Season of the Witch is not an entirely bad movie nor is it a particularly memorable one. Sure, it’s dwarfed by any number of films from the same genre of the past decade or so but it doesn’t try so much to be original as relish in that fleeting sense of escapism that once was reason enough to visit the theater. Today films have to one-up one another, bigger budgets, more death-defying feats ala CGI manufactured performances, and rehashed creature effects and the obligatory knights in not-so shiny armor hashing it out, elbow to bloody elbow, just isn’t enough these days. I don’t believe Season of the Witch has much time left in theaters. In you’re into the genre, into Nicolas Cage as Nicolas cage in just about every Nicolas Cage of the past handful of years, or maybe Ron Pearlman without the Hellboy accompaniments – who, btw is about the only actor trying to make something of his one-line observations and pithy roadside commentary.
I am a little more interested in how this film got around all the people who make the decisions for which movies, for better or worse, get made as opposed to all the others, some better, others not so much, floating around the Hollywood hills like sails without boats, doomed as it were unless by chance someone happens by the 120-page masterpiece stuck in to the fronds of a withering palm tree marked to be cut down because it somehow obstructs the view of an otherwise insignificant view. But that’s Hollywood, isn’t it? I kept wondering where the script readers and producers were, the financier’s who signed onboard without anyone asking the all mighty question, “Who is the audience for this film?” In the wake of the last Potter film and the next and final installment somewhere nearby, someone though it was a good idea to pop out another sci-fi action adventure movie if for no other reason than they needed to fill the marquee with a movie that had a big name, albeit a fading big name attached.
At least the film has made a little money according to the folks over at boxofficemojo.com but I’m always curious about the marketing campaign behind these films. That’s where the real money is and we’re hardly privy to the bill boards along the glutted freeways, the commercials on television, on-line, and in the big top electronic stores. It opened in just over 2,800 theaters which isn’t bad considering the first untested Harry Potter movie opened in just over 3,600 theaters back in 2001. Of course the last installment of the Potter franchise opened in over 4,100 theaters but that’s another animal altogether. Most likely they could keep churning out Potter flicks for the next decade and the audience wouldn’t wane much, especially if the producers took a chance and bumped the rating to R and showed us a little more of the real world in the fantasy world of the Potter universe.
Nicolas Cage and Ron Pearlman are not really the first actors that come to mind as two blood thirsty holly soldiers who, after just over a decade of massacring the wicked in the name of the church, have an epiphany or some other thing and decide to change their ways and break away into a life of some other vanity. The storyline bumps around and sets some things in motion while stalls for reasons unknown until the duo are forced back into service for the church and are entrusted to take an alleged witch to the one far, far away place where she can be rightfully put to death in order to save all man and womankind. While Season is certainly not the most original road-buddy movie any more than it pretends to want to be, it functions more of like an amalgam of clichés and familiarity; lets face it, after Braveheart and The 13th Warrior, The Gladiator, Alexander, Troy and so on, the loosely historical war epic has been around the block a few times in the past decade or two. Add in the fantasy elements, the implausible storyline and stock use of every CGI trick in the book up to date, the lack of originality and rather boring story is only kept moving by tiny, hardly noticeable moments often lead by or inspired by Ron Pearlman who one can’t help but admire for his unique personae.
Director Dominic Sena (Kalifornia, Gone In Sixty Seconds, Whiteout) seems to be a filmmaker who requires big budgets for his projects, from $90 million for Gone In Sixty Seconds to $102 million for Swordfish but one can’t help but ask – where did the money go? Gone In Sixty seconds, based on the 1974 film of the same name, spawned the Fast & Furious franchise, among other car movies, and Sena’s crime-thriller-drama Swordfish in 2001 seemed complimentary to the genre as the Bond franchise followed with three, maybe a forth in 2012. It is apparent Sena attracts big names for his films and producers and investors but none of his films have really made a big impact and Season of the Witch is set to continue in that tradition.
It’s hard to tell audiences to avoid this film for the same reason I would recommend it. For true fans of the genre, the film will most likely satisfied their need for medieval carnage, for epic landscapes and witches in cages. However I would warn those interested in story and character development to sit this one out. Ron Pearlman is clearly the better actor here, though it might be for the Hellboy franchise that he single-handedly kept going for three installments. Nicolas Cage delivers the same misanthropic, foggy performance he’s maintained for nearly a decade. Not since his role in Adaptation (2002) has he been directed out of such a stupor but his most fully recognized, and rightfully awarded role in David Fincher’s Leaving Las Vegas (1995) is by far the triumph of his career. It is troubling to see an actor fall so very hard from prominence, an actor reduced to bit parts or off-mark genre pictures that are weighed down by their own pomposity. The supporting characters are entertaining enough though the hobbled script by television scribe Bragi F. Schut leaves them mostly in the dark with quips and quivers before unremarkable deaths and transformations.
All that to say, Season of the Witch is watchable for the most part but save some money, stay home, wait for it to be released on DVD and rent it so you can enjoy it in the space of your own home. Besides, you might have some vacuuming to do or the first chance all day to read the newspaper and in the background Season of the Witch can cover up the neighbor’s dogs barking or rush hour traffic returning home after a long day at work.