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Friday, June 10, 2011
The best way I can describe director Dominic Sena's SEASON OF THE WITCH (2011) is that it's too bad to be really good, but too good to be really bad. It's the kind of movie I'd be tempted to give up on after about ten minutes if it weren't so much fun to watch.
Nicolas Cage, an actor I really like even though people seem to enjoy not liking him these days, is pretty much miscast as a badass Christian soldier during the Crusades. But this is probably a good thing, because it wouldn't be quite as much fun watching a more appropriate actor in the part. The closeup of him snapping into battle mode with that silly-looking helmet bobbling on his head is a priceless moment.
After a good old-fashioned witch-hangin' backfires on an unlucky priest, we switch to Cage as Behman and Ron Perlman as his rowdy sidekick Felson, kicking ass during an elaborate montage of battles a la Kurt Russell at the beginning of SOLDIER. One passage resembles a 14th-century beer commercial as Felson, in the midst of carnage, bellows "I'm building up a powerful thirst, my friend!" and the next scene shows them in a pub wallowing in beer and babes.
This expensive-looking CGI kill-a-thon, done in the style of 300 and LORD OF THE RINGS, ends with Behman and Felson deserting after the slaughter of some women and children sours them on battle. They return to England, engaging in some of this film's really bad dialogue along the way:
"We've been walking all day and haven't found a soul."
"Keep your souls. Let me find a chicken."
--only to find the Black Plague in full swing. Captured as deserters, Behman and Felson are offered freedom by a dying cardinal (Christopher Lee, unrecognizable under some heavy disfigurement makeup) if they'll transport a suspected witch to a distant monastery. There, the monks are said to possess a book which can remove her powers and, hopefully, end the plague.
Joining them on the trip are steadfast priest Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore), brave knight Eckhart (Ulrich Thomsen), Hagamar, a comical con man paroled from the stocks to serve as their guide (Stephen Graham), and Kay (Robert Sheehan), an altar boy who wants to be a knight. Their long, arduous journey is the best and least goofy section of the film, with some interesting dramatic moments arising from the question of whether or not the young woman in the cage is really a witch. Indications are positive as Claire Foy deftly alternates between winsome innocence and witchlike malevolence.
The obligatory "crossing of the rickety rope-bridge over a vast gorge" scene is well-done with some really good SPFX. Later, when a pack of ferocious wolves attack, we get our first taste of bad CGI as they magically morph into even fiercer beasts. But it's when our heroes finally reach the mountaintop monastery and confront the greatest supernatural evil of all that SEASON OF THE WITCH begins to resemble an upscale SyFy Original Movie. Even a rousing battle against a horde of wall-crawling zombie monks can't rescue the film's finale from the cringeworthy CGI used to render its main villain.
Too bad that a fairly entertaining movie with such good production values should go so far off the rails at the end simply because of some hokey, cartoony CGI creature. Especially since the ending as originally filmed (which is contained in the extras menu) was so much more effective before someone had the bright idea of digitally mucking it up.
The DVD from 20th-Century Fox Home Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with English 5.1 and French 2.0 Dolby Digital sound. Subtitles are in English, French, and Spanish. Extras include deleted scenes, two featurettes, the alternate ending (in which the zombie monks have a more EVIL DEAD quality that I like), and the film's trailer.
Despite the many good moments contained in SEASON OF THE WITCH, some of its dialogue and situations will no doubt provoke a lot of viewers to go into full-out MST3K mode. But as far as I'm concerned, any 14-century action-horror flick with Nick Cage and Ron Perlman as manly knights slashing their way through a succession of witches, zombies, and Godless infidels can't be all bad.
Buy it at Amazon.com: