Soon to be released on Blu-ray and DVD, Season of the Witch boasts battle scenes from the crusades, battle-hardened knights, religious zealots, the black death, witches, and even a treacherous journey across a medieval fantasy land, yet still seems to fall short of becoming even an average fantasy movie.
Season of the Witch follows two knights Behmen (Nicolas Cage, National Treasure) and Felson (Ron Perlman, Sons of Anarchy); who desert the crusades for moral reasons, yet end up quickly back in service of the church, agreeing to transport a suspected witch (Claire Foy, The Promise) over 400 leagues of dangerous countryside, and through a supposed labyrinth of a forest, to face trail for her witchy ways, and determine if she is the cause of the plague that has been sweeping the land and has apparently killed “3 or 4 [people].”
So the problem with Season of the Witch is not the premise (similar stories have been told for an age, with plenty of acceptable results), nor the cast; as Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman are both of a high enough calibre to carry the less able members of the cast (although they generally fail to do so, deliver no heart, and more often than not give the impression that they were both disinterested with the film); and while the movie contains some highly impressive productions values, it’s simply a lack of passion that makes it fall flat; that, and a resounding number of blatantly obvious plot-holes.
Not only does the most interesting aspect of the story (the “is she or isn’t she” a witch factor) get ripped away before it evens begins (by proving that witches are real in the opening, and basically telling the viewers that yes, she is a blatantly evil wench), but almost all of the intriguing moments fizzle away to nothing as soon as they are presented, and leave you watching a movie with little character development, barely any point, and not even an ounce of heart; meaning that while Season of the Witch can stand up to the best medieval fantasy movies in terms of production values, by the end of the tedious trek you’ll feel tired, numb, and won’t care who lives, who dies, or if the girl really was a witch anyway.
Yet despite all the grumbling; and the fact the story apparently spans several hundred years (judging by the various historical events that are presented onscreen) and is bold enough to claim the heroes can cover around 200 miles a day, with regular horses, on medieval tracks, through a forest labyrinth and over a rickety bridge, with a cart; it’s not actually a terrible film; sure it’s a fairly low-brow, cliched, tired and predictable affair, that fails to fully draw any viewer in, but the semi-serviceable story, strong cast, great effects (even counting the OTT Priest-style CGI mayhem in the finale), and solid action, make it entertaining for the kids, and a real Sunday afternoon film; one that’s watchable, but far from astounding.
Yet while the film may fall a good deal short of expectations, the video transfer clearly does not; coming to DVD with superb blacks, and an excellent level of fine detail, colour and contrast (despite the majority of the picture being fairly dark and/or earthy), and there are only one or two slightly softer shots that distract from a transfer so good, it’s one of the best you’re likely to get on DVD; to the point that it even makes the green screens and CGI work used in the film that much more obvious (one unfortunate drawback of having a great transfer).
While not quite as impressive as the DVD’s picture quality, it’s audio (a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix) sports no real problems, and contains some decent flashes of bass, adequate atmospherics, and perfectly rendered dialogue, accompanied by some slightly more rambunctious rear channel activity during the more action packed scenes, that unfortunately can’t lift it into being a great track, as it still falls flat in many ways, doesn’t have a huge range, and simply feels underwhelming, despite being technically sound.
Furthering the disappointment is Season of the Witch’s selection of bonus content, which offers nothing special whatsoever; consisting of only a trailer for the film, and a making of featurette, which is watchable, but again average, doesn’t show enough behind the scenes or effects work, though thankfully does contain interviews with all of the major cast (even if some sections are obviously cobbled together from various promotional interviews); making them easily skippable.
The Bottom Line:
Crusades, witches, swords and the plague, Season of the Witch has it all, along with a great cast, solid effects, and high production values, but in the end it’s a bit of a missed opportunity, and a film that doesn’t really work; as it tries to be much larger than it is, and never seems to make anything of its best assets; the Crusades are abandoned within minutes (but could have made for some epic set-pieces), the buddy-movie aspect with Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman is neither funny, memorable, or entirely believable, the is-she-or-isn’t-she? factor which is supposed to surround the young girl is basically answered before she comes on screen, and the whole thing just lacks heart, and isn’t engaging in the slightest.
In terms of DVD quality, you could do a lot worse, sure the extras are lacking, and the audio mix won’t exactly blow you away, but it’s still a strong, clear, and precise audio presentation, backed up with some exemplary video that at least makes Season of the Witch look the best it possibly could on DVD.
As you can probably tell, Season of the Witch is far from the best blind buy in the world; suffering from a lack of passion (with the plot and acting both appearing as if they’ve been phoned in) and providing nothing to really draw you in; but it’s not an awful movie either. If you didn’t like the look of the trailer it certainly won’t be for you, and if you did, then you might be a little disappointed, and come out feeling weary, but at least you won’t feel cheated.
Watch the trailer first, and then rent it if you’re still interested, but don’t rush into buying Season of Witch, lest you regret it later.