Sunday, 6 January 2013

Snow White and The Huntsman

2012, US, Directed by Rupert Sanders
Colour, Running Time: 131 minutes
Review Source: Blu-ray, Region B, Universal; Video: 2.39:1 1080p 24fps, Audio: DTS HD MA

Obviously taking its cue from the Brothers Grimm story, this contemporary special-effects-laden adaptation has more in common with Lord of the Rings than it does Disney's beautiful animated ground-breaker. Probably everybody in the western world has seen the Disney film even if they haven't read the story, but this new live action epic roughly follows an outline that goes like this: Magnus, King of Tabor loses his wife to illness but later the grief-stricken, cloudy minded man becomes enamoured with Ravenna, an apparent slave girl of great beauty. As soon as he marries her, however, she reveals her true colours, brings about the King's premature demise, and takes over the kingdom. Her subsequent sphere of evil influence even spreads to nature where everything rots in the vicinity of the castle. Snow White, the King's daughter who has been kept imprisoned in the years since his murder, manages to escape the castle and heads out towards the marshes. The previously reassured Queen discovers that she is no longer the most beautiful female in the land (now that White has matured) via the subjective opinion of a being that occupies a mystical mirror and thus sends out a team, led by a rebellious hunter, to end Snow White's existence - some people just won't accept second best it seems! The hunter, having been tricked by the Queen's promise of resurrecting his dead wife, eventually comes to his senses - he despatches of the other assassins and teams up with Snow White to embark on a journey towards the good duke's nearby domain with the eventual aim of launching an assault on the Queen's castle in order to reclaim the kingdom warranted by Snow White's rightful bloodline.
Prepare yourself as you begin to watch because this story is expanded to near epic proportions, exceeding two hours and encompassing a quest that would not seem out of place had it been undertaken by Tolkien's Fellowship. The biggest problem with Snow White... in my opinion is the absence of any evidence of an auteur's touch. Whilst it is striking to look at throughout, it doesn't have much personality of its own other than highly imaginative special effects and sumptuous set design. This is compounded by the fact that the titular female is embellished with little character by actress Kristen Stewart, who has made her name with Twilight fans (probably a motivational factor in casting her here). In fact, she comes across as not much more than a miserable teenager whose transition from daddy's girl to army-leading warrioress is scarcely believable, even in a fairytale context. She brings nothing to the role as far as I can tell, not even an occasional change of facial expression. Not only that, but she's arguably less attractive than Charlize Theron from my point of view, which makes a bit of a mockery of the 'fairest of them all' issue that perpetually rubs the Queen up the wrong way. Elsewhere, the huntsman is more charismatically played by Thor, sorry, Chris Hemsworth, doing a Scottish accent - at least he has a little personality even if it is interchangeable with that of the Thunder God. Thankfully Theron really does take the crown as Queen Ravenna, injecting venom as well as a dose of underlying sorrow that is essential in fleshing out her character. There has to be something wrong with this woman if she is perennially obsessed with the reassurance of her own beauty and power, and the viewer may sense an air of tragedy in light of Theron's performance. Snow White does, if you were wondering, meet a posse of dwarves (it's quite fun to spot some of the actors playing these, as they are not instantly recognisable) who tag along for the adventure. What I find odd is the fact that a first-time director would be entrusted with what is essentially a large production - the budget for this film was absolutely huge. My theory is that they didn't want to risk such an investment with someone like Terry Gilliam taking charge, where such an auteur basically goes off on their own creative journey, usually to the studio's chagrin. So they hired a puppet, as harsh as it may sound. Watching Sanders speak to the camera in the interviews reveals that he may have as little personality as what this film has had injected into it, or perhaps he just doesn't come across well when the camera's on him. It seems, at least in commercial terms, this strategy paid off, as the film raked in a reasonable amount of money and, ridiculously (given the ancient literary foundations), a sequel has been announced as a possibility. What does stand out in this production is the visual aspect - the landscapes, villages, castles, and in particular the Dark Forest; all of these come together to create a stunning fairy tale that has come to life, and the special effects work is wonderful to watch in action. It's a pity that some of that life didn't seep through to Stewart and the director, as a pretty watchable film could have began taking shape as a modern classic.

I picked up the steelbook Blu-ray edition of this: the packaging is limited but attractively designed nonetheless. It goes without saying that the HD image, though not overly sharp, is great to look at, boasting a fantastic colour palette that is often muted (at source) but subtley stimulating. The 7.1 lossless audio track (downmixed to 5.1 in my case) will give any reference audio system or otherwise an invigorating workout. The disc contains the original theatrical version, or an extended version (presumably branched - I noticed no issues here), but there's only a few minutes between them and only having seen the latter I can't say what the difference is - I suspect it's minimal. Also on the disc there's a chance to pan some of the photographed locations by 360 degrees using remote key presses - nice but didn't work as fluidly as I'd hoped. There's also a number of other featurettes on the production, effects, etc, along with an audio commentary rounding out a strongly stocked package.

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