Sometimes movie studios seem to piggyback each other as they compete to release similar-themed films at the same time, and even engage in a race to get theirs out in theaters first. In the past, it's often been disaster-related films, whether an asteroid flick (Armageddon VS Deep Impact) or a volcano-centric story (Dante's Peak VS Volcano), or even animated movies, whether ants (A Bug's Life VS Antz) or zoo animals (Madagascar VS The Wild). For 2012, it's the tale of Snow White being brought to the big screen in live-action form. In April, Relativity Media released an indie, PG-rated take on the fairy tale, with Julia Roberts assuming the role as the evil queen. To contrast, Universal Studios aimed to convert the story into a big-budget blockbuster, casting Twilight's rising star Kristen Stewart as the title character, alongside Thor/Avengers' Chris Hemsworth in Snow White and the Huntsman. With first-time director Rupert Sanders at the helm, the fantasy gets a darker, more fantastical treatment that doesn't always work as well as it probably could have.
The biggest problem Snow White and the Huntsman suffers from is inconsistent and unbalanced storytelling and direction. This can probably be chalked up to Sanders' inexperience as a director and a poor script from screenwriters Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini. The film has a cool, stylized look to it most of the time, but even that is inconsistent. At times, it feels like they're shooting for a 300 or Lord of the Rings look, but they don't always stick to it. Also, some scenes seem to exist just for spectacle's sake, and when it's over, you're likely to wonder, "What in the world was the point of that?"
Casting, for the most part, is strong, however. Stewart does the best she can with an amateur director and subpar script, but with the film asking the audience to believe that she is "fairer" than Charlize Theron is rather a stretch. You can consider inner beauty as being the deciding factor here, but that's never really touched on, so we're left with the idea that it's all being hinged on surface beauty. Hemsworth is great as The Huntsman, following the mega hit Avengers with another weapon-wielding character--this time trading his hammer for an axe. Unfortunately, his character is a bit under-written and undefined, which leaves The Huntsman feeling rather wooden (and really... they couldn't even give him a name?). Theron is intense as the evil queen Ravenna, and her skill as an actress really strengthens the scenes she's in. Theron also does the best with what she's been given to work with, but it proves how much more engaging on screen she is than Stewart. Theron seems to have fun playing Ravenna, at least, and it shows. Sam Spruell plays Ravenna's brother, Finn, but his horrific bowl-cut hair style makes him look more like Lloyd Christmas attempting to be sinister than a real threat. Overall, Finn is more annoying than anything and it's difficult to take him too seriously. The real highlight for the movie may be the appearance of the dwarves. The filmmakers did an incredible job taking regular-size actors and making them believably appear as little dwarves. And the cast that makes up the gang of little men is impressive. Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins lead the pack, with Ray Winstone and comedian Nick Frost (who is usually seen on screen with Simon Pegg) are wonderful additions. They bring some needed charisma and comic relief to the mix, and ultimately feel underused in the end.
But the unevenness in the storytelling may be its biggest strike against it. One of the first confusing sequences involves Snow White fleeing into the "Dark Forest." Upon finding herself in the horrific woodlands, she runs into all kinds of creatures and insects, and other evil presences. All of a sudden, she collapses but seems completely fine. Whatever was attacking her mysteriously stops and she doesn't really seem to have any further problems with the forest. Later, so much emphasis is placed on the dangers of the forest and how people don't make it out alive, yet everyone we see venture in, emerges later. In fact, one scene shows Finn meeting what is apparently a semi-grisly demise. A sinister mist seems to be sucking the life from him as his fingers begin to melt. Later, we see him completely fine as if nothing had happened. There are hints made later on as to how he escaped, but this -- among other things -- are never clearly defined. Also, when Snow White makes her great escape from the tower, a bird brings to her attention a nail sticking out of the side of the tower within reach outside her window. Given that Snow has been locked up in that tower for years on end and probably has come to know every nook and cranny within her grasp, it seems farfetched for us to believe she never had seen that nail before and considered using it as a weapon? Speaking of Snow White, her character is the most inconsistently written out of the bunch. At times she seems timid and completely naive, but without explanation, she starts to quickly grow a backbone. There is one scene where Huntsman teaches her how to kill a man with a knife (to which she insists she could never do that), but after she awakens from her inevitable apple-induced slumber, she's suddenly a charismatic warrior. She fleetingly mentions in a shouted speech to her followers that she has seen what the queen sees, yet we the viewers are never shown this revelation. It happens all too suddenly to be a natural progression (just think of how poorly Lucas showed Anakin go from good to bad--in Star Wars Episode III--in the blink of an eye and it's something along those lines). She was never taught how to fight and all of a sudden, she's clad in armor and leading troops into battle? Where's a sensical transition?
The content for Snow White and the Huntsman is far from family-film material. A local theater chain was promoting free popcorn with the purchase of a childrens ticket for this film, and it was hard to believe that one could consider this a movie for all ages. It's dark in tone and appearance from beginning to end, and there are quite a few terrifying images for younger viewers. It isn't nearly as twisted as Terry Gilliam's 2005 film, The Brother's Grimm, but it's not too far off either. The Dark Forest alone is literally crawling with creepy imagery. Also, there are a few battle scenes with varying amounts of violence shown (although most of it isn't graphic). Ravenna's evil ways are rather gruesome at times, too. She wears a metal claw on her index finger, which we see her using to pick the hearts out of dead birds to eat in one scene. Another time, she seemingly presses her hand into a man's chest, and although nothing graphic is shown, whatever power she uses apparently overloads his heart, killing him. Also, to keep looking young, Ravenna sucks the youth from womens' faces, leaving them looking old and weary. Still a few other scenes involve characters with some bloody scrapes and such, and one character meets his demise by being impaled on a broken tree stump. Overall, the violence, while not pervasive, is often intense. There is some brief sensuality in a few scenes. The first has Finn coming on to Snow White when he confronts her early on in the film. It's implied that he was intending to take advantage of her before she escapes from him, but we don't see anything beyond him suggestively laying his hand on her clothed stomach. In two different scenes, we see Ravenna's entire bare back (once young, once older) and there's a flashback scene of her wedding night with the king, who tries to spark up some passion between the two of them by kissing her neck, but she resists him (and then drives a dagger into his chest, which has some mildly bloody results).
By the time the abrupt and seemingly premature ending hit the screen, it wasn't difficult to feel like I'd just seen a "good" mediocre movie. There are bad movies and there are great movies, and then there are those that are poor but likable for some reason anyway. Snow White and the Huntsman falls somewhere in the mix where it's not one of the really bad movies necessarily, but it's poorly constructed when you know that there's really no excuse for the weak storytelling. It lacks heart where heart could have gone a long way (They make Snow White seem more independent of any romantic inclinations, while she's got the support of two men at her side who both love her. The ending is especially unsatisfying in that department). If you can get by just fine with a movie that thrives on spectacle--and features a few of your favorite actors--then Snow White and the Huntsman should be satisfying enough. However, if you're looking for strong storytelling with a great cast to carry it through, Snow White and the Huntsman only has the latter and therefore just doesn't deliver.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 6/2/12)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Snow White and the Huntsman is available in a real nice Blu-Ray combo pack that includes the Blu-Ray disc, a DVD, a digital copy and Ultraviolet. There's an "Extended Version" of the film included along with the Theatrical Version, that is a mere four minutes longer than the version seen in theaters in the summer of 2012. If you're just looking for a standard DVD release, that is available as well, along with downloads available at all digital retailers. The movie looks excellent in blu-ray, with a vibrant and crisp picture that really aids in the presentation. The BD also has the following extras:
Extended Version - The "Extended Version" of Snow White and the Huntsman is just four minutes longer than the Theatrical Version. While I had a hard time picking out the differences, there were really only two scenes that stuck out to me as totally new to the film. The first takes place while The Huntsman is leading Snow White through the Dark Forest and they come upon the bloody carcass of a deer that bugs are feasting on. Huntsman tells Snow White that that is a representation of the decay in the land that has occurred since Ravenna took over the kingdom. The next scene I noticed is closer to the end. It's a great little scene around a campfire where William and Huntsman are talking and Huntsman encourages the prince to share his feelings for Snow White with her. It's a bit baffling as to why this scene was cut because it really sets up the events that follow in the next scene. Overall, it seems like it's tidbits like this - character moments - that were cut and it's really unfortunate. If you watch this movie, definitely check out the "Extended" cut instead.
U Control (1:14:48) - This is a pop-up picture-in-picture featurette scattered throughout the Theatrical Version of the movie that show you little behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews with cast and crew, introductions to scenes from cast and crew, and special effects. It's really neat, although I'd love to be able to watch this stuff separate from the movie (actually, some segments shown here are indeed part of the featurettes available outside of "U Control," but not everything is). Still, the fact that they play simultaneously with the finished film shows you how what you're watching was accomplished.
A New Legend Is Born (20:53) - This is a classic featurette about the development of Snow White and the Huntsman into a feature film and director Rupert Sanders' work on the production. It focuses on character design, costume design and set design. There was a great deal of on-location and outdoor shooting and they give a lot of insight here into the creation of the movie. The only thing that wasn't covered here, actually, were the dwarves. But otherwise, it's a fascinating look behind the making of Snow White and the Huntsman.
Reinventing The Fairytale (6:07) - In the original Snow White story, the Huntsman was really only in it for about a paragraph, but the writers for the film decided to retell the story to be about the two of them. The most interesting part of this six-minute featurette is learning that Sanders was given the opportunity to shoot a three-minute trailer of sorts for what the film could be to pitch it to the studio. And with that, they won the greenlight to make the film for real.
Citizens of the Kingdom
Fairest of them All: Snow White (5:48) - Under the heading of "Citizens of the Kingdom," we are given four character featurettes that cover key characters in the film in greater detail. For Snow White, there's a focus on who the character is and what Kristen Stewart brought to the role. Interestingly enough, there's a lot here about how Kristen accidentally socked Chris Hemsworth in the face for real during a take when they're struggling in the Dark Forest. They touch on it briefly in the commentary, but it's covered more in-depth here (we even see B-roll footage of this happening and the actors talking candidly about it). The character piece on Snow White closes with a hopefulness of exploring her character more in a second film. That's intriguing in and of itself due to the drama that's been behind-the-scenes in recent months leading to the recent talk of a sequel to this movie being entirely about The Huntsman, leaving Stewart and Snow White out completely.
Deliciously Even: Queen Ravenna (5:36) - The cast and crew dig into the character of Ravenna and Charlize's portrayal of her. They talk about how much more emotion and empathy Charlize brought to the villain than expected, while Stewart reflects on wishing she could have had more screen time with her. It's a short but sweet look at Ravenna.
The Huntsman (5:04) - "The Huntsman" opens with the cast and crew talking about how great of a guy Hemsworth is. They talk about working with him and his efforts in the the stunts and action sequences. But one of the most interesting parts is how both Hemsworth and some crew address how they didn't want The Huntsman to just be another "Thor," who Hemsworth is most known for playing now.
Motley Crew: The Dwarves (6:42) - This is a fantastic look behind the curtain of movie magic. I was intrigued by how they flawlessly made these full size actors look like dwarves. Not since The Lord of the Rings have I seen it accomplished so well (Fred Claus is a great example of failing at the attempt). It's a fun featurette and one of the best ones.
The Magic of Snow White and the Huntsman (13:23) is dedicated to the effects of the movie. They talk about the art design, the CG effects, and how it aided in the story as more than just spectacle. They go into detail about The Troll (which they actually used motion capture for), the Dark Forest, the Enchanted Forest, The Mirror Man, castles and Dark Fairies.
Around the Kingdom: 360 Degree Tour - Rupert Sanders gives an introduction to the sets featured here (and each individual set video), which include King Magnus' Courtyard, Village Near Castle Tabor, Duke Hammond's Castle Encampment, Queen Ravenna's Throne Room, and Queen Ravenna's Mirror Room. Each one, when clicked on, gives you a still from a scene and then you have the option to either watch further extras or get a panoramic view of the image. Some of the extras show the original camera shots in various scenes and then the layering of effects during the development of a shot for the finished film. We're also shown pre-vis animated story boards and "double negative visual effects." It's kind of a neat addition to the extras.
To round out the bonus features, we have a Feature Commentary with Director Rupert Sanders, Visual Effects Supervisor Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and Co-Editor Neil Smith and, finally "Second Screen," which allows you to download an app for your Apple product and view interactive extras for Snow White and the Huntsman.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 9/2/12)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: The king nuzzles Ravenna's neck and kisses her passionately there. It's their wedding night, so it's obvious where it is intended to lead. Meanwhile, Ravenna is talking about her disdain for men like the king and flips him over (so she's straddling him) and stabs and kills him; Finn suggestively places his hand on Snow White's stomach, with the apparent intentions to have his way with her; We see Ravenna's bare back as she drops her robe and descends into a pool of white liquid. We then see her rise up with her hands covering her chest; We see a long glimpse of Ravenna's bare back again as she's aging. We can see her backbone and ribs through her emaciated frame; We see two naked little fairies which don't appear to have any genitalia.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 "d*mn," 2 "h*ll"
Alcohol/Drugs: The Huntsman drinks heavily and is often seen drunk; Other characters drink randomly throughout the film; In a scene where a man is murdered, we see a goblet of red wine splash across the floor
Blood/Gore: We see three drops of blood falls to the snowy ground; The king has blood on his chest/shirt around a dagger sticking out of his chest. We later briefly see a shot of him lying dead in his bed as Snow White walks by; Finn has a bloody gash across his cheek and eye after being struck with a nail. Later, his sister heals the cut; We see a very close-up shot of a group of dead and very bloody birds, with Ravenna using the claw tip on her finger to pull out the heart from one of them and eat it; The Huntsman has some blood on his head; We see Finn with an axe in his chest (no blood), which he pulls out. He then appears to be getting consumed by the Dark Forest, including his fingers starting to liquify, but we later see him again completely fine; We see a small man with an arrow sticking out of him as he dies; A dwarf has what looks like a piece of tree branch sticking out of one of his ears (it appears to be there permanently); The Huntsman reaches into his shirt and touches an unseen wound, revealing blood on his fingers. We later see his shirt raised with mud covering the exact wound, but with blood surrounding it; Two men fight and one stabs the other in the stomach. We see blood on the blade as he pulls it out. The victim then rams the attacker into a tree stump with various jagged branches sticking out of it. We then see the man, impaled, hanging on the stump with branches sticking out of his chest (not bloody, but a little graphic); A woman is stabbed in the stomach and she slowly falls backward, with a little bit of blood dripping from her onto the person who stabbed her; We see a flashback with three drops of blood hitting the ground (a different event than previously seen); A woman takes a young girl and sucks the youth out of her face (we see it flow as a mist from the girl's face to the mouth of the woman). We later see the young woman looking extremely old and haggard; We see a village of women with self-inflicted scars on their faces so that the queen could not steal their beauty; We watch a dead woman grow old very fast (it's a little bit gross); The Extended Version has a scene where the Hunstman and Snow White comes upon the carcass of a deer that has its bloody ribcage exposed and bugs eating it.
Violence: Lots of fantasy violence. In addition to the above-mentioned Blood/Gore, we see several battle scenes with lots of hand-to-hand combat and swordplay, as well as deaths by the blow of an axe. One such scene early on features an army where the evil troops shatter like black glass when struck with a sword; A huge bridge troll threatens Snow and Huntsman and nearly kills one of them before the other saves them; A poisoned apple is given to a character who takes a bite and writhes on the ground choking. The man who gave it to her then violently cocks his head to the side as his face goes blank and then becomes Ravenna (it's a bit creepy); A woman puts her hand to a young mans chest and we hear his loud heartbeat before he drops over dead; Characters are stabbed or hit with axes. Some die, some are just wounded; A dwarf is impaled by an arrow; Snow and Ravenna fight; A couple of monsters seemingly made of shards of black glass ravage some soldiers, tossing them around and killing them; A woman bursts into many flying crows which two man swat at with their weapons. We then see the crows crash land in a room and flop about and then become he woman in a black, tar-like liquid; An unusual deer-type animal is hit with arrows; The hunting party looking for Snow White torch a village of all women and attack them; A horse gets caught in a mud pit and presumably dies off screen; And other fantasy related violence.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.