“Everything is relative.” I’m not sure what I was expecting when I opened The Nutcracker: The Untold Story, now available from Universal Home Studios on Blu-ray just in time for the holiday season.
I’ve always loved the Nutcracker Ballet. The gorgeous, evocative music of the great Russian composer Tchaikovsky, the colorful, surreal sets, and of course the dancing that makes the ballet take off and soar into a magical, mystical world. We first took our daughter to see it performed live when she was five.
I’d not heard of this film before, and I was disappointed to say the least. Taking place in 1920s Austria, the movie revolves around a young girl Mary (Elle Fanning), on Christmas Eve. Her parents out at a grand ball (Mom is a chanteuse, given the honor of performing in front of the royal court), Mary (Elle Fanning) is disappointed, believing that Christmas Eve is for family to be together.
Left in the care of her eccentric uncle (Nathan Lane), who gives her a couple of unusual gifts, including the Nutcracker of course, her imagination runs wild as her home turns into a dark fantasy land, both beautiful and foreboding, unfolding into the well-known fairy tale. The evil Rat King threatens a magical kingdom, and in order to save the kingdom and its enchanted prince (the Nutcracker), Mary must uncover a deep secret.
Although the movie starts out endearingly enough, it soon turns dark, perhaps too dark for the children of its target audience. It’s certainly a strange telling of E.T.A Hoffman’s classic story, which inspired Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet. However, the movie is not made better by setting some of Tchaikovsky’s music to Tim Rice’s Broadway-esque lyrics. To me, the incredible, inspired score to the ballet has always spoken for itself, and adding lyrics like a silly, uninspired song about relativity to the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies,” just about kills it for me.
On the other hand, the movie looks great in Blu-ray. The 1080p transfer with 2.39:1 aspect ratio is perfect. The colors and tones are vibrant and clear, with no noise at all, whether we are in the brightness of Mary’s home or the drear of a war-torn, rat-infested city. The contrasts and shadows, even in the darkest scenes, render the image vivid and vibrant. The DTS-HD Master audio track makes the most of the Tchaikovsky (inspired) score, so crucial to the film. Dialogue is crisp and every sound, even in the background of the action is well-defined and pure.
The Blu-ray includes a nearly hour-long documentary on the making of The Nutcracker: The Untold Story. The featurette goes into depth about the technical and production aspects of making the film, as well as discussions with the actors and creative team on delivering a new take on a classic fairy tale—as well as a different angle on such a well-known and beloved story—and classical composition.