Nov. 24, 2014

Maleficent — Weak Script, Strong Acting

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June 1, 2014

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The first time I heard anything about “Maleficent was from one of my aunts, who did not take too kindly to the film’s initial teaser when it played before Frozen. She deemed the teaser too scary to be played before a children’s film.

Once the official trailer for the film was released, however, it revealed that the film would not be how it was previously advertised. Instead of a live-action remake of the animated Disney classic “Sleeping Beauty,” “Maleficent” puts a different spin on the famed fairy tale. The film tells the story through the eponymous character’s perspective, revealing a different side of the story – which, of course, was fabricated by the screenwriters – that casts her in a different light. While the visuals are dazzling and Angelina Jolie does a fine job in the title role, the film does little else to make for a compelling affair.

One thing that cannot be denied is the film’s visual splendor. The grand scale of the setting is alluring and many of the visuals permeate the screen with vibrant hues, providing an additional sense of magic for younger moviegoers and amazing older members of the audience. Given the director’s pedigree, however, this is all to be expected. Robert Stromberg has acted as a special effects artist and designer for “Avatar”, “Alice in Wonderland” and “Oz the Great and Powerful,” winning Academy Awards for Best Art Direction for the first two. 

But, let’s not forget the film’s other bright spot — the woman who brings Maleficent to life — Angelina Jolie. Because the film is about presenting a classic Disney villainess in a different light, all of the focus is on her performance, and she delivers. She skillfully depicts Maleficent as capable of being both cold and cruel and merciful and caring. Without a doubt, Jolie’s performance is wonderful, but it must be said that she does well enough with the material she is given, and what she is given is not strong.

Apart from the special effects and Jolie’s acting, the film has little else to offer to make for compelling drama, and this is the cause of weak scriptwriting. First of all, before heading into the film, I learned that Maleficent’s run time would be merely 97 minutes, a surprisingly shorter film than would have been expected given the subject matter, and it hurts the storytelling. 

Aside from the fact that the storytelling becomes increasingly predictable as the film goes on, no other character is ever quite as captivating as Maleficent. There are only three other characters, Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), King Stefan (Sharlto Copley), and Diaval (Sam Riley), who have a significant amount of screen time, and they all seem flat compared to Maleficent. I understand that the film is meant to be about Maleficent and how her character evolves, but increasing the film’s duration to delve further into the emotional complexities of the more minor characters would have given the audience something else to hang on to and made for better storytelling.

As a side note about the writing, let’s talk briefly about the fairies appointed to act as Aurora’s guardians. I understand their scenes of comic relief are meant to further entertain the younger members of the audience, but they are pointless, never carrying the plot forward. 

A note to aspiring screenwriters — when padding minutes to a movie that is only an hour and a half long, you might just want to cut your losses and remove any superfluous scenes.

If there are any strengths to the script at all, they are the presence of a strong protagonist and the message the script conveys. Telling the children of the audience that true love is maternal love rather than romantic love is a wonderful message to give, but the fact remains that the script has little else to offer in terms of substance. As enchanting as the film looks and as charming as Jolie is in the title role, the film does not do enough to support these strengths. With a stronger script, this could have been a marvelous retelling of a classic fairy tale.

Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

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