In a twist to the fairy tale, the Huntsman ordered to take Snow White into the woods to be killed winds up becoming her protector and mentor in a quest to vanquish the Evil Queen.
In 'Snow White & the Huntsman,' Kristen Stewart tries to show audiences there's more to her than breathless swooning over glittery vampires. And perhaps, a revisionist take on the classic Brothers Grimm fairytale is the perfect vehicle, playing a modern heroine who grows from prisoner and survivalist to leader and warrior. The film is likely to attract the crowd devoted to Bella's pursuit of eternal love from the undead, while the dark, gothic atmospherics of the stage design and the adult themes from a script that took three writers to complete will appeal to older viewers. For the most part, the tactic works, as Rupert Sanders, making his feature-length debut, dazzles with startling, astonishing imagery and a thrilling pace which has us overlooking any other failings with the production.
Unfortunately, Stewart proves there actually is little more to her acting range, standing out amongst a stronger and much more talented company of actors. It seems obvious from the small amount of dialogue she's given compared to the rest of the cast, which sometimes feels weirdly off-balanced during conversations with others, her presence is a deliberate choice to draw a specific demographic. The few times she speaks more than a couple sentences, an unconvincing performance of an iconic literary figure of folk legend is exposed, along with a dreadful British accent. Granted, she does well enough and carries her own weight, but she's the one bitter note in an otherwise superbly sweet film.
This is also problematic in a plot with heavy feminist undertones, which is a marvelous interpretive touch to a tale that usually has the heroine playing second-fiddle to a male-dominated environment. Stewart's Snow White is not one who needs saving, although the first half of the film would have us believe so. She, in fact, does the saving, both for her kingdom and the soul of her love-interest, played terrifically by Chris Hemsworth, adding another great twist to our familiarity of the original story. A philosophical dilemma arises as it becomes clear that men gravitate and are somehow emotionally ravished by White, yet she's continually treated as an object of desire, both physically and as the aspiration of a just, untainted ruler. But again, this has more to do with Stewart's inadequate performance than a fault in an otherwise highly entertaining flick.
The film's wildest feat of fantasy is its attempt to convince audiences that Stewart is more attractive than Charlize Theron, or that she could ever even come close. Part of the movie's main attraction is Theron's amazing and powerful performance as Queen Ravenna. A strong and complex female presence contrasting White's inexperienced life (admittedly, because she's been locked in a dungeon for the majority of it), she's a woman embittered and frustrated by the rule of men. A few glimpses into her life do more than establish a backstory; they also reveal a human being refusing to live under the thumb of any man that would subjugate her. In turn, and possibly unintentionally so, this makes her, despite being the villain, a more fascinating character than the protagonist. This is really Theron's show and is one of many reasons which make this horror fantasy such a pleasure to watch.
Even though Kristen Stewart ultimately failed to please this grown-up, 'Snow White & the Huntsman' is still a marvel and a visual joy. Rupert Sanders worked closely with his production crew to create a darkly imaginative telling of a classic fairytale that mesmerizes and engrosses. The lush, marvelous cinematography of Greig Fraser, whose work can also be appreciated in 'Bright Star' and 'Let Me In,' is a spectacular display of a grayish-overcast tone that suddenly captives the eyes with an opulent array of primaries and rich earth tones at certain moments. Arguably, the most stunning effect is the digital CG work done to transform Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost and others into the seven dwarves. It's this sort of magic complementing the terrific performances of Theron, Hemsworth, and the dwarves which makes this one of the year's most spellbindingly enchanting and memorable surprise.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings 'Snow White & the Huntsman' to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital HD Copy. At the moment, we are unable to verify if the correct size of the content, but the dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a black, eco-cutout case with an attractively glossy slipcover. Both the UHD and the BD contain the 128-minute theatrical cut and the 131-minute extended version. The difference between them is minimal, mostly a few extra bits of action that don't amount to anything significant. At startup, the disc goes straight to an interactive menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
A reimagined Snow White leads the charge towards Ultra HD Blu-ray with a fantastically wondrous and strikingly beautiful HEVC H.265 encode in HDR10 delivering a noticeable improvement and significant upgrade over the standard BD. Mostly shot on traditional 35mm film with a combination of the Panavision 65mm format and the Red Epic digital camera system for a few action sequences, the elements are in excellent condition, showing a great deal of clarity and definition throughout. A couple scenes are ever-so slightly softer than others, but they're quite negligible and not easy to spot unless one feels inclined to look for them. It's also worth noting that those scenes mentioned are related to CG sequences, such as when William morphs into Ravenna, and thus, easily forgiven. Brightness could also be a tad darker in a few sequences. But again, that's a very small small aspect to gripe about in an otherwise outstanding 4K presentation, showing what can be accomplished on the new format when the source is transferred with great care to take advantage of the higher dynamic range and wider color gamut.
Like its BD counterpart, the picture offers several great scenes that could easily rank as demo-worthy. From beginning to end, background foliage is clear and remarkable, laying bare every stem and vein in leaves while the bark and branches show the rough, cracked layers and dark lining of trees. The leather costumes of the huntsman and dwarves look aged and worn, exposing every minute aspect and wrinkle with splendid clarity while the stitching is very apparent and intentionally ragged looking. By comparison, viewers can better make out the intricate, ornate embroidery and unique style in the more elegant, royal clothing of Snow White and Ravenna, clearly revealing the soft, plush of the suede-like fabric and each jewel sown into the dresses. The armor also shows some elaborate, sophisticated design work etched into the metal, which is quite stunning. Every pore, wrinkle and negligible blemish of the cast is exposed with healthy, lifelike complexions, and the details in the architecture of the castle is striking, as every defect and pockmarks in the wood and stone bricks is made plainly visible.
Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the presentation further dazzles and astonishes thanks to a superb and well-balanced high dynamic range, which amazingly is a marked improvement over its Blu-ray counterpart. No matter the scene or conversation, the video continuously amazes with exceptional, spot-on contrast, creating that desired looking-through-a-window effect of the various shooting locations across England, Wales and Scotland. Crisp, pitch-perfect whites pop off the screen with brilliant luminosity, showing distinct differences in the clouds and exposing the tiny, twinkling crystals in the snow. The most impressive moments are those with characters in armor or when wielding swords, as the light from the sun hits the metal just right and specular highlights enthusiastically shimmer and glisten with incredibly realism. Other scenes include the glow coming off the golden mirror when it takes human shape. Although brightness could be a tad stronger, black levels are nonetheless true and dynamic, displaying precise, exceptional gradational differences between the various shades. Delivering pitch-black shadows that never obscure the finer details in the darkest portions, the image comes with a great three-dimensional feel and an appreciable cinematic appeal that's consistent.
As with the Blu-ray, the color palette mostly favors soft earth tones and a gray-overcast mood to better complement the plot and its dark fantasy atmosphere. Nevertheless, the beautiful photography of Greig Fraser definitely benefits the most from the jump to UHD, showcasing intensely animated reds and true to life blues in the skies. From the looks of things, it appears the elements have been color graded to take advantage of the wider color gamut, dazzling and illuminating the 2160p video with sumptuous brilliance and energy. Vivid, richly-saturated greens seem to pop out the most because of scenes taking place in wooded forest areas, but secondary pastel hues are also brimming with a boldness throughout. The troll, for example, reveal a touch of magenta and light purple in its scales, which I didn't notice before, and the gold either in the mirror or in the jewelry worn by Ravenna shine with a realistic amber radiance while flames lap the air with a yellow, reddish orange hue. I highly recommend checking out the a fairy sanctuary sequence in Chapter 13 where Snow White encounters the white stag, which best exemplifies the format's ability to really bring out colors like never before, making this an excellent, reference-quality 4K presentation.
Rupert Sanders's dark fairytale lays siege upon home theaters with an exciting and highly enjoyable DTS:X soundtrack, which defaults to the standard 7.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio for those not yet equipped for the new codec. However, this track isn't going to set the world of object-based audio ablaze, making the original DTS-HD version the stronger of the two. In fact, the two are quite similar with subtle atmospherics occupying the surrounds with lots of activity and full of life, such as when characters walk through the dark forest or the sanctuary woodland of fairies. As would be expected, action sequences are the most engaging and satisfying, often creating a brilliantly immersive soundfield. Arrows not only pan seamlessly and realistically land behind the listener, they also effortlessly soar into the overheads from the front of the room to the back while Ravenna's glass soldiers shatter into tiny shards and spread everywhere, filling the room with excellent directionality. The most impressive moment is the voice of Mirror Man booming and resonating into the ceiling speakers and all around.
As for the rest of the soundtrack, the design is pretty much the same as its predecessor. Dialogue reproduction is crisp and clear in the center, allowing for every word to be heard and better take notice of Stewart's failed attempt at a British accent. Movement across the soundstage is fluid with off-screen effects that are discrete and convincing. Imaging is broad and diverse with room-penetrating dynamics that are superbly detailed and distinct. James Newton Howard's original score benefits from this richness and clarity as each instrument is distinguishable within the orchestration and adds to the thrills by bleeding into the rears with an omnipresence that's satisfying. The music also bleeds into the front heights to create an engaging half-dome wall of sound. The lossless mix also offers a deep, impactful low-end with some surprising extension and accurate response, which can rattle the walls in certain spots. Overall, the new object-based lossless mix remains the same highly satisfying track audiophiles will enjoy.
Starring Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, and Chris Hemsworth, 'Snow White & the Huntsman' is a dark, modernized revision of the classic Brothers Grimm fairytale that's surprisingly entertaining and visually engrossing. Rupert Sanders makes his feature-length debut with flying colors. The Ultra HD Blu-ray arrives with a stunning, demo-worthy 4K video presentation with a top-notch, upgraded DTS:X audio presentation, along with the same collection of supplements. In the end, the overall package is worth checking out for fans and early adopters enthusiastic about the new format.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.