"Snow White and the Huntsman:" Visually Stunning

Snow White and the HuntsmanSnow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, and Charlize Theron, comes to Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday.

The film follows Snow White (Stewart), who after her mother has died and Evil Queen Ravenna (Theron) has married and killed her father, is put in a cell and left in the dungeon. As in the original Snow White tale, the queen asks the mirror (Christopher Obi) who is the fairest, and as Snow White is now of age, he says that Snow White is now the fairest. The mirror also tells her that Snow White is the key to her immortality, so the queen sends for her to be killed, and once she escapes the castle, sends the Huntsman (Hemsworth) after her.

Before I go into reviewing the storyline of the film I want to start with the look, because for me, that's what I will remember most. Visually the film was absolutely breathtaking in many of the scenes. From the grand sets of the castle and the Dark Forest, to the visual effects of the fairies, to the animation of the "obsidian shards," it really was a beautiful film.

Snow White and the HuntsmanWatching the movie, you really feel transported there. The set that I most fell in love with was the lush land of the fairies and the way that the animals became one with nature - flowers made from butterflies, realizing that the moss was made of snakes and turtles, and even the fairies emerging from the birds and rabbits. Such attention was paid to every detail. The stag White Hart looked so realistic up close it was hard to even tell it was CGI; I at first thought the close-ups might have been of a horse. I really became swept up in the fantasy world. The creature designs of the fairies themselves were also unique - not what you might expect, not even having wings.

It wasn't only the pleasant and "light" sets that were gorgeous; the Dark Forest was quite captivating as well. There was a plant in the swamp that caused hallucinations, from black ooze to melting skin. Not a place you want to visit.

The other thing that was visually sound was a lot of the transformations, such as the queen exploding into ravens or White Hart into doves.

There were other eye candy moments throughout the film, such as the "mirror" of almost liquid fabric and the queen rising from her milk bath as well as crawling from black ooze. The design of the troll was also very interesting.

There are probably people that will complain that it was all about the effects, but I really did not feel that it detracted from the story in any way, I think it only enhanced the fairy tale and made me enjoy the movie more.

The clarity of the Blu-ray video I think really added to showcasing the visuals. From the snow at the beginning, to the "shard" soldiers at the end, to the "furry" looking apple and everything in between, it was always very crisp. Many Blu-ray discs are sharp with rich colors, but in this film, to me, it really was something that stood out and I took notice of. The sound was also spectacular, and I did not even have the surround sound on.

The storyline of the film itself was enjoyable for the most part - a new take on the classic fairy tale, though more leaning towards the Grimm version than Disney. I liked that the story did have elements from the original, such as the dwarves, the apple, etc., but it wasn't in a totally in your face way; it maintained originality and never became boring.

I did also appreciate some of the underlying deeper themes in the film and how they were visually represented. Most noticeably was the light/good versus dark/evil, but it also paralleled life versus death. Snow White was life and the imagery around her matched that (and you also have the "light" forest) and everything around Ravenna was decayed and dying, from the blackened sets to her costumes. The Dark Forest was creepy, yet still beautiful, like Ravenna.

One of the other themes throughout the film of course was beauty and power. Ravenna was an interesting character, not just the "evil queen." She was consumed with her need for power and equated that to youth and beauty, which is quite literally what kept her alive and of course young, sucking the life out of young girls also to preserve her magic.

Snow White and the HuntsmanI also enjoyed the fact that the film had two potential love interests for Snow White; I didn't expect that. Both Hemsworth as the Huntsman and Sam Claflin as William shined, though Hemsworth more so. He played grieving widower and drunkard really well, and showed that he is capable of more than just Thor. However, even if they were both love interests, there wasn't a lot of believable chemistry really between Stewart and either of the men. I know that it was intentional that Snow White doesn't make a choice between the two and that it sets up for a possible sequel, but it really didn't matter to me who she chose because of the lack of believable chemistry, other than I would like to see more of Chris Hemsworth in the future.

Stewart was fairly solid in the film for the most part, but she felt more realistic in the role as Snow White as warrior for some reason to me. As Snow White the innocent princess at times she fell a bit flat and was very similar in her acting to that of the other films that she is known for, though she has definitely improved since portraying that character.

Theron was over the top as the queen, but in a good way; it really worked. She was by far the best part of the movie. She played evil and maniacal really well and you could tell she was having a blast with it. She was definitely the star of the film, in my opinion, outshining the others. The character was also fleshed out with an interesting backstory that made her feel more human. Her costumes were also gorgeous and opulent. She wasn't afraid to stretch herself and get down and dirty (quite literally being covered in a black tar/oil like substance).

There were some other interesting characters as well. There were of course the dwarves, though not quite the typical merry miners we are used to from the fairy tale, they were a lot of fun.

The other character that stood out was the queen's brother Finn (Sam Spruell). He was very creepy and obviously had a thing for Snow White, and it seemed at times possibly for his sister to me.

Snow White and the HuntsmanI also liked that even though based on a fairy tale, I would consider this a much darker version. It's not scary or anything, though it's not for little kids either. And it does have its moments, like the queen eating the innards of a bird, that I could have done without.

In summary, Snow White and the Huntsman was an engrossing modern take on the classic fairytale, with elaborate environments and spectacular visuals that will transport you. I know some people will most likely complain that it is high on special effects and low on plot, but it is Snow White after all. It may not be an Oscar winner, but I enjoyed my time and I'm sure I will watch it again. I definitely recommend this film, especially to fantasy fans, of all ages. This set is packed with features and is a great one to own. It's definitely worth the difference in price to get the hi-def version with all the extras.

DVD and Packaging – I was given the extended edition combo pack with Blu-ray, DVD, and Ultra Violet/digital copy to review. The extended edition of the film is only four minutes longer than the theatrical version, so unfortunately, it doesn't really add anything significant. The packaging has a nice slip cover over the case and contains two discs – one Blu-ray and one regular DVD, each containing both theatrical and extended versions of the film and bonus features. I like that the set is compact without a separate bonus disc, that way everything is on one disc, depending which version you choose. The set of course also includes the code for both the Ultra Violet and digital copy (for iTunes). It's great that the disc has both options. With all four ways, you really can watch the film anywhere.

The other thing I did want to mention about the Blu-ray disc, is that it takes forever to start up. It is possible my disc had errors on it, but one time when I started up the film, I was watching the Universal symbol and then black screen for a few minutes before it started, and this was after I updated the firmware on the player. It's watchable, but annoying.

Blu-ray and DVD Bonus Features:

Snow White and the HuntsmanA New Legend is Born - Although all combined into one feature, this one is really four different topics in one. The first part is about the cast and crew of the film. There are different clips of various people talking about what a great director Rupert Sanders is, as well as people talking about the stars of the film.

The second part of the feature is about the costume designs. One part I found particularly interesting was the discussion about Theron's wardrobe, including one gown that was decorated with "death" using skulls, bones, beetles, and such.

Thirdly, and probably the most interesting part of the feature to me, was the director talking about the massive sets of the film and about the locations they traveled to, such as Scotland, Wales, and London. I also thought it was interesting how all of Ravenna's furniture was affected by her and would start to blacken.

The last part was about the stunts, including shooting arrows and riding horses, and there were some interesting tidbits from the actors.

Feature Commentary – This is commentary with the director, visual effects supervisor (Cedric Nicolas-Troyan), and co-editor Neil Smith. They discuss a lot of the visual and technical aspects of the film and talk about such things as why certain choices were made.

Bonus Features Exclusive to the Blu-ray:

U-Control – This enables you to watch special behind the scenes features, many different from those available from the bonus menu, during the film with picture-in-picture. This only works on the theatrical version of the film.

Snow White and the HuntsmanReinventing the Fairytale – This feature is the director, writers, and producers talking about the story and the characters, and how the movie was pitched – Sanders took five actors and filmed a "three minute trailer" in the woods, complete with special effects. The studio loved it and they got the green light. I would have liked to have seen the whole clip without interruption; I can see why it was a success.

Citizens of the Kingdom – Four featurettes discuss each of the characters and the actors who portray them. They consist of Fairest of Them All: Snow White, Deliciously Evil Queen Ravenna, The Huntsman, and Motley Crew: The Dwarves. I found the final feature the most interesting as they talked about creating the dwarves using adult actors and body doubles, as well as other digital and in camera tricks.

The Magic of Snow White and the Huntsman – This feature is all about the special effects, from motion capture to 3-D models such as with the troll. There were two visual effects supervisors on the film, who with the crew explain some of the visual effects shots in the film. The feature is broken up into different parts (though still one feature on the disc): The Mirror Man, The Darkest Forest, The Troll, The Enchanted Forest, and Dark Fairies. This was my favorite feature, and I especially enjoyed hearing about how they made the dark and enchanted forests.

Around the Kingdom: 360° Set Tour – This feature is made up of panoramic views of different sets in Britain and at Pinewood Studios. The feature consists of King Magnus' Courtyard, Village Near Castle Tabor, Duke Hammond's Castle Encampment, Queen Ravenna's Throne Room, and Queen Ravenna's Mirror Room. These also feature a couple behind the scenes clips for the locations. The locations are beautiful, but it's kind of boring watching the camera spin 360 degrees. I would have preferred to see close-up details rather than wide angles and have been able to control the tour more, as it's not really interactive, just hotspots that you click on.

Snow White and the HuntsmanUniversal's Second Screen – Here you can explore bonus features in sync with the movie, either on a computer or tablet. You can also control the DVD from the secondary device. This is available as part of the Pocket BLU App (see below), of which I reviewed the iPad version. This also includes some extra features, including a virtual flipbook, clips on the characters (same as Citizens of the Kingdom), the feature A New Legend is Born, and a trailer.

UltraViolet – With this feature you can store a digital copy of the film in the cloud and download to TVs, computers, or other devices.

Digital Copy – Here you can download the film to watch on your devices via iTunes.

Pocket BLU App – This is a free app for devices and computers that syncs to the movie so that you can explore the film with it. You can control the disc in your player with the remote control or follow along the timeline to see where you are at any point in the movie. There is also bonus content that you can stream or download over Wi-Fi. The digital film is also available through the app. Lastly you can view other titles that work with the app.

I really love this app and will use it for other movies in the future. It gives you the behind the scenes bonuses that are part of U Control. You can either watch them time synced while playing the Blu-ray disc, or as I prefer, separately, as you don't have to watch them picture in picture and interrupt the movie; you can watch them whenever you want. There are also storyboards and other artwork that as far as I can tell, are not available on the disc.

BD-LIVE – Access the BD-Live Center for trailers and other content.

Snow White and the HuntsmanTECHNICAL INFORMATION
Street Date: September 11, 2012
Running Time: 2 hours 8 minutes/2 hours, 12 minutes
Layers: BD-50
Aspect Ratio: Widescreen 2.35:1
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, and brief sensuality (U.S.); PG (Canada); G (Quebec)
Technical Info: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1/DVS2 2.0 and Dolby Digital 2.0, Spanish and French DTS Digital Surround 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish

Street Date: September 11, 2012
Running Time: 2 hours, 8 minutes / 2 hours, 12 minutes
Layers: Dual Layer
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, and brief sensuality (US); PG (Canada); G (Quebec)
Technical Info: English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0, Spanish and French Dolby 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish

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