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Season of the Witch: Blu-ray + Digital Copy Review

Season of the Witch (2011) - original 2010 Lionsgate movie poster Season of the Witch

Theatrical Release: January 7, 2011 / Running Time: 96 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Dominic Sena / Writer: Bragi Schut

Cast: Nicolas Cage (Behmen), Ron Perlman (Felson), Stephen Campbell Moore (Debelzaq), Stephen Graham (Hagamar), Ulrich Thomsen (Johann Eckhart), Claire Foy (The Girl), Robert Sheehan (Kay von Wollenbarth), Christopher Lee (Cardinal D'Ambroise), Brνan F. O'Byrne (Grandmaster - uncredited)

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Season of the Witch had a few factors working against it. For one thing, it opened on January 7th. Getting released in the final weeks of a year is the ultimate sign of studio confidence. It says "we're expecting this to be an Oscar contender." Just a week or two later, and it is the ultimate sign of a studio's lack of confidence. This says "the movie's terrible and our only hope for a decent run is to open against no new competition and hope that people somehow disinterested in both acclaimed movies and grandiose spectacle will give our modest movie a chance." Season had the added bonus of having been delayed ten months from its original scheduled release. Delays occur for many reasons and in this case, Relativity Media decided to distribute the film themselves rather than let Lionsgate do it as planned in March 2010. Still, it's a warning sign.
Delaying until November or December is promising; delaying until January is a surrender. Furthermore and least among the concerns, there was that title and the potential confusion that could derive from it. After all, this Season of the Witch had nothing to do with George A. Romero's 1972 horror movie, Donovan's 1966 psychedelic song, the thus-subtitled Halloween III, or novelist James Leo Herlihy's 1971 follow-up to Midnight Cowboy.

This Season of the Witch is an original film, written by Bragi F. Schut, the creator of the short-lived CBS sci-fi drama "Threshold." After a 13th century prologue shows the unfair sentencing of three women accused of witchcraft, we move to the middle of the 14th century, where the rest of the movie takes place. Behmen of Bleibruck (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) are knights who have done more than their fair share of infidel slaying in various battles from the latter stages of the Crusades. After he finds his sword fatally thrust into a young woman, Behmen starts to doubt whether all this killing in God's name is any better than just killing. He and Felson desert, taking a moral stand before storming out.

Behmen (Nicolas Cage) takes a stand before his commander and his buddy Felson (Ron Perlman) follows him. Christopher Lee proves you're never too old for ghastly make-up, playing unsightly Cardinal D'Ambroise, whose district has been hit with the pestilence.

The first town they reach is suffering from a terrible plague, attributed to a young witch (Claire Foy) believed to be both evil and powerful. Gravely afflicted by pestilence, dying Cardinal D'Ambroise (Christopher Lee) entrusts Behmen and Felson with the task of dealing with the woman, transporting her to a distant monastery. Behmen refuses, but upon thinking the matter over, he changes his mind and agrees to the mission, so long as the accused witch is given a fair trial. So begins our heroes' journey, with a party that includes the kindred deserters, a swindler-turned-guide (Stephen Graham), a young man looking for knighthood (Robert Sheehan), and the dubious, caged prisoner herself, named Anna.

For a surprisingly long time, Season of the Witch is watchable and even enjoyable. Then its final act arrives and reveals Anna to be not a witch but something else and the whole thing falls to pieces. I can't imagine many viewers will appreciate the last 30 minutes or so and their failings bring to light other issues you might otherwise have been willing to let slide. For example, characters are killed off without visual clarity or viewer care. Not so good.

I found one central aspect of the film rather agreeable and that is the rapport of Cage and Perlman's leads. This isn't the kind of movie in which you expect to get a bromance, but sure enough we do in the pair of longtime friends and warriors. Behmen and Felson's exchanges are often comic in nature and while they're not enough to turn this into Your Highness, they are amusing in a bizarre sort of way. The film is highly lax regarding historical accuracy, letting characters speak in what we accept as old-fashioned vernacular one moment and modern slang the next.

The accused witch (Claire Foy) has many things to say, but beware: she has been known to deceive. Nicolas Cage has made more movies in the past few years featuring torches and fire than most actors do in a lifetime.

That's nothing to get worked up about, as the presence of Nicolas Cage tells us. I don't know what it is about Cage, but it seems like every movie he's made in the past ten years, no matter how dark, has had strong comic overtones to it. This one doesn't push the comedy very hard, maintaining a straight face and serious tone. Still, it's Nicolas Cage,
sporting yet another look (actually, they've more or less all started to blend stringy length in back and a goatee in front) and collecting his twentieth big payout in about five years. Desperation may be fueling Cage's work ethic and the performances are largely as interchangeable as Cage's voice is consistent. But something about either the actor or the public persona he's developed makes his movies a better time with him than they'd be without.

And Season isn't a bad time for about an hour, keeping us about as intrigued as a non-historical medieval adventure yarn can. The target audience for this sort of thing probably would prefer more bloodshed and an R rating, but as is, there's enough violence to unsettle someone more interested in the "period" than the "action" parts. Middle Ages buffs aren't likely to get much from this, other than standard reminders of the religious intolerance and practiced injustice of the time. That at least is something you won't get in today's more action-packed Cage flicks like Bangkok Dangerous and Drive Angry.

Still, only Cage's ardent supporters (a seemingly dwindling demographic) could emerge from Season certain their 90 minutes have been well-spent. Sure, it's mindless and cheesy throughout, but adding stupid and nonsensical near the end proves to be too much to forgive.

Domestically, Season was a dud, its $25 million gross $15 M shy of its production budget and contributing clearly to Cage's present box office slump. Overseas earnings helped, however, lifting the film to a respectable $88 M worldwide tally. Unfortunately for Relativity Media, foreign distribution rights belonged to a variety of other studios.

Unusually taking almost six months, Season came to DVD and Blu-ray late last month, as one of the first two Relativity films distributed on video by 20th Century Fox.

Season of the Witch: Blu-ray + Digital Copy cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
DTS-HD 5.1 MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: June 28, 2011
Two single-sided discs (BD-50 & DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard/Foil Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($29.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Defying expectations but approximating theatrical exhibition, Season of the Witch is presented in 1.78:1. The film looks quite spectacular on Blu-ray, its dark, moody visuals holding up nicely, with some fine grain and amazing detail (check out the pores on Cage!). The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack also doesn't disappoint. There are many good uses of atmosphere throughout the film, which the Blu-ray's mix really enables to flourish.

Spoiler alert: 'tis the season of the CGI demon as well. It may look like a bunch of men having fun outdoors, but fight choreography is serious work.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The Blu-ray's average, all-HD extras slate begins with seven deleted scenes running ten minutes as a group.
These include an alternate opening scene, an additional Christopher Lee scene, some intimate character moments, and a more graphic unrated version of the prologue. None of it is remarkable.

Next come two making-of featurettes.

The title "Becoming the Demon" (8:29) is itself something of a spoiler, but it obviously details a transformation scene, paying special attention to the design and visual effects involved.

"On a Crusade" (6:07) discusses the early Crusades action montage, from battle choreography to the final product.

An alternate ending (9:20), advertised on a slipcover sticker, is technically an alternate climax, and not a drastically different one at that. Featuring more mystery and less CGI, it could have used an introduction or commentary to make more sense of it and clarify why it wasn't used.

Season's theatrical trailer (2:26) is preserved here, which is always nice.

The extras conclude with Fox's standard "Digital Copy 'How To'" (3:35), which dramatically overexplains every step in the process of transferring digital copies to computers and portable devices.

Speaking of digital copies, one is offered here, the only item on a second disc, a ROM-only DVD. A standard Fox inclusion, that's just the thing for watching Season of the Witch on the go!

Judging from a scan of the back cover, Season's DVD seems to have all the bonus features assembled here, minus the digital copy.

The Blu-ray's menu gives us an ordinary montage that opens with chant and moves onto action clips and score. Annoyingly, the disc neither supports bookmarks nor resumes playback from where you left off.

The two discs are packed in a standard Blu-ray case and topped by a slipcover applying stylish foil effects to the front and back. An insert provides your unique activation code for the digital copy.

"Who goes there?" Felson (Ron Perlman) and Behmen (Nicolas Cage) check out with sword the youngster who has been tailing them.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

There's a good chance you'll find Season of the Witch harmless (if hokey and hammy) for about an hour, but what follows will sour you on the whole thing. Nicolas Cage makes a lot of movies and, lately, most of them are trashed by critics and avoided by the public. For not being what you'd call a fan of him, I do find that the projects he chooses tend to be interesting and benefit from even his half-hearted characterization. That's true of Season, before it wears out its welcome and goes off the deep end. And if nothing else, his buddy chemistry with Ron Perlman is appealing and memorable. That's not enough to save the film, but it may be enough to warrant a viewing.

Should you like the movie enough to revisit it regularly, Fox's Blu-ray is a satisfying way to do so, delivering an excellent feature presentation and an okay 40 minutes of extras. But one viewing should be adequate, if not more than adequate for you.

Buy Season of the Witch from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital Copy / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New: Red Riding Hood • Insidious • The Rite • Of Gods and Men • Beauty and the Beast (Criterion Collection Blu-ray) • Soul Surfer
Nicolas Cage: Drive Angry • Kick-Ass • Knowing • Ghost Rider • Con Air • Next • The Sorcerer's Apprentice
More Cage: National Treasure • National Treasure: Book of Secrets • The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans
Ron Perlman: Hellboy II: The Golden Army • Tangled | Christopher Lee: Return from Witch Mountain
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time • Legend of the Seeker: The Complete First Season • Spartacus: Blood and Sand: The Complete First Season

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Reviewed July 29, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 Rogue, Relativity Media, Atlas Entertainment, and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.