In the ever-evolving landscape of fandom, there are simply some things that should not have happened. In Retcon This!, we examine some of the more questionable aspects of our beloved geek properties.
A little over a year ago, I saw a trailer – a trailer for a movie called “Season of the Witch.” Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman in a medieval mystical thriller? SOLD! But… what happened? Where did it go? Production hell, apparently, but only for a short stay. Suddenly, the film had resurfaced and hit theaters. Was black magic at play here?
Close; Brett Ratner.
Apparently, the film had been met with lukewarm reviews at early screenings, and so the Butcher of X3 was brought in to do extensive reshoots. Did he improve the film, or ruin it like it was a red-headed coke addict? Well, if he improved it, it must have been complete shit to begin with.
The problem with this movie is simple enough – while at its core, it tells an interesting story in an intriguing way, almost every single detail is mishandled in some way, shape, or form. On Facebook, I referred to it as a perfect example of how hammy acting and a too-ambitious-for-the-budget application of CGI can sink a good story, but these aren’t the only real problems here. Rather than running through the laundry list of missteps, however, it’ll just be easier to offer up my suggestions for how to make the movie better, and address the flaws as I go. Ready?
- Re-cast: I already said it – Perlman and Cage ham it up WAY too much here. The root of this story is that Europe is in the grip of a terrible plague, believed to be caused by a Witch-borne curse. Cage’s Behmen, who is having a crisis of faith, is conscripted by the very church he no longer believes in to deliver the Witch to her trial and fate. It’s a strong enough plot and Cage does well with it. The problem is, in every other scene, the two leads play this like a buddy cop film, and it just feels entirely out of place. I suppose much of that has to do with writing and direction, but this is Cage and Perlman playing Cage and Perlman. They couldn’t have done it any differently, whereas Jude Law and Hugh Jackman, for example, could have easily added a tone of credibility; turning the lighthearted moments into the gallows humor I suspect they were meant to be.
- Play up the mystery: Ignoring the above issues with tone, there is one major flaw in the presentation of this film. When the Witch is first introduced, it is at the same relative time as the priest, Debelzaq. The two immediately begin to sow the seeds of doubt in Behmen. The Witch claims to be an innocent girl, assaulted by Debelzaq and framed for Witchcraft to keep quiet his indiscretions; Debelzaq claims the girl is a Witch who turns men’s doubts against them. Behmen is caught between the two, unsure of who to trust, and as a result, so is the audience. It’s a fantastic hook, if not for the odd choice in scripting/direction whereby we’re constantly provided evidence of the Witch’s true nature. If, instead, the mystery had been left in tact throughout the film, it could have been a much more entertaining ride and a far more shocking reveal.
- Complicate matters: Ultimately, the audience finds out the girl is in fact a Witch, and that all of her accusations were merely an attempt to turn Behmen against Debelzaq. A far more interesting twist would have been revealing that she was in fact a Witch, but that all of her claims against Debelzaq had been true. Behmen’s faith in God was never in question in the film, just his faith in the church. Reaffirm his doubts by having the clergyman in his party turn out to be a vile son of a bitch.
- Elevate Behmen: Throughout the movie, Behmen questions the validity of the church as the messengers of God’s word, incensed by the way in which the clergy uses their fellow man in the name of the Lord. At the end of the film, in the final battle, Debelzaq the priest is struck down before he can say the prayer necessary to stop the Witch (now revealed to be, in fact, a demon) and it is instead completed by a choir boy who has been tacked onto the party for this moment alone. Weak sauce. Instead, have the now-flawed Debelzaq be incapable of successfully delivering the prayer due to his tainted soul, and leave it to Behmen – who is pure of heart and a true servant of God – to speak the prayer and banish the demon. You not only show the strength of Behmen’s character, but show the value of a love of God over simple dogmatic loyalty to the church.
- No CGI: Here’s a simple rule for directors going forward: If you don’t have the budget to ensure better CGI than we saw in Jurassic Park – 18 years ago – DO NOT USE CGI. This film’s climax would have been VASTLY improved by the use of practical effects for the most part and the judicious application of CGI to fill in the blanks and spice things up just a tad. The main demon is laughably bad; the wolves earlier in the film were poorly done, as well. Only the beheading of the monks was even remotely passable.
- Try a different medium: Honestly, if this film had been made in 1991, it probably would have been great. It would’ve been a bit more understated, and it would have truly benefited from that. But, short of a time machine, that couldn’t have happened. So where could writer Bragi Schut have brought his story to see it done justice? As a television show in the vein of Hercules, Xena, or Legend of the Seeker, Season of the Witch could have thrived. This would have made a fantastic first season, the special effects would have been appropriately bad for television, and the ending would have allowed for an almost complete change of cast between the seasons, switching the focus from the knights to the choir boy and the girl he helped save – neither of whom would command the salaries of your the leads from the first season. Alternately, this would serve as a perfectly suitable plot for a video game, especially by playing up the mystery as suggested above. Allow the player to choose who he trusts – the priest or the girl – and let that decision dictate how the game unfolds. The final battle could be the same either way, with it being a simple matter of who the demon really is. Two unfortunately missed opportunities. Though, judging by the film’s performance at the box office, it could probably be remade in either format and no one would be any the wiser.
So there’s my 6-pack of retcons that serve as a review of sorts of Season of the Witch. The film gets 2 out of 5 rickety bridges that held up better than the movie itself. Redbox it if you must, but I’d wait for a Netflix instant view if you still want to check this one out.