Fantasy and reality combine in “Winter’s Tale,” writer/director Akiva Goldman’s ambitious adaptation of Mark Helprin’s epic novel that focuses on a thief, Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), beginning in 1916 in New York City. Peter has recently gone his separate way from a gang headed by Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), who didn’t take the news so well, leading him to try and hunt Peter down. When it appears as though Pearly and his men have him trapped, Peter is miraculously saved by a horse with magical powers, which include the ability to fly. Peter goes about his normal thieving until he breaks into a house where he meets Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay). The two instantly fall in love, but their relationship is cut short due to her death by consumption. Shortly after, another encounter with Pearly leaves Peter with amnesia, which he struggles with all the way to the present day, where he continues his quest to remember who he is and what his life was all about.
If anyone would be able to bring order and stability to an adaptation of such a long novel (nearly 800 pages), you would think Academy Award winner Akiva Goldsman (“A Beautiful Mind”) could, but unfortunately what he ends up bringing to the screen is a mess of elements that never really combine into a cohesive whole. The central story is a romance between a young man who changes his ways and a young woman who doesn’t have long to live, which might indeed make for a fine film on its own, but included are strange bits of fantasy (a flying angelic horse, the personification of evil as played by Russell Crowe, the devil as played by Will Smith, and immortality through love) that don’t feel like they fit into the overall plot.
Another big issue the film faces are that the characters just aren’t developed very well, leading to a heavy feeling of indifference towards what happens to them, a point that is strongly illustrated in the scene where we feel nothing when Beverly loses her fight with consumption. Perhaps this is merely too much story to try and squeeze into a relatively small two-hour film, or, as someone who has never read the book, it could be that Helprin’s novel is just not that good (though it’s more likely that the former is more true than the latter). Either way, this is an adaptation that simply doesn’t have much of anything that is engaging about it, leading to two hours that end up being more of a slog than the celebration of life and love it should have been.
“Winter’s Tale” arrives on Blu-ray in a 2.4:1, 1080p High Definition transfer that features a perfectly sharp picture despite the overall drab color palette that is used throughout most of the film. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a little on the soft side, but given that this is a rather quiet film, it’s not all that surprising. As usual, a slight adjustment in the volume is all that’s needed to fix this little problem. Overall, there are no issues to report that interfere significantly with either area.
Winter’s Tale: A Timeless Love and Characters of Good and Evil: These are your standard behind the scenes featurettes that feature interviews with the cast and crew discussing the various characters and the challenges in bringing the book to the screen. They’re not particularly in depth, but if you’re looking to learn a little about the film, you may find them worth watching.
Additional Scenes: About 12 minutes worth of deleted and extended scenes that aren’t particularly worth seeing given that they don’t add anything to the film.
“Winter’s Tale” is a film with too many ingredients for its own good, resulting in a story that’s bogged down with unnecessary elements. Goldsman tries to get at the heart of the narrative by focusing on the love story at its center, but even someone with his talents is unable to prevent this adaptation from becoming a messy blend of romance and fantasy that’s never able to get the audience engaged. However, keep in mind that he was trying to chop down an 800-page book into a two-hour movie, so perhaps this end result is merely a sign that it couldn’t and shouldn’t be done. “Winter’s Tale” has the makings of an epic and emotional story, but trying to cram so much into a relatively short time should have been an obvious mistake from the start.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: House of Cards: Season Two, The Lego Movie, Ernest & Celestine, 13 Sins, Joe, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Tim’s Vermeer, Alan Partridge, RoboCop (2014), Alexander: The Ultimate Cut, Ravenous, Son of God, The Rodgers & Hammerstein Collection, Stalingrad, The Monuments Men, Pompeii, 3 Days to Kill, Grand Piano, Her, Orange is the New Black: Season One, I, Frankenstein, Final Exam, Evilspeak
Now playing in theaters: How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.