Blu-ray Review: Maleficent

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Disney’s Maleficent turned out to be one of the more unexpected box office smashes of 2014, currently the second-highest grossing film of the year. It may not seem like it in retrospect but Angelina Jolie starring in a live-action reworking of Sleeping Beauty was by no means a sure thing. Available on Blu-ray November 4, Maleficent is relatively sturdily-constructed family film helmed by first-time director Robert Stromberg. The title character provided Jolie with a new signature role and the biggest hit of her career to date.

We first meet Maleficent as a young faerie (Isobelle Molloy) who loves using her giant wings to glide and swoop through a magical, human-free territory. People and faeries continually clash, each staying in their respective kingdoms, but young Maleficent strikes up a strong friendship with young Stefan (Michael Higgins). Though destined to become king of the humans, their feelings transcend species-based prejudice. Once the now-adult Stefan (Sharlto Copley) is tasked with avenging the reigning king, injured and deeply shamed by the now-adult Maleficent (Jolie), the former friends are now rivals. Unable to bring himself to actually kill Maleficent as ordered, he barbarically cuts off her wings after drugging her into unconsciousness. The wings serve as “proof” that he has done away with the faerie queen permanently.

Maleficent feat (380x201).jpgThe following events should be pretty familiar to anyone who has seen Disney’s 1959 animated classic. King Stefan and Queen Leila (Hannah New, given a part so underwritten that it barely exists) welcome their child, Princess Aurora (Vivienne Jolie-Pitt and Eleanor Worthington Cox as youngsters, Elle Fanning as a teen), into the world. A bitter, spiteful Maleficent curses the child to fall into a lifelong, coma-like sleep on her 16th birthday, reversible only by “true love’s kiss.” Of course, in the wake of her horrifying assault by Stefan, Maleficent doesn’t believe in the existence of true love.

Maleficent landscape (380x214).jpgOnce the plot moves past the rather engrossing first act, highlighted by the genuine horror of Maleficent’s disfigurement, the momentum begins to stall. The budget bought a lot of elaborate, colorful special effects but the second act just kind of hangs in suspended animation. The twist of turning Maleficent into a deeper, more sympathetic “villain” is a good one, but as Aurora grows up—isolated in the woods and raised by a trio of pixies (rather annoyingly played by Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, and Juno Temple)—nothing much of interest happens. The characters are waiting for Aurora to turn 16 and so, in turn, is the audience.

Maleficent Elle Fanning (380x254).jpgDisney’s Blu-ray is spectacular, with a transfer that displays richly detailed image throughout. Though some of the cutesier, cartoonish digital characters stand out as less realistically-integrated, that’s certainly no fault of the pristine visual presentation. Top marks for the DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix, which features moments of tremendously immersive audio. When the king’s men surround Maleficent with iron shields (iron is basically Kryptonite to faeries), the pounding of the shields ricochets around the surround spectrum. Maleficent’s servant Diaval (Sam Riley), whom she can transform into any creature, eventually becomes a fire-breathing dragon during the action-heavy climax, providing more moments for super-directional audio. In short, Maleficent is the perfect Blu-ray with which to show off your home theater system.

Maleficent 1 (380x265).jpgSpecial features are a bit light, with about seven minutes of deleted scenes and a series of short featurettes. Most of the titles are more or less self-explanatory, “Aurora: Becoming a Beauty” (five minutes) deals with Elle Fanning becoming the princess, “Building an Epic Battle” (six minutes) looks at the action set pieces, “Classic Couture” (two minutes) focuses on costume design. Most interesting are “From Fairy Tale to Feature Film” (eight minutes), which charts the adaptation of the original animated film, and “Maleficent Revealed” (five minutes), which offers some insight into the special effects wizardry. The Blu-ray package also includes a standard DVD and Digital HD download.

Disney obviously did something very right with Maleficent, crafting a crowd-pleasing hit that will surely be required family viewing on home video throughout the holiday season. The sagging middle section of the film displays a dearth of imagination on the part of the filmmakers. It’s a competent blockbuster that lacks the spark of true inspiration.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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