by Sherry Lipp
This article first published as Blu-ray Review: Snow White and the Huntsman on Blogcritics.org.
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The tale of Snow White is a familiar one. The brothers Grimm published their version in 1812, and that has served as the definitive version ever since. The most familiar adaptation may be Disney’s 1937 animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That version gave the dwarfs their familiar names (i.e. Doc, Sneezy, Dopey, Happy, etc). The story has been adapted for stage and screen many times over the years. 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman provides a new take on the story, centering primarily on Snow White’s escape from the Evil Queen, and adding a deepened relationship with the huntsman sent to kill her. While the film gets off to a decent start with some fun twists to the personality of the Evil Queen, it grinds to a halt as Snow White (Kristen Stewart) and The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) painstakingly make their way through the forest to find help. Kristen Stewart sadly lacks the charm needed to make Snow White a character worth rooting for.
This version of the tale takes some liberties with the familiar story, to both good and bad effect. Unfortunately the bad outweighs the good. When Snow White is a young child her mother dies. Her grief-stricken father, King Magnus (Noah Huntley), meets the beautiful Ravenna (Charlize Theron) during a battle. He is so taken with her he marries her the very next day. The king then dies and the power-hungry Ravenna quickly takes over the kingdom. Young Snow White attempts to flee, but is captured and locked away in a tower. The new queen is so evil, all the trees and flowers in the kingdom die because of her mere presence. The people of the kingdom live in oppression and constant fear of the queen’s wrath. Ravenna is not only an evil ruler, but she is a man-hating mad woman. It’s an interesting twist to the queen’s character. The only man she can tolerate in her life is her quivering brother, Finn (Sam Spruell), who does her every bidding.
Many years pass with the kingdom in great despair under Queen Ravenna’s rule. Then one day she asks the magic mirror who the fairest of them all is. For the first time the mirror replies that it is not her, but Snow White, who has recently come of age. The queen is, of course, incensed by the suggestion that she is not as beautiful as she thinks. She also learns that if she eats Snow White’s heart she will have eternal youth and beauty. Before the queen can kill her, Snow White manages to escape and flee into the forest. The queen hires the Huntsman, who is an alcoholic widower, to bring her back. Just as in the original story, the Huntsman has a change of heart about bringing Snow White to her death. The two embark on a journey to the castle of Duke Hammond (Vincent Regan), whose son William (Sam Claflin) was Snow White’s childhood friend.
The first half of the film holds a fair amount of excitement and intrigue. Charlize Theron does a good job of not only making the queen unrepentantly evil, but creepy as well. The scenes where Snow White first makes her escape are tense, as she makes her way through a dark forest with hidden evils. Hemsworth does a good job of bringing some emotion to his character as he laments the death of his wife. The film falters around the time Snow White and the Huntsman meet up with the dwarves (who have completely different names than the Disney version). At that point, the film centers on their walk to castle of the Duke and it loses its narrative drive. The film also suffers in its characterization of Snow White herself. Because we are familiar with the story, it’s easy to accept the mirror’s declaration that she is now the fairest of them all, but nothing in this film actually shows that. Snow White is not even a factor in the story until she escapes from her cell. The other characters say that she has a light about her, but Kristen Stewart does not display that sparkle at all. She is good at the action-oriented scenes, but there isn’t anything about her portrayal of Snow White that makes the character special.
Where the film also falters in its storytelling is in the love story. It’s completely unfocused. William is the stand-in for Prince Charming. He has been regretting that he was unable to rescue Snow White all these years, so when he learns she is still alive, he is of course overjoyed. Snow White however, does not seem to care for him all that much. The film attempts a love triangle, in which Snow White has feelings for the Huntsman, but it’s not a strong story. Snow White does not seem to care about William or the Huntsman very much. Without that strong love story it’s hard to feel the motivation of the characters. Yes, they want to save the kingdom, but the personal element is missing. The Huntsman at least has the redemption for the loss of his wife in helping Snow White. Overall, Snow White and the Huntsman suffers from flimsy storytelling and a weak character in Snow White herself.
Snow White and the Huntsman is presented with a 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The video quality is excellent, with detail that is quite sharp. Even when Snow White is in the murky dark forest, every tree branch and drop of oily mud can be seen clearly. The bright colors of the enchanted forest pop out. The forest looks lush, serving as a nice contrast to the dark world Snow White had formerly inhabited. The skin tones look very natural, with Snow’s pale face contrasting with other characters’ rosier complexions.
The sound is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. The lossless soundtrack provides an immersive experience. The battle scenes come alive with the sounds of thundering hooves, and the clatter of swords. In the quieter moments the ambient sounds of the forest come through nicely. The dialogue is clear and easy to understand. When the magic mirror speaks the booming, bass-heavy voice comes through the front channels as well as the surrounds, enveloping the viewer in its presence. Overall the audio and video presentation is outstanding.
There are many special features included with the set. There is an audio commentary from director Rupert Sanders, co-editor Neil Smith, and visual effects supervisor Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. The three offer insights on many production aspects and how scenes were created. Featurettes include a making-of called “A New Legend is Born,” featuring cast and crew chatting about the production, “Reinventing the Fairy Tale,” a six-minute short about adapting the Grimm story, “Citizens of the Kingdom” about the various characters in the film, and “The Magic of Snow White and the Huntsman,” a short feature on the visual effects. Also included are a U-Control picture-in-picture feature that provides behind the scenes footage, a 360 degree tour of the set, and a second “Second Screen Experience” that is accessible via a tablet or PC.
While Snow White and the Huntsman had its flaws in storytelling, overall this is a nice Blu-ray package. Both the theatrical and extended cuts (four minutes longer) of the film are included. The abundance of special features will please fans of the film.
Photos: Universal Studios