Colin Farrell and Russell Crowe do not an adult fairy tale make on Blu-ray
Martin Scorsese reportedly thought Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale was an unfilmable novel, set in a mythical New York City in the early years of the 20th century. The acclaimed director may have been right, going off Akiva Goldsman’s big-budget adaptation with a huge roster of well-known stars. The novel was a strange chimera of epic fantasy and serious literature, steeped in magical realism. Marketed as a romance with Colin Farrell as the primary draw, it became a box office dud that probably doesn’t deserve a fresh look on home video.
One of the primary problems with Winter’s Tale as a movie is that its two-hour running time feels like an abbreviated version of a much longer story. The novel runs nearly 800 pages in some editions. Moviegoers that skipped the novel will almost certainly feel lost at some point, as characters are presented to the audience as if we should recognize them. Lucifer shows up out of nowhere in a surprise cameo by Will Smith, apparently confined to a sewer in New York. Some movies can overcome these type of problems with gifted dialogue and smart acting. Unfortunately in Winter’s Tale nothing is up to that task.
Colin Farrell gives a wooden, limp performance as the romantic male lead, unable to emotionally connect with Jessica Brown Findlay in the love story at the heart of this film. That doesn’t totally destroy it, however. It is another star that gets most of that credit. Hollywood casting agents need to throw Russell Crowe’s name out of their rolodex for every two-bit, hackneyed role. Apparently the aging film star will take any role offered if the money is right. Stumbling through his role as menacing villain, Crowe enacts a terrible accent for his role of an angry demon that heads the Five Boroughs’ gangs. He was cast as a reliable box office draw for certain demographics instead of being a good fit in this role.
I’ve consciously avoided talking about specific plot elements; any entertainment in Winter’s Tale is almost entirely due to its unique touches. Deviating from standard Hollywood formula, it incorporates a number of fantasy elements in a mythic version of New York City that never really existed. The primary love story between Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) and Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) takes place in this fantasy version of New York City circa 1916. A criminal underworld run by demons, whispers of angelic beings, a magical white horse that may or may not be Pegasus- it is all a sideshow to Beverly’s illness.
The daughter of a wealthy newspaper magnate, the sheltered Beverly is dying of Consumption. An archaic term for what is now known as Tuberculosis, it was largely incurable before the invention of antibiotics. Her eventual fate drives the love story in Winter’s Tale.
If Winter’s Tale only concerned itself with the romance between Peter and Beverly, the movie would have been a tighter experience with a more cohesive narrative. There is a huge leap in the story from its historical past to our present, introducing an important new character in Virginia (Jennifer Connelly). The mother of a child with cancer, her role in the story is clumsily handled by a rushed final act.
Winter’s Tale can only be taken as some kind of adult fable or fairytale. It blindly jumps between genres in a manner that feels haphazard and awkward. The romance between Peter and Beverly is fairly trite, while its plot requires a huge suspension of disbelief that will be hard to swallow. A person has to overlook certain problems to enjoy Winter’s Tale, a serious strike against it. This is fantasy writ small with a tepid romance.
Beautifully lensed by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel using the Arri Alexa and other cameras in an impressive scope presentation, this big-budget wreck’s transfer has been filtered on some level. That does affect the actual quantity and scope of its fine detail, especially in tighter close-ups. It appears they valiantly failed through the magic of Hollywood to pass Colin Farrell off as a 21-year-old. This is a digital production through and through, made with the latest filmmaking technology by experienced veterans.
Aside from the notable filtering, this is a great-looking movie that remains consistently sharp. The picture really pops with an appreciable amount of depth, though hints of aliasing creep into its picture due to the regular usage of digitally composited sets. Warner Bros. nails the AVC video encode at respectable bitrates, the nearly pristine video is free of noise or other compression artifacts.
Like many other big Hollywood productions of note, Winter’s Tale receives a digital color grading that leans teal at times. Some of the period setting is bathed in a sepia tone with unnatural flesh-tones, drained of the warmer colors. The stark landscape and palette favors cooler shades, nearly achieving the timeless mood it desires. Not at fault are the perfect black levels, exhibiting excellent shadow delineation and intricate texture.
Winter’s Tale does not have the most bombastic surround mix for a modern film, it prefers delicate sonic textures and crisp dialogue for its fantasy-driven tale of love. Presented in a steady 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack that emphasizes the wooden dialogue, co-composer Hans Zimmer’s instrumental score is nicely spread around the entire soundstage. There is the occasional moment of powerful bass or directional sound cue that recalls a better mix from another movie, and then everything will once again recede back to normal.
French, Spanish, and Portuguese dubs are all presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital at 640 kbps. The optional subtitles in a white font, halfway outside the 2.35:1 framing of the main feature. Subtitle options include English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
This Warner Bros. combo pack includes a DVD version of the film and an UltraViolet copy of the movie in HD, redeemable on Flixster. A very nice slipcover will be available on the first pressing. The glossy slipcover is slightly embossed with metallic accents. It is a slipcover worth hunting down for collectors.
The limited batch of special features is becoming more common of late with less-than-stellar movies. Writer and director Akiva Goldsman is heavily interviewed across the two featurettes, while Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, and Jennifer Connelly make token appearances discussing the film.
Behind The Scenes: A Timeless Love (06:08 in HD) – Akiva Goldsman attempts to explain his film, beginning with talk of the original novel. We get very pithy and rote answers from the leading actors in this featurette.
Characters Of Good and Evil (09:14 in HD) – Most of the leading actors discuss their character and how they approached bringing them to life.
Additional Scenes (12:08 in HD) – A bunch of filler scenes that explain some of the plot-holes in Winter’s Tale.
Trailers for UltraViolet Service (01:22 in HD) and The Lego Movie (02:34 in HD) precede the main menu but are not accessible from it.
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.