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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Huntsman: Winter's War -- Extended Edition (Blu-ray)
The Huntsman: Winter's War -- Extended Edition (Blu-ray)
Universal // Unrated // August 23, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted August 24, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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The Film:

Snow White and The Huntsman isn't, frankly, very good: a burdensome, overproduced fantasy with a questionable casting decision in Kristen Stewart as the "fairest of them all". But, at least the film had its creative intentions in the right place, modifying the classic Brothers Grimm tale by reworking the central character into, ultimately, a capable heroine and conqueror of tyranny with the help of The Huntsman. The events of that original film left its universe in a state where crafting a direct sequel would be tricky -- and, considering the general response to the film, unnecessary -- which would prove challenging for whomever decided to continue the story. The Huntsman: Winter's War attempts just that, and while its predecessor holds deep flaws, they're not as profound as the lack of imagination and cumbersome modifications that went into building this new installment around the story before it, squandering robust talent and strong female characters within cobbled-together bits of familiar high fantasy.

To piece together a workable story, Winter's War exists as both a prequel/origin story and a sequel to Snow White and The Huntsman, which one can either consider to be ambitious or simply too convoluted for its own good. At first, it depicts the rise of power of Ravenna, Charlize Theron's gold-plated enchantress and the villain from the first film, and how she shares a tender relationship with her then non-magical sister, Freya (Emily Blunt). A traumatizing event changes all that, though, awakening the frosty vengeance within Freya as she embarks to the North to create her own empire, amassing an army of orphaned children and forbidding any sort of love within her domain. Many years pass, arriving at a point some time before the events leading to Snow White's reign, introducing The Hunstman, Eric (Chris Hemsworth), and his bow-wielding contemporary, Sara (Jessica Chastain), both skilled warriors under her tutelage. Winter's War chronicles how they fell out of her good graces and ended up in the lands to the South, jumping ahead nearly a decade to account for Snow White and the Hunstman as a search for Ravenna's mirror escalates throughout the land.

Nominated for an Oscar for his visual effects work in the first film, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan makes his feature-length directorial debut with Winter's War, working from a script penned by Hercules writer Evan Spiliotopoulos and The Hangover Part II and III's Craig Mazin. Their influences are clear, a little too clear, from the Game of Thrones-style conversations over chessboards and frosty training grounds to the broad shots of boats going downstream that look like deleted scenes from Fellowship of the Ring. That familiarity isn't helped by the rather blatant recycling of ice queens that went into creating the villainous Freya, who essentially acts the way you'd expect Elsa from Frozen to act had she well and truly "let it go" for years on end, only with the ruthless drive of a White Witch to keep her going. Winter's War expands upon the world from the first film in a maddening way: it appeals to the fandom of other franchises and series without an original bone in its body, while also trying to both exist alongside Snow White and The Huntsman and ignore certain elements that complicate it as a sequel.

Amid thick accents, brave revolutionary personas, even moments of intimacy that all recall the likes of Braveheart, the talents of Chris Hemsworth and Jessica Chastain get lost in the borrowed clutter of Winter's War, a shame considering the unique chemistry that exists between their enamored warriors. In their quest to locate the mystical mirror, to which they're accompanied by a quirky band of male and female dwarves that injects a off-kilter sense of humor into the events, director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan finds one of the film's few strengths in the hardened flirtations and simmering anger between these two Huntsman who were driven apart by their ice queen's whims. Hemsworth's innate charm exchanges well with the stern, equally capable prowess of Chastain's Sara, almost making one wish that these characters existed independently from the history forced upon hem by Queen Freya's ludicrous reign. Winter's War finds its source of levity in Eric and Sara's trysts and clumsy interactions with their dwarven comrades, almost overcompensating for its absence in the previous film.

Unfortunately, the story itself is a wash, stringing together authoritarian dominance and forced circumstance with the search for Ravenna's mirror. The atmosphere in Winter's War fits somewhere in the high-fantasy category: Freya can freeze people, raise ice walls, and see through the eyes of a frosty owl avatar, while mirrors can alter the consciousness of those within its visible range and goblins run around with flammable blood. All these things exist within the conditions of the crammed-together plot, though, and it's tough to ignore that these powerful enchantresses could've cast their spells to far more capable means, restrained only because the plot desperately needs its humans to look like an even match. Even with Emily Blunt's wounded stoicism as the icy queen and Charlize Theron's hypnotic, velvety menace as Ravenna, the fickleness and lack of thought behind their powers result in a ridiculous antagonistic presence, made worse by the generally unremarkable machinations of their plays at power.

As a fantasy-action film, Winter's War is merely functional, driven forward by less-than-enthralling visual effects with Oscar-nominated Cedric Nicolas-Troyan at the helm. Crackling ice walls and oozing gold and oily tendrils enliven those dubious scenes of magic use, while the hand-to-hand combat involving the Huntsmen move vigorously enough in taverns, woodland areas, and the frigid corners of Freya's realm. The scope and trajectory of the adventure leaves plenty to be desired, though, and that's largely due to the film's meandering priorities, losing itself in referential coexistence with Snow White and The Huntsman while hurling a Thor-esque Hemsworth into an endgame that the character himself deems "the worst plan ever". On the steam of the enduring power of love like a tried-and-true fairytale, The Huntsman: Winter's War crystallizes into a strangely perplexing entry in the genre once all's said and done, one with passably-made action and stabs at personality that, somehow, still ends up leaving one feeling about as cold as its predecessor does.

Note: Film Review From Theatrical Coverage: Here


The Blu-ray:



Encased in a shiny slipcase befitting the dazzling magic of the film itself, Universal Home Entertainment conjure up a standard two-disc presentation for The Huntsman: Winter's War on Blu-ray, with Disc Two being a standard DVD presentation of the film. Two cuts have been included on the high-definition disc, the Theatrical Cut (1:53:57) and Extended Cut (2:00:10), but the differences between the two are negligible and don't really impact the overarching storytelling, more hinged on character substance and following through with small bits of world-building. The film really isn't any different with those six-plus extra minutes.


Video and Audio:

The Huntsman: Winter's War storms onto the Blu-ray battlefield in a striking 2.35:1-framed, 1080p AVC transfer, one that mirrors that dazzling fantasy presentation throughout. It's tough to dispute the beauty of the film's wizardry, both digital and practical, whether it's the ice shards and golden folds of the enchantresses or the ornate sets and costume design surrounding them, to which the digital photography frequently relishes the minute details in garments, the harsh and fluid textures of the magic, and small elements like digital particles falling from the ceiling and blades of grass on a snake's back. Naturally, the palette depends on the location: frosty blues and grays cover Freya's realm, while earthy greens and yellows surround warmer skin tones in the wilderness beyond her reach. Everything's beautiful here in high-definition, with a few caveats: one or two scenes of broader digital effects exhibit smoothness and noticeable digital grain, and the contrast gets a pinch too dark in some nighttime sequences for the black levels to not move in on underlying details. The transfer hits the mark.

The DTS-X track provides a splendid 7.1 Master Audio presentation for Winter's War, constantly filling the surround stage with fierce action, rushes of magic, and exceptional ambience encompassing the dialogue. The formation and shattering of ice is a persistent feature of the film's aural design, providing the disc with ample and successful moments that showcase crisp, chilling high-definition clarity. Clanking of weapons and heavy thumps of hand-to-hand battle are equally as present, which are tightly projected with robust mid-range heft and solid, yet controlled bass response whenever a blow lands the mark. Thick accents from Hemsworth and Chastain in more subdued sequences occasionally take the clarity to less than ideal levels, but the track never strays from being discernible or natural in terms of vocal delivery. The rear channels are in frequent and organic use, whether it's the music or the action occupying their time, though the bulk of the activity stays at the sides; the center-back portion of the 7-channel element typically only sees activity whenever there's magic at use. For the most part, Winter's War fulfills the wants and desires one would have out of a high-fantasy production like this.


Special Features:

Director's Commentary with Cedric Nicolas-Troyan:
Speaking in English with a thick accent, director Nicolas-Troyan offers his audience a fairly standard and unexciting track that delves into details on a fairly scene-by-scene basis. His primary focus is on clarifying what elements are practical and which ones are computer-generated, discussing the sets that were constructed at Pinewood Studios and what practical vistas were captured in Iceland, as well as how he composed the scale of the dwarfs. He also touches upon his careful use of doubles and how much of the action Jessica Chastain got involved with, as well as inherent charm of Chris Hemsworth in his sequences. The tempo of the track ends up being incremental and without much of a conversational flow, but he does offer bits of clarity about the production scattered between.

Along with a series of four Deleted Scenes with Commentary from Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (8:57, 16x9 HD) and a Gag Reel (9:43, 16x9 HD) kicked off with lots of plane interruptions, The Huntsman: Winter's War also comes with a five-part Winter's Vistas: The Making of The Huntsman: Winter's War package -- three parts of which are exclusive to the Blu-ray. They're filled with generous behind-the-scenes and production footage, as well as interviews with the cast, taking the general press-kit formula and going a step further in terms of what's revealed. Dressed to Kill (6:03, 16x9 HD) and Love Conquers All (5:58, 16x9 HD), the two segments available across all releases, go behind the scenes with the costume work and the joys of working with director Nicolas-Troyan. The three exclusives are more concentrated and thorough: Two Queens and Two Warriors (7:22, 16x9 HD) centers on the casting, the duality of the enchantresses' performances and the vigor of the warriors; Meet the Drawfs (8:10, 16x9 HD) digs into the levity and production craftsmanship of the dwarven element; and Magic All Around (8:44, 16x9 HD) revolves around the visual effects behind the spellcasting and creatures.


Final Thoughts:

Winter's War, the unprompted prequel/sequel hybrid to Snow White and the Huntsman, delivers a high-fantasy experience that's about on the same level as its unremarkable predecessor in terms of action, world-building and visual panache, perhaps even improving upon them with its degree of humor and colorful aesthetic. But for every step forward taken, its palpable similarities to other popular fantasy franchises, meandering plotting, and questionable usage of sorcery stumbles two steps back. Universal's Blu-ray looks and sounds fantastic, though, and it comes with a solid slate of extras that include a director's commentary and a fine five-part behind-the-scenes featurette collection. Worth a Rental for fantasy aficionados and for the visual delights, but that's it.



Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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