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Seventh Son

Universal // PG-13 // May 26, 2015
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted June 4, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

Loosely adapted from Joseph Delaney's series of "Spook's Apprentice" novels, Seventh Son chucks yet another fantasy-action film at the ravenous masses following the release of Peter Jackson's final Hobbit film. Mongol director Sergey Bodrov spins this story of a long line of "seventh sons of seventh sons" who are trained to be witch hunters due to their inborn magical capabilities, honed by gristly mentors like Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges). Having lost his longstanding apprentice (Kit Harington) in a battle with the recently escaped witch Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), whose presence suggests the return of a menacing evil power upon the arrival of a full blood moon, Gregory sets out to find the next in that lineage before time runs out. Enter our destined hero, Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), an unassuming young man pried from the clutches of his family -- with a snazzy magical medallion looped around his neck -- to become the next "spook": a killer of supernatural beings. So begins the hasty journey in getting Tom up to speed on the ways of battling witches, to which director Bodrov produces a thoroughly disjointed and derivative heroic adventure.

The remnants of a decent story, of tragic romance and moral confusion used to embellish the lore of Delaney's Wardstone Chronicles, can be spotted throughout Seventh Son, set against dark, gritty trappings borrowed from the live-action Tolkien and Martin fantasy realms. It clashes with the decidedly younger-oriented tempo of the storytelling, however, restraining the superior powers of beasts and witches in the presence of important characters and granting the untrained disciple just enough capability whenever he's in peril. This results in daffy plotting that's ineffectively masked by vague, theatrical platitudes -- the seventh sons of seventh sons are significant and powerful because, well, they are -- and ridiculous breaks in common sense befitting a children's fairytale. Frankly, the film shows early on that it's in trouble when the unseasoned apprentice only has a week to bone and buff up for the good versus evil battle of the century with intimidating witches, which Jon Snow had been preparing ten years for ... and you know that, somehow, he'll still be able to handle it.

Ben Barnes works what magic he can with his non-Caspian charms in diverting the audience's attention from the doubtfulness of Tom Ward's abilities, evoking a shaggy, skeptical appeal as a resistant slave to a valiant destiny. His hesitation towards adopting the "spook" way of monster-killing life tends to be the most stimulating thematic element about Seventh Son, along with the rushed, questionable yet pleasant romance he develops with Alice (an earnest Alicia Vikander), the alluring half-witch spying on Tom and Gregory's progress. Alas, their efforts are undermined by the ostentatious performances of this adaptation's two primary stars, the inextricably linked Gregory and Mother Malkin played by Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore respectively. Moore's theatricality as the shapeshifting sorceress just seems like the actress is imitating other angsty, couture witches, dialed up a few degrees with ominous proclamations. Bridges, who's typically reliable for idiosyncratic novelty, suffers more: donning a Don Quixote goatee, the sassy mumbling of his witch-slayer constantly sounds like he's holding a swig of White Russian in the back of his mouth.

Seventh Son could probably make up for its missteps had it delivered something innovative in the whimsical action department, but everything orchestrated by director Sergey Bodrov reeks of a mishmash of all other fantasy epics already out there, outclassed by the lackluster Jack the Giant Slayer and Snow White and the Huntsman. There's a steady feed of set pieces that translate to a degree of entertainment -- brawls with bears and nasty giants are coupled with spinning fire staves and flipped horse carriages -- but neither the scope nor the energy generated provides anything inventive, nor particularly invigorating. Middling visual effects don't really help matters; smoky ghosts and magically transformed rooms have a stiffness that saps the illusion out of 'em, while the flying creature effects seem middle-of-the-road even in comparison to the DTV effects in Universal's Dragonheart 3. Grimy candlelit training dens and mountainous vistas might add visual grandeur to the foreboding escalation, but it can't spruce up the flatness of those other humdrum blockbuster components.

Eventually, the anticipated grand throwdown occurs in Seventh Son upon the arrival of the blood moon, gathering together all the film's problems -- the arbitrary use of magic and violence, the unlikelihood of Tom's ability to hold his own, the theatrics of its two leads -- into the confined space of a frustratingly rushed climax. The stakes can only get so high when enchanted enemies can't unleash their full potential and get defeated fairly easy, no matter how many pillars come tumbling down or how many transformed beasts gallivant around in a stony warzone. Nifty shape-shifters, massive blades swung around on chains, and second chances at redemption for wayward witches ultimately cannot muster enough strength to conquer the underdeveloped problems that precede it. After all's said and done, the spell Seventh Son tries to cast fizzles into a quick but terribly dull waste of talent and potential, whose only saving grace ends up being that the incantation's time of duration doesn't last too long; the idea of Bordov stretching this into a Peter Jackson-length romp sounds like a curse, indeed.

The Blu-ray:

Video and Audio:

Seventh Son's visual style deliberately shifts in clarity throughout the film, which yields an erratic high-definition experience in Universal's adept 2.35:1-framed, 1080p AVC treatment, with a bitrate frequently hovering in the mid-30s no matter the clarity level. In dimly-lit interior sequences or overcast exterior shots, the clarity present in the transfer can be quite impressive, reveling in fine shadow depth as the details in weapons, clothing, and close-ups are razor-sharp. Other brighter-lit sequences have this haze about them that almost makes you want to rub your eyes, but deeper inspection reveals a fine amount of detail within the fuzziness. Color solidity and response to the visual temperatures are pretty fantastic across the board, though: skin tones are warm and welcoming at most points, yet cool and desaturated where needed; the greens in landscapes and the red glow in the blood moon and Gregory's staff are impressively vivid; and the orange glow of torch/candle light in dim blue and green shadows sustains a solid balance without any bleeding. Barring the film's innate idiosyncrasies, it looks splendid.

No surprise that the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track packs a wallop, given the frequent boisterous sound effects at work. The vigor of cracking ground, the stomps of large creatures, the roars of bears and the splintered demolishing of wood exhibit intense lower-frequency response and fine separation across the front channels, while the clang of blades and the swirls of magic spells hit engaging high-end points. The constantly-moving mechanics in Gregory's echoic training chamber are particularly impressive at filling the surround environment, and the shutting of giant wooden doors are always organic sources of activity. Subtler effects -- a body being dragged behind a horse, ghostly wisps, the sloshing of fluid in a flask -- are a little thin but discernible among the aggressiveness of the score. Everyone's vocals are clear and discernible; even the zany muffled accent of Jeff Bridges' delivery hits the right high and mid-range levels to pick up on ... well, most of what he's saying, at least. Spanish and French DTS surround options are also available, along with English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.

Special Features:

The Making of Seventh Son:
Universal have broken their behind-the-scenes content into three divisions, each segment containing a wide range of interviews -- featuring Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Sergey Bodrov once or twice, and others -- and extensive behind-the-scenes glimpses. Defenders of Good (9:06, 16x9 HD) touches on the warriors against the witches, exploring how Jeff Bridges arrives on his character to how they rendered the giant character Tusk from a relatively simple mask with remote-controlled facial expressions. Resurrecting the Wicked (8:54, 16x9 HD), on the other hand, involves the research poured into making the varied witches distinctive and scary, how Julianne Moore enjoyed her time wielding a tail and how they worked around creative a four-armed swordfighter with digital FX. Forging a Medieval Realm (7:03, 16x9 HD) concentrates on the "magicians" who make these bid-budget projects come to fruition, elaborating on the ornate production and set design of the organic town, Gregory's dark churning lab, and the grand mountaintop used for the final battle.

The Legend and Lore of Seventh Son (3:33, 16x9 HD):
If you're left wondering about the origins of power within "seventh sons of seventh sons" after the movie, this vignette ... well, it doesn't exactly explain why, but it offers some plausible theories based on religion, science, and mythology. It's an amusing inclusion, though not quite the elaboration on the story that the title indicates.

Universal have also tacked on a series of four vignette composites for a Visual Effects Gallery, three lasting roughly a minute in length and one clocking in at thirty seconds, as well as an extensive collection of fifteen Deleted and Alternate Scenes (26:41, 16x9 HD) that reveal some of the dropped exposition and personal plot elements. They've also included an Alternate Ending (1:16, 16x9 HD) that tweaks the tone of the ending to something a little more upbeat and cheeky. Putting the cherry on top, we've also got a standard DVD Copy and an Ultraviolet Digital Copy slip.

Final Thoughts:

There's still a market out there for engaging fantasy epics, especially after the conclusion of Peter Jackson's Middle-earth revival, but they've got to provide hints of something smart or novel to keep that energy up. Seventh Son neglects to provide either of those things, really, delivering a hokey premise of predestined heroism surrounded by dubious plot development and exaggerated performances from Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore. It's decent to look at and contains a few moderately intriguing action beats, but none of it can fully justify the clumsy, altogether dull storytelling surrounding it. Some might wish to give it a rental for the inanity of Jeff Bridges' performance or for spare moments of fantasy energy, and Universal's adept Blu-ray provides an adequate viewing experience with some insightful extras for that purpose, but the majority of aficionados will want to pass up this inadequate genre pic altogether. Skip It.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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