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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Secret of Moonacre

October 8th, 2010

The Secret of Moonacre - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

The Secret of Moonacre is a British film made in 2007 and originally scheduled for a 2008 release. It did have a world premiere at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival; however, it was pushed back till early 2009. When it finally did open in its native market, it bombed. (An opening per screen average of below 1000 pounds is like opening below the Mendoza Line.) The film had a special screening this past summer, but realistically, it came out direct-to-DVD a couple weeks ago. That doesn't install a lot of confidence in the film, but perhaps it will be able to surprise.

The Movie

The film starts at the funeral of Colonel George Herbert Merryweather, father of Maria Merryweather. Maria's mother, Eliza, had passed away previously, so her father's death leaves Maria an orphan. Her father's debts, as it turns out, leave her homeless. The only item he left to her was a book The Ancient Chronicles of Moonacre Valley. The book tells the story of a woman so beautiful that she was blessed by nature itself, becoming the Moon Princess. As the daughter of the De Noir family, she is to be married to Sir Wrolf Merryweather, the son of the Merryweather family, as the two families are the most powerful in the Moonacre Valley.

Without a home, she has to travel to the countryside to live with her uncle, Sir Benjamin Merryweather, while Miss Heliotrope comes with her out of loyalty to her mother. Before they arrive, they are accosted by two highway bandits and when they finally complete the trip, their Uncle Bengamin is a less than hospitable host. Not mean, exactly, but instead simply disinterested in having company. As soon as Maria settles into her new home, she notices a number of strange things. There's food on the table, but no cook. Every morning there's a new picture outside her bedroom door, and every day her uncle takes it down. Her uncle's castle is surrounded by woods, but she is warned to never enter there.

The more she does explore and the more she learns, the more she is convinced the book her father left to her is real and that the Moon Princess really existed. However, she also learns that the marriage of the Moon Princess to Sir Wrolf Merryweather didn't exactly bring together the two familys, but tore them apart, the result of which was a curse that was about to come true. Now Maria must end the feud between her family and the De Noir family, led by Coeur De Noir, lest the valley be destroyed.

While watching this movie, you would be hard-pressed not to be constantly reminded of elements that seem borrowed from other movies. Even with these borrowed elements, the script is still very thin with long stretches where not nearly enough happens to hold your interest. And when the plot does advance, it's usually more than just a little confusing. I suspect that it would make a lot more sense if you've read the original book, The Little White Horse.

Without much of a script, the performances suffer with many actors either coming across as disinterested or a little overdone. (Surprisingly, Tim Curry wasn't his usual energetic self.) The only one in the main cast that managed to avoid those two extremes was Dakota Blue Richards, who actually makes a compelling heroine, even if the story around her is less engaging.

Arguably the best part of the movie is the production value and the set and costumes look great. The special effects are a little dodgy at times, but this is a relatively low-budget film ($27 million production budget) so you can't expect blockbuster level special effects.

The Extras

The DVD and the Blu-ray both have the same set of extras, nearly 20 minutes of behind-the-scenes, just over 30 minutes of interviews with the main cast, a 23-minute long making of featurette, and finally 11 minutes of deleted scenes.

The Blu-ray has some video issues, but these are due mostly to artistic intent and / or other production issues. A lot of times the image is intentionally given a mystical, fairytale quality, which does present some issues with the detail level. Also, some of the special effects are not up to par, which it a lot more noticeable in High Definition. On the other hand, the costumes and the sets really stand out. The audio is stronger with good use of surround speakers for ambient sounds, as well as directional effects.

Finally, the Blu-ray only costs 15% more, so it is clearly the better deal.

The Verdict

The Secret of Moonacre is not as bad as it Tomatometer Score would otherwise indicate; however, it suffers even when compared to Dakota Blue Richards' previous film, The Golden Compass, which wasn't exactly the best example of the genre. That said, I think it should entertain younger members of the target audience, girls that are a little younger than Dakota Blue Richards was when she made the movie. (I believe she was 13 when the movie was filmed.) In this case, I would recommend renting, but if you are interested in buying, the Blu-ray is the better deal.
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