"I shall give this wretched world the queen it deserves."
Revisionist fairy tales are the newest fad to hit Hollywood, especially since Disney made over a billion dollars with Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland." The House of Mouse is also developing "Maleficent," a new take on "Sleeping Beauty" from the perspective of the evil sorceress with Angelina Jolie in the title role. At the same time, they postponed production on "The Order of the Seven," which would have seen Saoirse Ronan as a version of Snow White under the protection of seven martial arts masters. An escalating budget and the fact that two other studios beat Disney to the punch were factors in its derailment. Relativity Media took the lighthearted, kid-friendly route with Tarsem Singh's "Mirror Mirror," while Universal went darker with "Snow White and the Huntsman."
Once upon a time, King Magnus (Noah Huntley) reigned over the land in peace though he was saddened by the death of his wife. That is, until he rescued the beautiful Ravenna (Charlize Theron) from the clutches of a Dark Army. Ravenna wastes no time in seducing then murdering the king, stealing the throne, and locking the king's daughter, Snow White (Raffey Cassidy as a child, Kristen Stewart as an adult) in the tower. Ravenna must steal the youth of pretty girls to maintain her attractiveness. But, to stay forever young, she must consume Snow White's heart when she comes of age.
Snow White eventually escapes into the Dark Forest (yes, everything is dark in this movie) where no man dares to tread. Ravenna and her obsequies brother, Finn (Sam Spruell), enlist the assistance of the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), a scruffy bruiser prone to drink following the death of his wife. The Huntsman reluctantly helps the Queen's henchmen track down Snow White before joining forces with the princess as well as her childhood love Prince William (Sam Clafin) and a band of dwarves led by the blind Muir (Bob Hoskins).
"Snow White and the Huntsman" is clearly inspired by "Lord of the Rings" and HBO's "Game of Thrones," setting the story in a grimy medieval world where knights in armor clash on the battlefield. In his feature debut, commercial director Rupert Sanders relies too much on herky jerky camera movements for his action sequences. This quibble can be forgiven because the film is handsomely shot by cinematographer Greig Fraser ("Spider," "Let Me In") with James Newton Howard's score bringing the sturm und drang and a random Florence & The Machine song to go over the end credits.
"Twilight" star Kristen Stewart is once again caught in the middle of a love triangle between the gruff Huntsman and the noble prince. While Stewart excels at being the doe-eyed waif, she struggles during the picture's heavier moments. She just doesn't have the gravitas (or a convincing English accent) needed when called upon to deliver the climactic "Braveheart"/St. Crispin's Day speech to inspire the masses. It's not entirely her fault as the screenplay credited to Evan Daughtery, John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side"), and Hossein Amini ("Drive") fails to feed Stewart dialogue that could stir a cup of coffee, let alone an army to rise against the oppressive regime. Never mind how a girl locked in a tiny cell for half her life suddenly becomes Joan of Arc.
Chris Hemsworth trades his mystical uru hammer for an axe to play the roguish romantic lead. Audiences will likely choose Team Huntsman over Team William due to the Han Solo-esque charm Hemsworth adds to the character over the blandness of the prince. This is no knock on Sam Clafin's acting abilities, but a reflection on the script's thin characterization as well as a lack of screen time. More time too could have been devoted to the dwarves, whom Sanders cast as if he were casting a British gangster pic. Thus, we get incredible thespians like Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, and Nick Frost along with the lesser known Johnny Harris and Brian Gleeson, son of Brendan Gleeson. Movie magic turns them into a diminutive band of highwaymen.
The most fascinating character in "Snow White" is the evil Queen Ravenna and Charlize Theron gets to play it to the hilt. Theron is so good in the role that you'll actually be rooting for the bad guy to win. This is a damaged woman transformed into a man-hating succubus by a cruel patriarchal society that destroys innocence and beauty. Ravenna has a strange incestuous relationship with her brother reminiscent of Cersei and Jaime Lannister. The creepiness is amplified by Sam Spruell's pageboy haircut, which makes him look like an albino Anton Chigurh.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Universal's transfer may be the fairest of them all. The picture quality really brings out the minute details of the ornate costumes. The blacks and grays of the Dark Forest are a great contrast to the lush greens of the enchanted woods.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. The sound is reference quality and truly a treat for the ears. The action sequences are full of powerful effects like the shattering of the Queen's Dark Army, the roar of the troll, and the clang of swords and shields. Top those off with the bombastic score by James Newton Howard for an immersive experience. Even subtler effects such as a soaring arrow and the fluttering of faerie wings come off strong.
The Blu-ray features an audio commentary track with director Rupert Sanders, visual effects supervisor Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and co-editor Neil Smith. The participants spend a lot of time discussing obvious themes of the film as well as other aspects including casting, VFX, and production design. There's also a U-Control option with additional picture-in-picture featurettes.
A New Legend Is Born (20:53) is a behind-the-scenes look at various aspects of the production such as the cast, the production design, and the costumes by Colleen Atwood. It should be noted that the comments made by Sanders and Stewart about each other take on a new meaning in light of the tabloid headlines.
Reinventing the Fairy Tale (6:07) focuses on the development of the script and a promo reel that Sanders shot on his own to help sell the picture.
Citizens of the Kingdom is a four-part look at the main characters. The featurettes are: Fairest of Them All: Snow White (5:48), Deliciously Evil: Queen Ravenna (5:36), The Huntsman (5:04), Motley Crew: The Dwarves (6:42). The last is the best of the bunch as it reveals some of the movie magic that went into creating the dwarves.
The Magic of Snow White and the Huntsman (13:23) looks at the special effects and their work on realizing the world of "Snow White" and its inhabitants.
Around the Kingdom: 360 Set Tour uses panoramic photographs allowing the viewer to explore some of the sets like the Dark Forest and the Queen's castle.
The Blu-ray has a Second Screen option that allows the viewer to access bonus material with their mobile device. It also includes a DVD and Digital Copy versions of the film.
"Snow White and the Huntsman" is a surprisingly entertaining fantasy film. Yes, Kristen Stewart is miscast as the lead and the screenplay is riddled with clichés of Snow White being "the one." However, the visuals are stunning and Charlize Theron is absolutely captivating as the villainous queen.