Plot: What’s it about?
When I first heard of this movie, I was a bit perplexed. I vaguely remember a movie a few years ago containing the word “huntsman” and immediately thought of Chris Hemsworth, but I wasn’t quite sure. About halfway though viewing The Huntsman: Winter’s War, I paused the film, used the search feature on this site and, sure enough, saw that I’d indeed watched and even reviewed that movie. That’s usually not a good sign when a movie is forgettable, then again I’m not getting any younger. As it turns out, Hollywood has figured out a way to extend a franchise not by doing a sequel, but either by spinning it off or doing a prequel. This is nothing new, of course, but it’s a way to give audiences what they want, retain a core cast and move on. Kristen Stewart played Snow White in Snow White and the Huntsman, but now that the allure of the Twilight films has faded (it’s about time), was this a way to tell the tale without her in it? Oh she’s mentioned, for sure, but never seen. Regardless, looking at the cast, I was pretty impressed. There isn’t a weak link in the chain, so sign me up. There’s eye candy for the men and women (or both). Grab your sword and get ready to rumble!
Long before Snow White’s reign, we see Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron). She has killed the king and now reigns supreme and is also in command of the magic mirror. Her sister, Freya (Emily Blunt) has just given birth, but sadly the child is murdered. This releases Freya’s dormant power as an “Ice Queen” of sorts as she establishes a kingdom of her own. We see children brought to her by the dozens as they’re trained as Huntsmen (and women) under only one rule: no love. Flash forward and we meet Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), who are obviously in love. This comes to the attention of Freya and the two are torn apart. Flash forward another seven years and we see that Eric is on his own, has been ordered to banish the Magic Mirror from Freya’s kingdom. He’s aided by two dwarves (who serve as the film’s comic relief). Of course we know that Sara and Eric will once again meet, each thinking the other either dead or a deserter, and then forces will unite to take over the kingdom. Bear in mind this is a fairy tale and that’s how these things work.
I’ll have to go back and watch Snow White and the Huntsman before I pass full judgment on this, but it really wasn’t that bad. I’m surprised that the budget allowed for these high-profile stars to appear in one film – it something that doesn’t happen too often. I’m not really a fan of the whole concept, but if you can put these petty things aside, sit back and just enjoy the show it’s not really that bad. Hemsworth does what’s required of him (look good and awe the ladies) and Chastain flexes her muscle as well. Don’t expect too much of Charlize Theorn as her character is rather limited to the beginning and end, but Emily Blunt does make for a passable ice princess. There’s not a lot else to say here, either this is your cup of tea or it isn’t. If you’re looking for something that’s mildly entertaining, this will certainly fit the bill. If you (still) have a hankering for Kristen Stewart, there’s always Snow White and the Huntsman.
Video: How’s it look?
I’m not really sure why, but Universal sent both the Ultra HD/4K version as well as the Blu-ray. Taking both of these into account, I have this movie on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K. I decided to use this rare opportunity to compare each one of the formats since it’s something that I had not done before. I realize that the DVD is not a part of this Ultra HD set, but go with me on this. Using the same A/V setup, I will say that the DVD itself looked pretty good. The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looked a bit on the “blurry” side, but when looking at the Blu-ray or 4K version, that’s understandable. Moving on the Blu-ray version, there was an immediate increase in both color and detail. Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan must have been a photographer before he moved into film as some of these shots are simply beautiful. The bokeh (out of focus background) looked amazing and brought a sense of depth to a lot of the scenes. Obviously the four main leads aren’t exactly hard on the eyes and looking at the “Ice Palace”, the intricate crystals really give a sense of putting you in the film. Finally, taking a look at the Ultra HD/4K version, this is where I was prepared to be amazed. But…I wasn’t. That’s not to say that it looked bad. It didn’t. Not by any means. But I think that we’re so inundated with the marketing messages “4x Sharper than HD” is what appears on the back of the box, that it sets the bar pretty high. The real benefit of most any 4K title is the HDR (High Dynamic Range) and use of color. I really noticed that a lot of the scenes seemed to be a bit deeper in this sense. Blacks were a bit more saturated, flesh tones a little more even and the like. I’m sure anyone reading this review will have the Blu-ray and while the 4K version looks amazing, it’s greatest advantage is the expanded color range. Either way you go, the picture will look amazing.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Ok, now we’re talkin’! Both the Blu-ray and the Ultra HD/4K version come equipped with the same uncompressed DTS X soundtrack. This is a 7.1.4 setup meaning that you’ve got 7 channels, a subwoofer and 4 overhead speakers. I personally haven’t invested in the 4 overhead speakers as of yet, but I’ve got enough in my reviewing area to make an accurate description of the audio. Also, of note, if you’re not DTS X equipped, there’s a perfectly serviceable DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack on both discs. Vocals are rich and pure. I can’t tell if the accents are supposed to be Scottish or Northern Ireland, but suffice it to say that it’s a stretch for Australian Chris Hemsworth and American Jessica Chastain to conquer. But that’s a minor detail. There are several instances in which the track really flexes its muscle. Battle scenes, swords clanging, arrows whooshing by and even walls of ice being constructed sound pretty darn good. The surrounds are almost constantly engaged, the front stage handles the brunt of the action nicely and the LFE get a workout too. There are better soundtracks out there, but I was more than satisfied with this mix and it’s enough to warrant a perfect score.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio Commentary – Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan gives a very informative and insightful commentary track. It’s chock full of little tidbits about casting, the shoot and some of the practical special effects used. While the film might not be for everyone, this commentary track is one that fans will eat up.
- Deleted Scenes with Commentary – Half a dozen scenes are included with commentary from Nicolas-Troyan who does help explain a few of them and why they were cut, ultimately I felt the film moved along fine without them.
- Gag Reel – Shenanigans on the set.
- Winter’s Vistas: The Making of The Huntsman: Winter’s War – This piece is split into five subsections.
- Dressed To Kill – Academy Award-winning costumer Colleen Atwood returns to help reignite the splendor she brought to Snow White and The Huntsman. A visual feast, her costumes often border on the supernatural in their beauty while helping bring the characters to life.
- Love Conquers All — From the infectious enthusiasm of director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan to the sisterly bond shared by Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron, the set of The Huntsman: Winter’s War was filled with laughter and life. Actors and artists came together to help create a fairy tale about the pure power of love — and had a blast along the way.
- Two Queens and Two Warriors – The true heart of The Huntsman: Winter’s War is found in its three powerful women, Ravenna, Freya, and Eric’s lost wife, Sara. Learn how the strength and complexity of the film’s female roles drew potent new star power in Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain, as well as convincing Charlize Theron to reprise her role as Ravenna.
- Meet the Dwarfs – Nick Frost’s Nion and Rob Brydon’s Gryff brought a sense of levity and fun to the adventure — especially once they met their female counterparts. Explore the importance of all four dwarf characters in the film and on set, where the actors who portrayed them earn a reputation for keeping the fun rolling, even when the cameras stopped.
- Magic All Around – Rooted in history, but inhabited by magic, the world of The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a true visual spectacle. Follow along and see how the magic made it to the screen. From Freya’s icy freeze to the gold-laden goblins of the forest, explore the visual effects at work with an exclusive peek behind the curtain.
The Bottom Line
I had to think, real hard, back to the first film (though it occurs after the events here) and if I’d seen it or not. That’s usually not a good sign. I was, however, fairly surprised here. The cast is top notch, I felt it enjoyable without being too corny and the overall package was a delight. Yes, each of these actors has appeared in better films, but if you’re looking for “guilty pleasure” material – you might have found it.