Judge Daryl Loomis has skin as red as blood, lips as black as ebony, and hair as white as snow.
Beauty is my power.
Traditionally, many fairytales are weird, cruel stories designed, basically, to scare children. Today, though, through the magic of Uncle Walt, they're infantilized, turned cutesy, and used to bilk money out of parents through limited time DVD and Blu-ray releases. They're great stories, though, and simple enough that new film versions of them could be churned out easily and successfully. Now that's happened, at least once. Starring a bunch of people I really don't care for and directed by a first timer, Snow White & the Huntsman arrives on Blu-ray and the results far exceed my expectations.
Facts of the Case
Snow White (Kristen Stewart, Panic Room) was born a princess, but when Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron, Monster) kills her father and takes the throne, not only is she put into prison, but everything beautiful in the kingdom dies. Ravenna, her evil powers based around stealing the youth and vitality of others, finds out from her magic mirror that she is no longer the fairest in the land, and that her now-grown stepdaughter is hotter; so she orders her heart served to her on a platter. Snow White manages an escape, though, and heads off into the Dark Forest, where nothing good can happen. Ravenna sends a Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, Thor) to bring her back. When he finds her, she appeals to him to turn on the queen and join her. Together, they begin a quest to take down Ravenna and restore the beauty of the kingdom.
I like Charlize Theron pretty well, but a movie featuring the girl from the sparkly vampire movies and Thor does not instill very much confidence in me. While my hopes were low, though, Snow White & the Huntsman proved itself to be a good, if not great, take on the classic fairytale. Unlike the classic Disney cartoon, the only thing cute about the film are the two female leads, though trying to convince me that Kristen Stewart is fairer than Charlize Theron is a losing battle. But that's neither here nor there; more important is director Rupert Sanders, in his first feature film creates a whole world full of wonder and fantasy with barely a hint of romance and plenty of cruelty.
I don't know what it is about the British forest, but in the films made within it, be they Snow White & the Huntsman or classic Hammer horror, there's a haunting mystique that's hard to match. The fog, the gnarled trees, the mossy atmosphere, all of it becomes a character in itself, through which the actors perform.
And perform they do. While the characters don't have a ton of dimensions, all the performers put their all into their roles. Snow White is a far more feminist character here than she is in the original story, and Stewart makes it her own. She's fierce, did her own stunts and, apparently at one particular point, really slugged Hemsworth square in the face. It's that kind of attitude that makes me respect someone who I'd had a hard time seeing the people, but based on this, I'll watch her again in particular roles. Hemsworth doesn't have a lot to do except for run around being tough, which I have no doubt he is, but his huntsman is an appealing foil for Snow White. The person who really brings the hammer down, though, is Charlize Theron, whose Ravenna is a beautiful beast. Her speeches are convincing, she has the cold, cruel look in her eyes that you want from an evil queen, and she has the absolute presence to make it a truly complete character. I can't imagine a more pure embodiment of Ravenna and bravo to her for it.
What's most surprising is that, not only did Universal give the helm to a first-timer, Sanders takes the ball and runs with it. It's a tight film, with an unobtrusive style that gives me a lot of hope for the future. The effects, some practical and some computer generated, are imaginative and believable, including an awesome army of soldiers made of obsidian; they look really good.
I really only have two complaints about Snow White & the Huntsman. First, there's a disconnect between Snow White being a princess under siege, needing protection and her becoming an armor-clad, sword-wielding badass. It seems like there are a few scenes missing. The second, more important problem is how they deal with the dwarves. They don't have a lot of screen time, which is fine, but the actors are the likes of Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), Ian McShane (44 Inch Chest), and Ray Winstone (Nil by Mouth). Great actors, to be sure, but what's wrong with using little people in roles that are clearly written for them? It's not a deal breaker, but it bugs me. Otherwise, this is a fine film that hits all the right notes and is totally entertaining, to boot.
Snow White & the Huntsman arrives on Blu-ray in a stacked edition that should satisfy any fan of the film. For starters, the set comes with both the extended and theatrical cuts, plus the DVD version, downloadable version, and UltraViolet copy, which is way more than I have any use for, but it's here. The 2.35:1/1080p image transfer is gorgeous, with details rendered beautifully all the way to the back of the frame. Colors are virtually perfect, black levels are nice and deep, and there is fantastic clarity in even the darkest scenes. The sound, too, is excellent, with a great 7.1 DTS-HD mix. The surround channels aren't doubled up, either, like so many films that use the expanded mix do; it's full and differentiated throughout the spectrum.
The long list of special features begins with a commentary by director Sanders, visual effects supervisor Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, and editor Neil Smith; an informative, but not terribly interesting talk. They go into a fair bit of detail on the production and explain where the extended footage comes in, but most of the information is covered elsewhere on the disc. Next, we have "A New Legend Is Born," a twenty minute featurette on the production, where much of that info is covered. Those are the extras on both the Blu-ray and the DVD.
The Blu-ray exclusives begin with another series o featurettes: "Reinventing the Fairytale," focusing on the decisions they made to adapt the story to their ends; "Citizens of the Kingdom," four short pieces about the three main characters and the dwarves; and "The Magic of Snow White & the Huntsman," on the special effects. "Around the Kingdom: 360° Set Tour" is actually a really cool feature that gives multiple detailed views of the elaborate sets. I haven't really seen a feature like it, but seeing it for oneself is much better than having it described. Additionally, we have Universal's Second Screen, which is something that apparently gives additional info about the film, but I don't know because I don't have an iPad. It's a fine disc for a fine film.
There are a few things that don't ring so well with me but, overall, given a first time feature director and stars that I'm not sold on, Snow White & the Huntsman really succeeds. I wish they'd gone crueler with the adaptation, but the performances and the look are totally there, making for a fun and action-packed fantasy film that works very well.
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