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Season of the Witch(2011)
14th-century knights transport a suspected witch to a monastery, where monks deduce her powers could be the source of the Black Plague.
For more about Season of the Witch and the Season of the Witch Blu-ray release, see Season of the Witch Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on June 21, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Claire Foy, Rory McCann, Robert Sheehan, Christopher Lee
Director: Dominic Sena
» See full cast & crew
Season of the Witch Blu-ray Review
The road to ruin.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, June 21, 2011
Is it wrong to hear the clickety clack of coconuts filling in for horses' hooves whilst watching an ostensibly deadly serious film? What about entertaining visions of the hilarious 1968 spoof of Bergman's The Seventh Seal, De Düva, the short which has Death challenging helpless villagers to a lively game of tennis? All should be forgiven when considering antidotes to Season of the Witch, a film which tries to combine a number of disparate genres, including horror, fantasy, and just for good measure, buddy and road films, and comes up with a decidedly odd mishmash that almost intentionally invites scabrous commentary. Add in the presence of Nicolas Cage, and actor who drives even his own fans crazy a lot of the time, and Ron Perlman, a performer whose quirks often overwhelm the films in which he appears, and Season of the Witch seems to be a case study of a film trying too hard to deliver on too many levels, and often failing spectacularly to deliver at all. Despite being quite beautifully lensed, and with an arresting enough premise that it really should have been better than it ended up being, Season of the Witch becomes the filmic equivalent of an old Penny Dreadful or even a modern day train wreck, that is, something not especially pleasant to experience but something that's oddly captivating simply because of how patently horrifying it is.
Director Dominic Sena isn't exactly a workhorse, having helmed a mere handful of films over the past couple of decades. Sena's visual sense is about the best thing that Season of the Witch has going for it, as a motley group of knights errant (literally, they've deserted the Crusades), a Priest and some hangers-on move through a series of magical landscapes as they attempt to deliver a supposed witch to a monastery where the last copy of a holy book which will determine her guilt or innocence can be found. But Season of the Witch isn't satisfied with only this convoluted amount of plot detail. We also get sidebars involving the Black Plague, a sort of Red Riding Hood emphasis on wolves, big, bad and definitely deadly, and an overall ambience that is rather reminiscent of a medieval Van Helsing. Now, I'm one of the few people I know who actually liked Van Helsing, but the juxtaposition of so many bizarre elements in this film makes it a rather odd, demonic duck.
It's both a blessing and a curse that Season of the Witch is as short as it is. On the curse side, it means that plot points, motivations, and actual logic fly by with the speed of a winged devil and the viewer is lucky to be able to glean much about any of them. On the blessing side, this is a film that moves along so briskly that all of the passing qualms—and there are many—about the film tend to flutter away just as quickly as they crop up. Say what you will about how mixed up this film is on several levels, you ultimately can't complain about its pace, which lurches from anecdotal sequence to anecdotal sequence with breathless alacrity.
Ron Perlman is an actor who can routinely elevate even the most odiferous filmic offering, and he does some fun work in Season of the Witch, managing to give the film one of its few elemental sparks. In fact the film would have done much better had it focused more on Perlman's character Felson's iconoclastic sense of humor. Season of the Witch has one of its few pitch perfect sequences during its climax, when the knights are battling a demon (as opposed to just your everyday, garden variety witch), and Felson repeatedly head butts the winged creature in an attempt to defeat it. That sort of silliness combined with a horror movie trope works perfectly but unfortunately Season of the Witch only utilizes this kind of approach very fitfully.
Cage is, well, Cage, though the good news is he's rather remarkably restrained throughout much of the film. The best performances, aside from Perlman, come from a nice coterie of supporting turns, including Claire Foy as the is she or isn't she witch, and Stephen Graham as Hagamar, the ne'er-do-well the knights enlist to be their guide through unknown territory. And despite some complaints that cropped up during the film's brief theatrical release that it was shoddy looking, this is in actuality a very polished looking film that artfully combines CGI with a painterly approach that highlights its putative Grimm's fairy tale sort of darkness and dourness. The production design is also quite good, with some nicely appointed sets and costumes.
While Season of the Witch may not in fact be as bad as a lot of people have claimed, that doesn't mean it's very good. The film certainly could have benefited from a few more minutes of running time to help flesh out situations and characters (the deleted scenes help at least somewhat in this regard), and it certainly could have used a good deal more of the goofy sense of humor which Perlman tries, usually unsuccessfully, to force feed into the project. As it stands, you may be spending as much time thinking of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Seventh Seal or even De Düva as you will about Season of the Witch if you watch this film, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Season of the Witch Blu-ray, Video Quality
Season of the Witch came under what I consider to be unwarranted criticism (among much general warranted criticism) for its look, but you'd be hard pressed to prove it by this sterling AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. Does the film eschew realism and often give us impressionistic, painterly backgrounds a la a sort of Medieval 300? Undoubtedly. Does it often wallow in horror and fantasy movie clichés of heavily filtered hues, typically either cobalt blue or sepia? Undoubtedly. And yet the film often looks lustrous in high definition, no matter what one may think of the actual content. From the first extreme close-ups of a hapless priest closing in on three ostensible witches, fine detail is abundant, with every hair seemingly individually countable. Though the film has some smudgy CGI at times, that only seems to heighten the surreal feeling, for better or worse. Light is used very creatively throughout the film, with dapples of darkness and bright hues dancing around the frame, and that is captured magnificently on this Blu-ray. The long sequence is Wormwood Forest is a luscious display of excellent color even within a highly filtered environment, though this is one of the occasional times throughout the film where crush is apparent. Contrast and black levels are solid throughout Season of the Witch, and I for one think this is one of the sharpest looking Blu-rays in recent memory. It's too bad the film itself isn't better.
Season of the Witch Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Season of the Witch is presented with a boisterous and occasionally bombastic lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which makes the most of the film's horror and fantasy elements, with some inventive, if at times hackneyed, immersion. The inventiveness comes in a series of well executed (no pun intended) montage sequences early in the film, where a series of battle sounds effortlessly segue into each other, with the quicksilver clashing of swords spilling into various surround channels as one battle melts into another. Also very well done are several distinct foley effects, as in the opening sequence dealing with the execution of three supposed witches, whose necks all snap at the end of ropes with appropriate aplomb. There's also a kind of funny panning effect as one witch screams across the soundfield as she meets her demise. Some of the mix, while undeniably effective, falls back on cliché-ridden tropes, as when the knights come across two people supposedly dead from the Plague, which of course means one has to jolt unexpectedly with an attendant burst of LFE. It will no doubt produce a startle response, as well as a quick rolling of the eyes afterward. Dialogue is pretty resolutely anchored in the front channels, though occasionally we get appropriate directionality. The final sequence with the biggest, baddest demon plays out with a fair amount of bombast, with various sound effects ricocheting around the soundfield and creating a very detailed amount of immersion.
Season of the Witch Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Season of the Witch Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
As I stated in the main body of this review, I actually was rather fond of Van Helsing, a film which bears a certain stylistic resemblance to this one, so I was more than willing to give Season of the Witch a fair shot, and truth be told, I probably didn't find it as outright hideous as many others have. That said, this film never rises above standard issue sword and sorcery fare, despite a strong cast and a promising premise. The best things about this film are its elegant and distinctive look and its aggressive sound design. If you don't care much what's behind the image and sounds, Season of the Witch may actually serve as an okay rental if nothing better is on the horizon.
Season of the Witch Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray - June 28-July 4 - June 28, 2011
Today, we find ourselves in a familiar position – another Blu-ray release of The Lord of the Rings and another video presentation controversy. This time, fans get the coveted extended editions of the films, which while Director Peter Jackson has emphatically proclaimed ...
• Season of the Witch Blu-ray Announced - April 28, 2011
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment have announced that they will release on Blu-ray Dominic Sena's Season of the Witch (2011), starring Nicolas Cage (The Rock, Con Air), Ron Perlman (Cronos, Hellboy II: The Golden Army), and Ulrich Thomsen (The Celebration, ...
Season of the Witch Blu-ray, Forum Discussions
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