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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Maleficent

November 3rd, 2014

Maleficent - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

Maleficent opened this past summer earning mixed reviews, but was a massive hit at the box office earning just over $750 million worldwide. Was the film better than the reviews would indicate? Or was it just a really slow summer so there wasn't a lot of competition?

The Movie

The film starts with a voice-over describing the two kingdoms, one of the humans and the other of the mythical creatures, and we are told the two kingdoms have had bad relations in the past. We are then introduced to a young fairy, Maleficent, who is a kind and friendly to all the fellow creatures of the Moors. One day, she is told by three fairies, Knotgrass, Flittle, and Thistlewit, that there is a human thief in the Moors. When she confronts him, she learns he's just a little boy, Stefan. They learn they are both orphans. Maleficent tells Stefan he can't come back, because it is too risky. Stefan says if she will be there, he will come back, because it would be worth the risk. When he finds out his iron ring burns her, he throws it away, so he doesn't hurt her again.

Time moves on and young friendship turns to teen romance between Maleficent and Stefan and he gives her what he calls True Love's Kiss. Sadly, as they grew up, Stefan, who always wanted to live in the king's castle, became drawn to power and drifted apart from Maleficent. Maleficent, in turn, becomes the protector of the Moors. We first see her in this role when the king, King Henry, leads an army to destroy Maleficent and take control of the Moors. The battle, one of only two big action scenes in the movie, goes poorly for the humans and King Henry is mortally wounded. He tells his men, which includes Stefan, that whoever kills Maleficent will become his successor when he dies. Stefan goes to Maleficent in order to kill her. He uses their past friendship to get close enough to do so, but can't. He does, on the other hand, cut off her wings as proof that she's dead. (He does it while she's asleep, so she doesn't realize what happened until after she wakes up and they are gone.)

Shortly after this happens, Maleficent saves a crow's life by turning him into a man, Diaval, and uses the ability she grants him to shape-change to spy on the kingdom. When he tells Maleficent that the now King Stefan has a daughter, and that there will be a christening, she decides to crash it. While there, she curses the young child, Aurora, so that on her 16th birthday she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into a deep sleep that can only be woken by True Love's Kiss. To protect his daughter, King Stefan tries to destroy all of the spinning wheels and hides Aurora in the woods with Knotgrass, Flittle, and Thistlewit looking after her. Of course, Maleficent almost immediately finds this hiding place, thanks to Diaval.

What happens next is well into spoiler territory, but it is the main part of the story, so it is nearly impossible to review the movie without talking about it, so prepare for a wall of white text. It turns out the three fairies are completely useless as caregivers and it is up to Maleficent and Diaval to keep Princess Aurora safe and healthy as she grows up from a young girl to a teenager. Maleficent wants King Stefan to suffer by seeing his daughter affected by her curse. This can't happen if, for example, the child walks off a cliff. While the three fairies never see Maleficent do any of these things, Princess Aurora does, so when the two come face-to-face for the first time, Aurora doesn't think Maleficent is the evil queen, but her fairy godmother. Maleficent and Aurora spend time in the Moors and Maleficent grows fonder of Aurora. That's the setup, but the big twist is, Maleficent decides to revoke the curse on Aurora, but when she tries, she fails. She made the curse so strong that even she can't stop it from happening.

I really like this setup. I was worried Maleficent would be too much like Oz the Great and Powerful, which told us the Wicked Witch of the West became wicked because a man dumped her, which is a terribly lazy bit of storytelling. Granted, one could argue that is technically what happened here, but it is less being dumped by Stefan that turned Maleficent evil, but being betrayed for political power that did it. However, instead of that being the crux of the story, the main part of the story is about Maleficent and Aurora forming a mother-daughter bond, of sorts. They are not technically related, but Maleficent is the closest Aurora has to a mother and Aurora is the closest Maleficent has to a daughter. This gives Maleficent the movie a greater storyarc and more emotional depth than its Golden Age counterpart.

I really liked this change. However, and this is important, this means Maleficent is not the origins story of the villain from Sleeping Beauty. If you read a lot of reviews, you will notice this point come up over and over again. Many critics complain that the story told here ruins the power of the Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. I don't think this is a fair complaint, because while these movies are obviously related, they are not the same stories from different points of view. Remember, in Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent cursed Aurora to die and it is only the intervention of the three fairies to reduce the curse to eternal slumber. That's not how it happens here. Here Maleficent curses Aurora as a way to get revenge on her father. So, if you go into this movie expecting to learn how the Maleficent from the 1959 film came to be, you will be disappointed. But showing Maleficent in this movie grow as a character isn't defanging the character from Sleeping Beauty. You can still enjoy that movie and this one at the same time.

The Extras

There are not a lot of extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray. There are five featurettes, but the longest is barely more than 8 minutes long, while the shortest is under two minutes. Aurora: Becoming A Beauty is a five-minute featurette on Elle Fanning being cast as Aurora. From Fairy Tale To Feature Film is an eight-minute featurette on adapting the film from the animated film. Building An Epic Battle is a six-minute featurette on shooting the early battle between King Henry and Maleficent. Classic Couture is just 94-seconds long and it looks at Maleficent's headpiece. The last featurette is Malificent Revealed a five-minute look at the special effects in the movie. Finally, there are five deleted scenes.

The technical presentation is close to reference level quality. The level of details is fantastic and even in the darker scenes, and there's plenty of them, there's never a issue of fine details being swallowed by the shadows. The colors are very vivid when called upon. There are a lot of scenes that don't have a lot of colors, on the other hand. As expected, there are no signs digital artifacts or compression issues. Likewise, the audio is excellent with a 7.1 surround sound track. The score is particularly strong in the surround sound speakers, but it never overpowers the dialogue. There are not many battle sequences, but the speakers come alive when called to. Even in the quieter scenes, there's enough ambient sounds to draw a viewer in.

The Blu-ray combo pack costs $20, which is just over $4 or 27% more than the DVD. This is a solid premium to pay for a Blu-ray, especially since it also includes the DVD.

The Verdict

Maleficent isn't exactly the story of Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. It uses the characters from that movie to tell an entirely new story. If you think that's an interesting idea, then absolutely watch this movie, but don't expect it to be faithful to the source material. There are not a lot of extras on the DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack, but enough that it is worth picking up.

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Filed under: Video Review, Maleficent, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Sharlto Copley, Kenneth Cranham, Elle Fanning, Michael Higgins, Lesley Manville, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Ella Purnell, Isobelle Molloy, Jackson Bews, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Mary Costa, Eleanor Audley