposed witch (Claire Foy) to a faraway monastery, a journey of six days. There she’ll be tried by the monks of the monastery and judged guilty or innocent (she’s suspected of causing the plague which has gripped the area for the past two years). Sent along with the two knights are holy man Father Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore), the knight Eckhart (Ulrich Thomsen) who’s the team’s de facto master, the swindler Hagamar (Stephen Graham) who knows the way to the abbey, and altar boy Kay (Robert Sheehan) who’s a knight in training. The journey is filled with perils, and what they find when they reach their destination only proves that the surprising intensity of the dangers they must face has just begun.
It’s a pretty stale concoction that screenwriter Bragi F. Schut has served up for the story. The perils including attacks by marauders and a ravenous pack of wolves and that old standby of adventure movies – the rickety bridge in a state of near collapse with its rotting timbers and frayed ropes extending over a yawning chasm that would spell instant death to any who plunge into it – are all brought out of mothballs, dusted off, and used once more. True, director Sena does what he can to extend the tense atmosphere with these dangers as much as he is able (and the CGI work which elsewhere is ratty and rather obvious is very good in the bridge sequence, perhaps the best moments in the movie despite their over familiarity). But the ending is laughably bad with the real peril the men must face oh so obvious and not very threatening. At one moment, Ron Perlman uses head butts in struggling with it as if he’s still fighting rival outlaw bikers on Sons of Anarchy, and the CGI work is definitely sub par.
Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman each seem out of place in this 14th century tale. In Cage’s defense, his look seems right, but his banter is pure 21st century smack. Perlman has a razor cut hair style and a decided modern edge to his talk and demeanor. He’s never convincing for a second as a knight of the Crusades (though he does wield a mean blade). Claire Foy has a difficult job playing essentially three characters, only one of whom is human, and with her enigmatic palaver casting doubt on her guilt or innocence as a witch, she gives probably the most accomplished performance in the movie. Robert Sheehan displays the proper amount of pluckiness as the young knight-to-be, and Stephen Campbell Moore, like Claire Foy, brings enough mysterious behavior to his performance as the priest that we’re never quite sure which hand of God he stands beside. In brilliant plague-induced make-up is stalwart Christopher Lee who plays Cardinal D'Ambroise who sets the knights off on their quest for truth.
The film has been framed at 1.78:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Sharpness is excellent throughout the presentation revealing nice detail in skin, hair, chain mail, and the like. Color has been slightly desaturated to give the film a medieval look, but it sometimes results in purplish flesh tones. Black levels are good but do not plumb the utter depths possible for them. The film has been divided into 23 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix seems rather restrictive in its strength of envelopment. The music by Atli Orvarsson is spread through the fronts and rears, but it doesn’t resonate as it should. There are split ambient effects that occasionally pan through the soundstage, but they too lack immediacy and impact. Dialogue is cleanly recorded and is mostly found in the center channel though there is occasionally directionalized dialogue that gives the sound mix a bit of flair.
All of the bonus material is presented in 1080p.
There are seven deleted scenes which may be viewed individually or in one 10-minute group.
“Becoming the Demon” is an 8 ½-minute discussion by producer Alex Gartner and various members of Tippett Studios that performed the CGI work for the film discussing the climactic sequences of the movie.
“On a Crusade” is another discussion about the filming of the opening twelve-year Crusade montage. Producer Alex Gartner and stunt coordinator Andy Armstrong explain how multiple small groups were photographed and morphed together to form the army shots. This lasts 6 ¼ minutes.
The alternate ending is presented (basically using a human actor rather than the CGI figure which is used in the theatrical cut) in this 9 ¼-minute excerpt.
The movie’s theatrical trailer is presented for its 2 ½-minute running time.
The second disc in the package is the digital copy of the movie with enclosed instructions for installation on Mac and PC devices.
2/5 (not an average)
Season of the Witch, a generic popcorn movie featuring the expected good versus evil scenario set in the Middle Ages, doesn’t accomplish anything new or different, and with mediocre special effects and some bad producing and directing decisions, the film is not one that’s going to find many die hard fans. The movie, however, has been given a handsome high definition rendering.