Monday, March 23, 2015

Into the Woods Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
From the director of Chicago and the producer of “Wicked” comes a modern twist on the beloved fairy tales you thought you knew. Academy Award-Winning actress Meryl Streep (Best Actress, The Iron Lady), leads an all-star cast in this enchanted adventure about daring to venture Into The Woods. Iconic characters, such as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel, find their fates intertwined with a humble baker and his wife, whose longing to have a child sends them on a quest to reverse a witch’s (Streep) curse. With an all-star cast, this spellbinding adventure is everything you could ever wish for!

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Into the Woods begins with a sixteen minute musical opening, which introduces a group of individuals whose fates will soon be intertwined. A Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) want to start a family. They learn that a witch (Meryl Streep) has placed a curse on their household which is causing the infertility. The baker’s father was the one who angered the witch many years ago when he robbed her garden and stole her magic beans. 

In addition to making the family baron, the Baker learns that he has a sister, Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) who was adopted by the witch and is kept in a tall tower with no doors. We also meet Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) who has been tortured by her step mother (Christine Baranski) and step sisters (Tammy Blanchard and Lucy Punch) and only wants to attend the royal celebration. 

Although she makes it to the ball, Cinderella flees Prince Charming (Chris Pine) in fear of revealing her true identity. Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) stop at the bakers shop to pick up treats for her grandma with the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp) on her trail. There is also a young boy named Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) who lives with his mother (Tracey Ullman). Jack is forced to sell his cow to help the family make ends meet. All of the characters have a piece of what is needed to break the witch’s curse. The Baker and his wife set out to collect the items. They win some, they lose some and the witch pops in to remind them as each midnight passes that they are running out of time.

When Meryl Streep is introduced she says but not sings her lines and for a second I wondered if this was going to be a case of very good actors butchering Sondheim’s songs. Once the film gets going, you see that Meryl and the entire cast, can in fact, sing. Thanks to Pitch Perfect we already know Anna Kendrick has some pipes, but I never would have expected Chris Pine and Emily Blunt to be able to carry a tune. Meryl Streep has sung before but this film seems much better suited to her voice than her previous endeavors. In my opinion, Chris Pine steals the show competing with Rapunzel’s love for the most dramatic of love stories and the most chest exposed while singing his song.

Fans of previous versions of Into the Woods, will likely not be disappointed. With a two hour run time, the film does fly by. However, younger audiences may lose interest and may have a hard time following the interconnected story lines. You probably won’t find your grade school child singing Sondheim like my son belts out The Lego Movie’s "Everything is Awesome," or the girl song that won’t go away otherwise known as Frozen’s “Let It Go”. My six year old watched the film in the theater, said he liked it, but had no desire to give it a second go when I received the film on Blu-ray.

For me, as someone who is not a fan of musicals, I was surprised that I enjoyed the film. It’s dark and atmospheric primarily set in the woods. In fact, the Woods themselves can be considered to be a major character in the film. Unlike my son, I was eager to watch the film again and it enjoyed it more the second time around. In the comfort of my own home, I was able to listen more carefully to the lyrics and appreciated more of the film.
Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Into the Woods is presented in 1080p high definition with an AVC-encoded transfer.  The film is dark and mysterious and the forest offers plenty of depth and detail.  Costumes also provide the opportunity to see layers of texture and weight.  Skin tones are rosy and true to life for appropriate characters, while pale and gray for others.  Everything you see, no matter how unusual appears natural and realistic. Disney can be proud of this Blu-ray, which is near reference quality.
Audio (5 out of 5 stars)
Into the Woods' DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track provides an excellent mix. Whether the characters are belting out a high note, speaking, yelling or whispering it all comes across as authentic. As the giant attacks, all your channels will rumble. The sounds of nature offer directionality and realism to support the complicated and detailed story.
Extras (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The Blu ray contains and interesting list of features with a small but acceptable amount of repetition. 
  • Streep Sings Sondheim (4:46) – “She’ll Be Back”– Meryl Streep’s song, fully shot and edited, which was cut from the film because it didn’t add enough value to the story.
  • There’s Something About the Woods (13:20)- Director Rob Marshall, Stephen Sondheim and cast members talk about the woods as a character, forest sets and how the film came to be.
  • The Cast As Good As Gold – (10:10) The Director and actors talks about the company feel to the ensemble cast. The actors express how lucky they feel to be a part of this project, even though many were apprehensive about singing.
  • Deeper into the Woods – A look at four categories:
    • From Stage to Screen (8:29) – focuses on bringing the film to the big screen and the impact of the stage production as well as the challenges of the project.
    • The Magic of the Woods (7:19) – A discussion of the challenges of singing Sondheim, the importance of editing and fluidity, and the 16 minute opening.
    • Designing the woods – (7:04) A look at set design, the character of the woods, the way the forest drives the story and the fantasy world of the film.
    • The Costumes of the Woods – (6:50) A featurette related to costume design and the look of the film. Costume Designer Colleen Atwood creates the fantasy world and her use of the texture of woods in the clothing.
  • Audio Commentary – Director Rob Marshall and Producer John DeLuca discuss the films origins, casting choices, special effects and more in the worthwhile commentary.
  • Music & Lyrics – Available with a play all or individual function are the following: Prologue “Into the Woods”, “Hello Little Girl”, “I Know Things Now”, “A Very Nice Prince”, “Giants in the Sky”, “Agony”, “It Takes Two, Stay With Me”, “On the Steps of the Palace”, “Witch’s Lament”, “Any Moment”, “Moments in the Woods”, “Your Fault”, “Last Midnight”, “No One is Alone”, “You are Not Alone/Children Will Listen”, and the Finale with toggle for on screen lyrics.
  • Trailers/Previews – Other Disney releases.
Summary (4 out of 5 stars)
Into the Woods was at one time rumored to be a disgrace to the play. Although I’ve never seen the story in any other form, I feel as though the criticisms were premature. Sleeping Beauty and Snow White are left out of the story, but it’s certainly jam packed with action from royalty and common-folk. I enjoyed the film, the acting and songs. The Blu-ray looks and sounds great and the special features are substantial and interesting. This is a Blu-ray worthy of owning.

Order your copy today!

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