Walt Disney Studios’ ‘Maleficent’ Sequel Saved By Its Visual Effects

Courtesy: Walt Disney Studios

Walt Disney Studios’ latest entry in its Maleficent movie franchise Tuesday.  The property’s second (and hopefully last) entry in the property, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, is a visually impressive work.  This is the most notable reason for audiences to view the movie.  While the movie’s visual effects are impressive, the movie’s story does quite a bit to detract from its overall presentation, sadly.  The bonus content adds a little (and only a little) appeal to the presentation of the movie’s home release and is worth at least one watch, too.  Each item noted is important in its own right to the whole of the movie in its home release.  All things considered, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil falls just as short of expectations as its predecessor.

Walt Disney Studios’ Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a work that is worth at least one watch, but sadly little more than that.  It is not a total loss.  That is due in large part to its visual effects.  The special effects and visuals in general make the movie the proverbial “feast for the eyes.”  The rich, lush landscapes that are presented throughout the movie, and their bright colors give this otherwise brooding story a mood that will, in itself, ensure viewers’ engagement if not entertainment.    Even the scenes involving the dungeon laboratory have their own brightness so as to not make those scenes too foreboding for audiences.  Add to that the fact that many of the special effects used throughout were handled expertly.  It is known that the effects in question were computer generated.  However, even with that in mind, there was a certain balance in the live action and computer generated elements. That attention to detail made a moment such as the movie’s epic final battle fully engaging. It makes suspension of disbelief easier.  Even in a moment, such as when Maleficent is in the cave with the other Fae, there are clearly some CG elements set along with the live action elements.  Again, attention to detail here blurred the line between the computer and live action.  Even in the moment when Maleficent is making her way across the river, the creation of the bridge is clearly computer generated, but it never looks so computer generated that it looks cheesy.  Those behind the movie’s visual effects are to be commended for that attention to detail.  This is just one more of many examples of what makes the movie’s visual effects noteworthy.  All things considered, the visual effects overall go a long way toward making Maleficent: Mistress of Evil worth at least one watch.

While the visual effects featured in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil do their own share to make the movie worth at least one watch, the movie’s story detracts just as much from the movie’s presentation.  The story this time out finds Maleficent going toe –to-toe with an evil queen instead of an evil king.  This time the evil ruler happens to be the mother of Princess Aurora’s love interest, King Philip.  Right off the bat, the story is contrived.  Audiences are presented with two women who hate each other and are completely against their children marrying.  Of course with that in mind, the two mothers maintain a certain hatred towards one another.  Who hasn’t seen this plot line done dozens of times already in other movies from other studios?  It doesn’t take long for things to take a new course from there, with the evil queen (Ingrith) – Michelle Pfeiffer (Batman Returns, Dangerous Minds, What Lies Beneath) – tries to frame Maleficent for the attempted murder of her (Ingrith’s) own husband.  As it is later revealed by Ingrith in her monologue (yes, there is even a standard bad guy monologue here even though it’s not a superhero movie), she just has a deep seated hatred of the fae and all of the creatures of the moors.  It doesn’t take long for the story to take on a decidedly overly activist statement at this point.  Maleficent and the creatures of the moor essentially take on the underdog role – the victims – while Ingrith represents the evil imperialist ruler.  The underdog creatures take on the evil imperialists and end up winning.  Yes, the wedding between Aurora and Philip takes place in the end, and Maleficent even comes to terms with the fact that Aurora has grown up and become her own person.  While the story does have its happy ending, the original story of Sleeping Beauty certainly did not imagine any of what was in this story or even its predecessor.  What’s more, there were so many moments when unnecessary dialoguing could have been ended with immediate action by Aurora and/or Maleficent.  Sadly, that didn’t happen.  At least in the final battle scene, there wasn’t a bunch of unnecessary monologuing.  Rather, those behind the lens allowed the action to do the talking.  To that end, at least there was that for the story.  Other than that element, the seeming social statement about the indigenous people taking on the imperialist invaders (which has been done how many times throughout Hollywood’s history?) and the element of the two queens fighting over their children marrying proves anything but original.  Rather, it makes the movie’s story quite boring and unoriginal.  Keeping that in mind, it becomes clear how this movie’s story detracts from its presentation and just how much it does just that.

The damage that Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’s story does to its presentation is fully evident from start to end.  It is undeniable.  Even with that in mind, it is not the last of the elements that is worth addressing.  The bonus content featured with the movie’s home release plays into its presentation, too.  It makes up – though only slightly at best – for the problems caused by the movie’s extremely porous story.  Audiences will enjoy the very brief behind-the-scenes look at how star Angelina Jolie’s flight scenes were created sing CG technology.  The extended scenes, of which there are only two, do create at least a slight appreciation for the content that was not featured in the movie’s final cut.  It is clear in watching those scenes that they were justifiably removed.  The scene in which Philip and Aurora dance prior to the dinner adds nothing to the overall story.  All it does is show another way in which the queen is trying to control everything.  The moment when the queen “comforts” Aurora and decides to approve of the wedding does just as little as the dance sequence to add to the story.  All audiences get is another view of the queen’s controlling nature and her distaste for Aurora.  To that end, it is clear why these two scenes were cut from the final product.

The bonus “Origins of the Fey” doesn’t actually explain the Fey’s origins, ironically.  Jolie talks about the Fey that inhabit the different parts of the world, but does not actually explain their origins.  All she does is explain that they exist everywhere in that magical world.  On a side note, the story never explains away why all the Fey stayed hidden and allowed Maleficent to get shot early on, nor does it explain the full link between her and the Phoenix.  Getting back on track, that brief extra actually does more bad than good as a bonus, keeping all of this in mind.

The movie’s bonus VFX Reel takes audiences behind the scenes of hwo the movie’s visual effect were created.  On the surface, this seems like something positive.  The reality though, is that the bonus is in fact extremely brief.  All it does is use a wipe effect to show how the scenes were shot against blue screens and the final product of that shooting.  Yes, there are some commentaries included with that presentation, but the bonus overall lasts only perhaps two minutes at the very best.  To that end, yes it is insightful, but only slightly at best.  Between that brief bonus and the other brief extras, the bonus content overall presents a little (emphasis on little) to appreciate.  There is some positive to the bonus content, but little at best.  When it is set alongside the movie’s visual effects, the combination of the two is just enough to make this movie worth at least one watch, but little more.

Walt Disney Studios’ latest entry in its Maleficent franchise is just as much of a disappointment as its predecessor.  That is due in large part to its story, which presents plot elements that have been used countless times prior in other movies from other studios.  The multitudinous plot holes that pock mark the story make it even more problematic.  Thankfully for all of the damage that the story does to Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, its visual effects and its bonus content combine to make it worth at least one watch.  All things considered, one can only hope that Walt Disney Studios will let this franchise die mercifully, and make it the last of the property’s entries.  More information on Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is available online at:




Website: http://movies.disney.com/malefficent-mistress-of-evil

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/DisneyMaleficent

Twitter: http://twitter.com/Maleficent




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People Like Us Is An Underrated, Moving Drama

Courtesy: Dreamworks Pictures

Family is the most important thing that any person can have.  Without family, what does anyone have?  Sam (Chris Pine), his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), and the sister he never knew he had (Elizabeth Banks) learn this lesson in Dreamworks’ new movie, People Like Us.

People Like Us is a powerful and emotional drama.  On the surface, it may be just another movie that’s based on actual events.  But the story presented here is much more real and emotional than audiences may want to believe.  Cases such as the story presented here really do happen.  The problem is that society has attached a stigma to it.  So it tends to be generally swept under the proverbial carpet.  People don’t want to know about such stories.  Keeping in mind just how real People Like Us is, one can’t help but feel sorry for Sam’s sister, Frankie.

When Sam first revealed to Frankie that they were related, she goes absolutely berserk.  Not knowing for so many years would make such a revelation a massive load both emotionally and psychologically.  One has to put oneself into Frankie’s shoes to really appreciate her reaction.  She was looking at the situation from the vantage point of having had an emotional connection to Sam before discovering he was her long lost brother.  Here was this single mother who had no clue who the father of her child was.  The shock of having her hopes dashed is entirely understandable here.  Of course, she does come around by the movie’s end.  The full ending won’t be given away for the sake of those who haven’t yet had the opportunity to see the story.  Though audiences are encouraged to see it for themselves to find out how it all ends.

The emotional drama between Sam and Frankie is just part of what will keep audiences watching throughout the movie’s near two-hour run time.  Sam’s relationship with his mother Lillian (played expertly by veteran actress Michelle Pfeiffer) gets tied into the story.  The secret that Lillian keeps plays directly into Sam’s relationship with Frankie.  At the same time, it’s that same secret that eventually brings Sam and his mother closer by the story’s end.  It would be wrong to say that the end of People Like Us is happy.  Rather, it’s better described as bittersweet.  But ironically, enough, it will leave audiences feeling fulfilled after the emotional journey on which they embarked at the story’s beginning.

When it was originally released earlier this year in theaters, People Like Us was released among a glut of Summer blockbusters.  Because of that, it was easily lost in that sea that is the silver screen.  But it will be released next Tuesday, October 2nd on DVD and Blu-ray.  As surprisingly deep and emotional as it is, hopefully it won’t be lost in the sea of new home releases as it is definitely worth the watch. 

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