Sony // 1996 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // October 21st, 2009
Relax, it's only magic.
It was 1996 and audiences were ravenous for pretty, young, rich people doing terrible things to one another. Fans wanted it and studios delivered, both on television and the silver screen. Director Andrew Fleming (Dick) capitalized on this trend with The Craft. A favorite among both young women and fans of Catholic schoolgirls alike, let's see what kind of craft has gone into Sony's Blu-ray presentation.
Sarah (Robin Tunney, Vertical Limit) has just enrolled at her new Catholic school and has no friends. A group of outcast girls, known by their peers as "the bitches of Eastwick," bring her into their fold because they sense something in her, something powerful. The girls practice Wicca, but they're missing the one piece that could give them real power and Sarah can complete them. With her in the circle, the girls can summon the powers of the elements, cast spells, and have anything they want. At first, they're just playing around. But once they get a taste of the weapon they wield, fun and games quickly turn violent.
The Craft begins better than it ends, but nonetheless remains a fun diversion thirteen years after its release. A story of misfits making their lives better, these girls recognize that the power is within them. With the unity of their friendship and each one's unique individual nature, they have the strength to push back the forces that seek to make them miserable. What starts as a good stance on feminism and the value of individuality, however, is undermined by a toothless, careful what-you-wish-for conclusion that brings the whole film down by letting us know that conformity is the root of true teenage happiness.
Each of the girls has been ostracized for a different reason. Nancy (Fairuza Balk, Valmont) is poor and depressed coming from an abusive household. Bonnie (Neve Campbell, Wild Things) is covered in scars from an old accident. Rochelle (Rachel True, Embrace of the Vampire), an African American, must endure daily slurs from her racist peers. Sarah doesn't really have a whole lot of problems except that she's new, but it's enough to serve. Much as they're derided by the school as a whole, they accept each other and, as any mom will tell her child, what other people think is worthless; just be yourself. Like any group of teens, they have their activities they obsess over, they just happen to involve summoning the spirits of the elements to do their bidding. Once they attain their goal, it's time for some sweet revenge. These are the best parts of the film; it's satisfying to see those that wronged them get something back. This is also, strangely, where the film started to lose me. They stress throughout the film that whatever you do will come back three-fold onto you, so at least it's expected and consistent. When this inevitable comeuppance occurs, however, the film becomes a cautionary tale warning kids to play nice and not be yourself, or you're going to get it.
There is a very strict black and white dichotomy that emerges in the film at this point which ultimately makes the story a disappointment. The Craft never portrays witchcraft as necessarily evil; it has elements of darkness and light, but is an inherently dangerous activity regardless what side is chosen. It is left to the individual to decide and, once this is established, the film becomes decidedly predictable. Sarah's a goody-goody; there's no chance she's turning bad. Nancy, on the other hand, she seems like a bad egg from the start. I wonder what she'll decide. The climax is a very typical Hollywood showdown full of stunts and effects that are out of step with what is generally a quiet film and feels tacked on. The people who made the girls' lives miserable are completely forgotten and, despite the fact that these girls were the best of friends, no attempt is made to give closure to those relationships.
The Craft on Blu-ray is an improvement over the film's previous incarnations, but not the slam dunk that it could have been. The image looks mostly very good with sharp contrast and strong, accurate colors. The 1080p transfer is a little soft at times, however, with some noticeable grain in the darker scenes. The effects don't hold up that well against the improved clarity, either, looking their age much more than they had in previous standard definition releases. On the whole, though, it is a decent improvement. The sound fares a little better. A DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix, each channel has great definition and separation is strong all the way around. The dialog is very clear and the sound effects, especially in the climactic sequence, are bombastic without drowning out the rest of the sound design. The extra features are a direct port from the 2000 Special Edition release of The Craft, but are still pretty good. We start with a very good audio commentary from Andrew Fleming, who has interesting things to say about every aspect of the film. Rarely is there a pause in his monologue as he tells stories about the production and lends quality insight into the framing of images and the thematic material that underscores the story. Next, we have three deleted scenes, totaling about five minutes, which really should have been included in the film. Each one is complete with a commentary from the director, and he gives his reasons for eliminating them, but each adds something to the film, and given that the film verges on two hours anyway, the extra five minutes would not have been a deal breaker. Finally, we have two making-of featurettes. The first is a fluff piece that was produced for the original release. While it's interesting to see how these things have changed over the years, and it has the '90s voice-over guy that I really like, the piece is awful. The later one is much better, longer and more comprehensive but, more importantly, is for information instead of promotion, and it shows in the quality.
While The Craft is not the most satisfying film, it deserves credit for its female-centric story and cast. Any character worth anything in the film is a woman. The males are reduced to brutish idiots who, in the end, really aren't in the picture at all. So often, even in films marketed to women, a man has to be around to lend advice or save the day. It's refreshing to see women in power, too rare even for films made with them in mind. The four actresses, each in her first major role, all do well the material and seem to relish the opportunity to take control and lead the film.
I give The Craft a marginal recommendation. It's entertaining, but not very deep. Its message is inconsistent and (by the end) completely thrown out the window, truly damaging the film. For fans, the Blu-ray may not be a necessary upgrade, but it is an improvement.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Portuguese)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes