Snow White and the Huntsman Blu-ray Review: A Visual Spectacle, But Not Quite a Classic Reborn

Convincing effects can’t cover up a thin story with some judicious liberties taken, but it’s still a fun ride.
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It’s been many years since I saw the Disney incarnation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, so the first thing I did after viewing Snow White and the Huntsman was to dust off that classic and freshen up on what has changed in the last 75 years.  It seems this retelling borrows some elements from both the 1937 classic and the original Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale.

SnowWhiteHuntsman_BDartLet’s get a few basics out of the way.  First, Snow White’s (Kristen Stewart) stepmother queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) hires a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to track her down.  Along the way, there are seven dwarves who help Snow White.  The evil queen finally gets Snow White where she wants her by way of a poison apple, but Snow White returns from the dead to live happily ever after.  That much is consistent throughout all three tellings (numerous other versions in television and cinema notwithstanding).

So what’s changed?  Well, the Brothers Grimm saw Snow White falling near death three times (once by dress lace, once by poison comb, and finally via poison apple), and she’s brought back not by a kiss, but by the prince dropping her corpse and the jolt dislodging the poison apple, at which point she revives and goes off to marry him.  The queen shows up at their wedding, is forced to wear iron-hot slippers and dance herself to death in them.  Cheery.  Not much in the way of romance, fairly dark, kind of creepy. Disney comes gallivanting along, turns the story into a musical where Snow White plays with lots of animals, is only killed once by the queen, and is revived by the prince’s kiss, after which they ride off to his castle and presumably live happily ever after (as she wished for upon the apple that nearly killed her).  Very swoony and romantic, upbeat and chipper, the only dark scenes involve the queen’s setup and exit from the story.  Now in the live action 2012 adaptation, Snow White’s childhood is elaborated upon along with the queen’s backstory and introduction to the family, Snow’s mother’s death, the queen assuming the throne, killing the king, and being a raging feminist about it the whole time.  They pretty clearly beat you over the head with her disdain toward the objectification of women, and the point might hit home if she didn’t constantly strive for and focus on maintaining her own beauty solely to continue to allow herself to be objectified as a means to acquire more power.

The queen is a sorcerer of sorts in just about every telling, to one extent or another.  In this latest entry, she sucks the life force out of attractive young women to keep herself looking fresh, and learns that Snow White is the only threat to her, but also her only means of attaining immortality.  She can only be slain by one of blood as pure as Snow White’s, but also can only attain life and youth everlasting by taking her life force.  Turns out to be quite the conundrum.

The huntsman is sent after Snow White in the Dark Forest, which is common to all versions of the tale, but instead of requiring he return with her lungs and liver (Grimm) or heart (Disney), this time around the queen wants her alive.  The huntsman, true to his character, changes his mind at the last minute, but instead of harvesting organs from a boar, he turns on the queen's guards sent with him after the queen’s brother Finn (Sam Spruell) idiotically admits that the queen cannot and will not hold up her end of their bargain (previously, her command was issued, the huntsman went; this time, she has to make a deal with him to return his dead wife to life).

Quickly the huntsman goes from assailant to protector, developing a fondness for Snow White.  They set out from Duke Hammond’s castle to get aid in defeating the queen, picking up the seven dwarves along the way.  This time around, the dwarves are retired miners turned warrior tribe, which is awfully convenient for the very battle-heavy storyline.  There’s also a much stronger connection made between Snow White and the essence of life itself.  This isn’t thoroughly explored, but made clear enough that we continue along for the ride.  I’m sorry, but Kristen Stewart does little to make us sympathize with or even understand what’s going on with her character.  I thought maybe this was unique to the specific type of blandness with which Bella Swan was characterized in the Twilight novels and carried over to her silver screen performance, but even here, she barely breaks out of that slightly confused, generally unexpressive look of “duh” she’s become known for.

They reach the Duke’s castle to mild jubilation, she is reunited with the Duke’s son and her childhood friend William (Sam Claflin), who has apparently been harboring a wicked-bad crush on her all these years, but never got the balls up to tell her so, even now.  Romance definitely takes a back seat to action and adventure and flashy effects this time around.  In fact, it’s so far in the back seat I’d say it’s in the trunk under the spare tire.  Two kisses of any note are shown in the movie, one between an impostor William and one between the huntsman.  The former sets her up to take a bite from the poison apple, and the latter wakes her from the death imposed by said apple.  However, it’s never revealed that the huntsman is of noble blood or is particularly attracted to Snow White or anything, so it’s not clear why this event brings her back from the brink.  At least she seemed to have mutual affection for William, so some argument could have been made that the power of love saved her.  Nope.  We need to get back to the fantastical killing already, so gloss over it, give her an overblown and relatively unconvincing motivational speech to the Duke’s forces (The President’s speech in Independence Day got me more psyched than this), and march for the castle!

More medieval swordplay and other horrors of combat from that era ensue (arrow storms, boiling oil, trebuchets, etc.), and before you know it, it’s a girl-on-girl fight to the death between Snow White and the queen.  Guess who wins.

I can’t fault the movie for the liberties it takes with the story; that seems to be the norm (note that in virtually every version told, the dwarves have different names).  There’s much to be said about the consistent look of the movie throughout, from cramped prison cells to epic battlefields, the effects, costumes, and set design are top notch.  The audio is well produced as well, and the solid casting is worth noting as well (didn’t even realize Bob Hoskins and Nick Frost were in here).  Given the focus on action and adventure over romance, relationships, and sentimental musical numbers, it’s also forgivable that the story isn’t deep or multi-faceted.  It does a pretty good job overall of crafting a fantasy world and telling a story that was paced such that I wanted to stick with it throughout.  I do have to wonder how it might have been different if they’d have cast someone more expressive in the primary role, though.  Surely Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan, Juno Temple, or Emma Watson could have spared a moment to screen test for the part and done wonders with it.

The Blu-ray/DVD combination offers a slew of extra features in which you could lose yourself for hours after the original feature..

DVD:

  • Commentary with director, visual effects supervisor, and co-editor
  • Making of featurette
  • Both theatrical and extended editions on the disc (four minutes of additional content)
  • English, Spanish, French language options
  • DVS

Blu-ray:

  • Noticeably sharper picture over DVD
  • Both theatrical and extended editions on the disc (four minutes of additional content)
  • Pocket Blu app support (second screen)
  • Commentary with director, visual effects supervisor, and co-editor
  • English 7.1, Spanish 5.1, French language 5.1
  • DVS
  • Several additional making-of and behind the scenes featurettes
  • U-Control
  • Blu-ray user guides
  • BD Live content
  • Ticker offers additional info during film

I have to say, Snow White and the Huntsman was a satisfying ride, and you’ll likely enjoy it, too, as long as you come in with the right expectations.  It’s a fantasy epic with enough of the original story intact to keep you looking for the next tie-in.  The sets are suitably epic, the performances given with gusto (Charlize Theron in particular goes all out), and production values consistently kept lofty.  It won’t dethrone fantasy classics like Willow or Labyrinth or Lord of the Rings, but it does a good job of owning what it sets out to do.

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