Thursday, 10 November 2016

Maleficent (2014)

I thought the concept of Wicked - telling the "true" story of Elphaba, the "Wicked" Witch of the West - was an interesting one.  However when I read the book I was not much impressed, as it essentially deprived Elphaba of any agency in her own story, as well as turned Oz itself into rather a miserable place.

So when Maleficent was announced - telling the "true" story of the villain from Disney's Sleeping Beauty - I was hopeful we'd get "Wicked done right".  I never got around to seeing it at the cinema though, but I eventually picked up the DVD to see if it hit the mark.

Alas, the short answer is no.  It's true that it does avoid Wicked's flaw of deprotagonising its protagonist, but it is structurally a very flawed film.  This is a shame, as the basic storyline is solid enough.

The film's biggest flaw is the narration.  Oh good grief, so much narration.  It feels near constant for the first 15-20 minutes or so, and returns several times thereafter.  I think it's used because they're trying to cram an awful lot of stuff into their 90-minute running time, and narration is a fast way of conveying information.  But the fact is that almost every time it happens, it doesn't actually speed things up.  The same information could have been conveyed just as efficiently, and much less intrusively, by characters on screen.  The constant breaks to have an omniscient third party narrate events and motivations is a terrible decision.

So the basic plot line is that Maleficent is a powerful fairy in the magical realm known as the Moors.  She befriends Stefan, a young man from the generally-hostile human realm on their border, but he later betrays her in order to gain the crown of his own country.  Justifiably enraged, Maleficent subsequently lays the familiar sleeping curse on Stefan's daughter, Aurora.  However as Aurora grows up, Maleficent comes to believe the young woman might be the key to forging peace between the kingdoms ... can she find some way to thwart her own curse, and avoid retribution from the increasingly unstable Stefan at the same time?

Maleficent would be much improved by a thorough re-write.  The pacing is off throughout most of the run time, and it feels like narration was thrown in as a sloppy patch job for the problem, rather than say, actually fixing it.

For now, I'll keep hoping that one of these days we will get a genuinely impressive "from the eyes of the villain" re-telling of a familiar tale.

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