I wouldn’t have thought of myself ever really checking out this movie out of self-ambition. However, I came across a video review of it from a usually trusted source. So, I gave it an honest chance, and to my pleasant surprise, I did indeed enjoy this movie a great deal. There are two main reasons why I write reviews. The first is because I love film in many of its forms, and I enjoy sharing my passions for it. The second is to open up others to films that I feel are worth discovering, and in turn, I enjoy other people opening up my horizons to new, good films. So, it’s great when others do the same for me. With Snow White & The Huntsman, there’s a really solid fantasy picture here worth giving a chance to.
Years ago, the noble King Magnus fell prey to the enchantment of the evil Ravenna (Charlize Theron) who killed him and took reign over his kingdom. Sustained by draining the life from others, Queen Ravenna remains forever young and beautiful, but the King’s daughter, left alive and imprisoned, has now come of age as the fairest of all in the land to threaten this darkness. Snow White (Kristen Stewart) soon escapes the castle, and the Queen sends a rugged Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to track her down. However, the Huntsman soon joins with Snow White on a journey to see her father’s kingdom reclaimed through a land of treacherous enemies.
While watching this, I was really pleased that it kept selling me on it all the way through. I liked the narration by the Huntsman who gracefully sets up the details of this story taking us through Snow White’s youth and the kingdom’s fall. The movie is tightly paced, propelling its story forward in a lean matter, but still with plenty of meat to the characters and their stories. In fact, despite watching the extended edition while writing this review, the film seemed to move along even faster than on my first viewing of the theatrical cut. The extended version has a few good, new scenes that add a little extra depth and detail here and there. There is a scene between the Huntsman and William, Snow White’s childhood friend and archer, in the extended cut that better sets up and pays off another scene with the obligatory poison apple. Of course, we also get some very good action sequences, which are also tight and to the point. They exist long enough to serve their purpose, and are solidly satisfying and exciting. It all feels real and consequential. The battles are never taken lightly, and there are casualties beyond just the obligatory background soldiers.
Now, really looking at this, I feel this is a fantasy film that could’ve hit in the 1980’s next to Highlander or Excalibur. This movie has some stunning imagery and inspired cinematography. Early on, I love how bold the blood reds are. They standout as really symbolic. Overall, this film has grit, murkiness, and dramatic weight. Many scenes are smoky and moody. It creates a tangible, grounded world that still allows for the fantastical to live and breathe. It’s a dark world reflecting the grim bleakness the Queen has cast over it, and that just creates a very engaging look for me. It has a lot of that same texture found in The Lord of the Rings movies, but with more of its own gritty mystical atmosphere and mood. Snow White and the Huntsman is a really beautifully shot film helmed by a director who clearly has vision.
Surely, for some, Kristen Stewart would be an obstacle for them due to her work in the Twilight movies. I have not subjected myself to those films for many reasons, but I believe this film shows that sometimes it’s not the actor but the material that should be questioned. I am very pleased to state that Kristen Stewart does a very wonderful job here. It did not take me long to see that she was a young woman of admirable talent. There is a lot of depth to this character, and there is a strong arc for her that Kristen Stewart conveys remarkably well. The fear is something she sells very realistically early on, but there is a hope and strength that grows out of that fear. As Snow White progresses through this adventure, you see her mature into a stronger, more active character. There is subtlety and beauty to what Stewart accomplishes here. She really shows a lot of heart, warmth, but also a tinge of sorrow along the way. And indeed, she has touching chemistry with Chris Hemsworth which also really drives this film forward on many great levels.
I am really a believer that Chris Hemsworth is on the verge of having an amazing career. While my exposure to him has been very minimal outside of Thor, he continues to demonstrate a powerful presence and great depth of talent in everything he does. Clearly, he handles the physicality here greatly. The Huntsman surely has his humor stemming from his attitude and Hemsworth’s rich charisma. Yet, there is a heartbreak to him stemming from being a widower, and Hemsworth really digs deep inside to evoke those potentially tear-jerking emotions. It’s a very dimensional character backed by a performance that quickly and easily endears himself to an audience. The only off thing comes from his accent, which I couldn’t place, but turns out it was supposed to be Scottish. In the least, he puts forth more effort into his accent than Sean Connery has with any other accent in his entire career.
Charlize Theron is perfectly cast as the evil Queen Ravenna. She plays it as someone on the frayed ends of manic obsession. Ravenna is insanely consumed with her outward beauty, but surely, inside, she is a horrible monster. Theron has more than proven her talent over the years, and this is an absolutely excellent performances. There is a tragic quality to this twisted character, and you see that soaked into every fiber of Theron’s performance. There’s complexity and depth to her that runs very deep. However, what sells it all the most is simply her eyes. The glaring, crazed, unflinching stare is downright scary. You can see just how far off the deep end she is between that and her explosive rants. Theron even tore a stomach muscle because she was screaming so intensely, and I can believe it.
And there are still dwarves in this tale. These roles are filled by great actors such as Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, and Ray Winstone, among others. The same sort of techniques used for similar smaller statured characters in The Lord of the Rings films were used here, and done so with seamless results. Hoskins is essentially their leader, and has the most dialogue. However, while his line deliveries are quite good, I found it odd that he was practically stone-faced throughout. I don’t think he registered a single actual facial expression in his screentime. Regardless, the dwarves tend to add the needed levity to the heavier, dramatic story being told. They never make things silly, just a little fun and light-hearted at times in the latter half of the movie.
I would say that the only segment of the film that didn’t wholly appeal to me was the latter half of the Fairy Sanctuary. This is the land that has been untouched by Ravenna’s darkness, and it is flourishing with a lush landscape and fantastical wonders. However, there’s just a lot of peculiar CGI woodland creatures that simply weren’t to my liking. With so much gritty realism in the film, this just felt pushed too deeply into the vibrant, slightly cartoonish fantastical realm, but it’s not long before it shifts back into the dark, grittiness.
This does bring up the issue of the digital effects. Most are really good, especially in the Dark Forest with all the almost pitch black creatures that slither and crawl out of the darkness, but in the Fairy Sanctuary, it is very obvious CGI that feels like it came out of another film. That’s another reason why that sequence didn’t work too well for me. Also, the withering age make-up on Charlize Theron is especially good, but some of the more elaborate morphing effects shots on her have room for improvement. Generally, the digital effects are fairly good with some really good stuff, but there is some more prominently on display work that doesn’t come off all that well. Thankfully, this film has very practical stunt work, and the realistic locations like the castles were actually built for the film. The filmmakers didn’t rely on digital matte paintings.
This film, while taking a new approach to the material, still hits all the classic beats of the Snow White story, but uses them to propel this story into larger territory. The poison apple from Ravenna to Snow White gives Hemsworth his best scene pouring out his heart over the dead Snow White. When she returns from death, it inspires and motivates herself and everyone else to take up arms and charge into battle. Kristen Stewart delivers a strong, inspirational, rallying speech to these people The fire and passion she projects is great. It is the moment where the character comes into her own, and becomes a leader to take back the kingdom that was stolen from her father. Snow White and The Huntsman still has that fairy tale simplicity, but adds in significant depth to mature the content, which is what makes it work so well. Every character has their sense of realism and dimensionality, and they serve both the gritty realism and the fantastical elements of the movie.
This film’s exciting, entertaining, it has a good, solid story, fine substance, satisfying character arcs, and overall, just has a great look to it. Also, from the opening logos to the end credits, the score is just enveloping and moody. That comes as no surprise from James Newton Howard, one of the best film score composers around today. Directed Rupert Sanders simply does a very solid job with this material, and hones his actors into bringing this darker fantasy take to life. I would say this is a hell of a good feature film directorial debut, and I hope he continues to deliver this kind of tight, cohesive quality. I know a sequel has already been planned, and while there’s not much precedent for further Snow White adventures, I will be eagerly interested to see what story these filmmakers conceive for it. There’s a great set of characters here that were well developed and filled by strong, rich talents. So, there is potential there, but until then, I will be happy to revisit this adventure quite a few times. I highly recommend it!
The problems with a prequel are many. With Underworld, the biggest is that so much back story has already been detailed throughout the previous two films that we already know what led to what, and the motivations behind everyone’s actions. All making a prequel can do is flesh out these ideas and show us something deeper, and possibly previously unrevealed to make it worthwhile. Unfortunately, prequels are hardly ever that imaginative or worthwhile.
The other detractor is that we are already familiar with these characters at the end of their lives. We’ve seen their emotional states after centuries of turmoil, conflict, and deceit. So, in a prequel, one must strip all that emotional depth and history away. These are not the characters as you’ve come to know or enjoy them, and that can make them far less interesting or entertaining. Basically, in a prequel, there is less to explore because we already know the outcome, and that’s worst thing to go into a film knowing.
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans takes place centuries ago telling the tale of how Lucian (Michael Sheen) came to be, and his eventual struggle to break out of the oppressive tyranny of the vampire elder Viktor (Bill Nighy). Lucia is a lycan, the first of a new species able to retain human form, and change to a wolf at will. As he is brought up under Viktor’s vampiric regime, Lucian becomes passionately in love with Viktor’s beautiful and strong willed daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra). However, they must keep their love a secret as Viktor would never allow such a union to exist, but it is only a matter of time before secrets are uncovered and a lycan revolt is sparked.
Michael Sheen is clearly at the forefront of this film as Lucian. It’s his story to ascension from slave to lycan leader. He fills the role well as a strong, bold, and passionate warrior. He is clearly a deeply talented actor with wide range that understands the character completely. Sheen is able to take what Lucian was in the first film, and wrangle him back to a more impulsive, youthful man driven by his passions instead of being methodically driven by sorrowful vengeance. Of course, Bill Nighy returns as Viktor, and is much more in the forefront of the story. He commands his scenes with his usual intensity and venom, but also brings forth the pain of a hurt father when needed. His subtlety of emotion gives Viktor his gravitas. I couldn’t imagine anyone else bringing this much theatricality and impact to Viktor. I just wish Nighy wasn’t so gung ho for those blue contact lenses. They get to be distracting after a while.
The one thing this film allows us to freshly explore is Sonja, portrayed by the always fantastic Rhona Mitra. She has spirit to spare. Sonja won’t be held down by anyone as she is a brash, capable, and proud warrior. She lacks no confidence, but is emotionally torn between the man she loves in Lucian and her beloved father, Viktor. Rhona plays the heartbreak very well showing it troubling Sonja beneath the surface. She is absolutely a strong lead, and entirely convincing as the kind of strong, bold woman that Lucian would devote his heart to. Simply due to Sonja’s confidence, strength of character, and emotional context, she can prove to be an even stronger lead than Kate Beckinsale at times. She is a finely textured character that makes it easy to see how a war could breakout over her by two men who deeply loved her. However, it is Viktor who allows his disdain for the lycan species to eclipse his love for his own daughter.
Steven Mackintosh reprises the role of Tanis. I absolutely loved his uninhabited weasely personality in Underworld: Evolution. Here, it’s much more restrained because Tanis cannot risk Viktor knowing of his shady dealings. So, Mackintosh never gets a chance to really flesh out the character. He plays it quite straight and low key. It’s a shame that is necessary since, as we’ve already seen, Tanis can be an immensely entertaining character. It’s almost a disservice to the film and the actor to have him play the character as so subservient. He was always a bit of a coward, but at least he had some bravado before.
On a side note, I had hoped that Kraven would appear in the film. I had seen Shane Brolly in the IMDb credits prior to seeing the film, and expected his despicably deceitful character to grace this film. Unfortunately, his credit is merely for the re-use of dialogue from the first Underworld at the film’s end. While Shane Brolly did overplay Kraven at times before, I still enjoyed the character in general. He was fun because, while surrounded by characters full of honor, dignity, and respect, he was an entirely straight forward self-serving, egotistical, and reliably disloyal delight. What you saw was what you got, and he never wrapped himself up in a web of facades to cloak his dishonorable actions. Truly a character you loved to hate. Unfortunately, it is doubtful we’ll ever get to see him, again.
Patrick Tatopolous takes over the directing reins from Len Wiseman, and does a fine job. He maintains a consistency for the franchise in all aspects. To his credit, he handles every dramatic moment as if this was the first film in the series. He doesn’t allow foreknowledge from the previous films to diminish the dramatic integrity of what he’s putting on screen here. He surely makes it so that any newcomer can watch this film first, and still feel the weight it deserves to give the other films their proper context. And quite seriously, the drama can be heart wrenching and deeply impactful.
The film does lack in the CGI area. Where the previous two films had quite seamless effects, here, it’s not quite as smooth. The first film had a $22M budget while Evolution had $50M. This falls in between with $35M. Still respectable, but with larger effects sequences featuring more lycans running amuck and so forth, the filmmakers probably had to stretch the dollar thinner to accommodate it all. The practical effects are still consistent with the rest of the franchise, but the screenplay required CGI visual effects to take a more prominent role this time out.
The music here is an expectedly more traditional film score. While that’s not entirely new for the series, it clearly wouldn’t be peppered with industrial rock remixes. As with Tatopolous’ direction, the cinematography also maintains a consistent cinematic quality throughout. It’s very well shot and edited. Much of the same techniques are used with momentary slow motion action beats, and the desaturated blue tones.
Ultimately, what we have here is a hard film to sum up. There’s solid talent up and down the line on both sides of the camera. The screenplay is executed very well by deeply talented individuals. The CGI is a bit dodgy here and there, but the real stinging point that damages the film is that there’s nothing new to be had here. From the first film, we knew all of this story, and more importantly, the end results of it all. The screenplay, while well conceived, offers nothing that we weren’t already told two films ago. It simply takes that spoken back story, and shows it to us. No new layers are added to the Underworld mythology, and no new perspective can be really had by watching this film. Maybe there’s a little more emotional context seeing who Lucian was, and then, who he came to be centuries later. So, you see it’s not a bad movie at all, but it just is a generally unnecessary one. You can take it or leave it because, quite frankly, there’s very little to gain if you’ve seen the first two Underworld movies. I like a good, solid back story to be fleshed out, but if a prequel isn’t going to flesh anything out to show us something new to the storyline, it fundamentally fails. That could launch me into a whole different rant about another film franchise’s prequels, but who really has the time for that sordid mountain of madness?