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'The Huntsman: Winter's War' Blu-ray Review: 'Snow White' sequel doubles up on huntsmen, villains and campiness

August 22, 2016Ben MK

The Huntsman: Winter's War isn't just a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, it's also a prequel, as its opening moments take place before the events of that 2012 film. In this first part of the movie, we're not only reintroduced to the wicked Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who uses her dark magic powers to overthrow kingdoms and seize them for her own, we also meet her younger sister Freya (Emily Blunt), who's kindhearted — that is, until her baby perishes in a fiery blaze, causing Freya to immediately manifest frost powers and turn evil.

Her heart now literally as cold as ice, Freya retreats to the north, where she begins training an army of kidnapped children to be her Huntsmen. And, of course, this is where Chris Hemsworth enters the picture, reprising his role as Eric, the film's titular hero. Alongside Sara (Jessica Chastain), he's Freya's top warrior, responsible for helping the ice queen expand her kingdom by toppling others. However, when Eric and Sara break Freya's cardinal rule by falling in love, Freya punishes them, imprisoning Sara in her dungeon and sending Eric floating downstream.

Fast forward seven years, and Eric has not only survived being dumped into the river by Freya, he's also helped Snow White vanquish Ravenna. But when Ravenna's magic mirror goes missing, Eric is summoned back into action. This time, he's paired up with Nion (Nick Frost), one of the dwarfs from the first film, and Nion's half-brother Gryff (Rob Brydon). Together, the trio embark on a journey to retrieve the mirror before it falls into Freya's hands, with a little help from a pair of female dwarfs (Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach) and a tough-as-nails Sara.

Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan and written by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin, Winter's War gets by by shamelessly lifting elements from its fantasy genre brethren. And it's not limited to Disney's Frozen either; there are also shades of Brave and The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia series. The result is at best visually intriguing, and at worst, a hodgepodge of storybook clich├ęs. Luckily, the film doesn't take itself too seriously, and neither should moviegoers. Instead, just sit back, let your expectations go, and things will end happily ever after.

The Huntsman: Winter's War boasts a reference-grade visual presentation, with fine details like the texturing of Colleen Atwood's fantasy-themed costume design and the crystalline patterns that populate Freya's ice palace being plainly visible. Meanwhile, hues are richly saturated; and even though the color palette drifts towards the cool, monochromatic end of the spectrum whenever Freya is on-screen, the contrast with the golden tones of Ravenna's costume provides stunningly beautiful results. Likewise, the accompanying DTS:X sound mix proves equally impressive, with dialogue and music coming through crystal-clear, while wintry winds, the feral snarls of goblins and the sound of arrows being loosed from Sara's bow bring an additional layer of depth to the aural proceedings.

Universal's two-disc Blu-ray combo pack includes two cuts of the film (the Theatrical Version and an Extended Version), an iTunes/UltraViolet digital copy, a DVD and the following Blu-ray extras:

  • Deleted Scenes with Commentary by Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (8:57) - Four scenes ("Freya Says Goodbye to Ravenna," "Young Eric and Sara Fight," "Eric Finds Passage to Hidden Forest" and "Freya Beats Ravenna in Chess"), viewable with or without director commentary.
  • Gag Reel (9:43) - Goofs and flubs from the set.
  • Winter's Vistas: The Making of The Huntsman: Winter's War (36:17) - A five-part making-of documentary ("Two Queens and Two Warriors," "Meet the Dwarfs," "Magic All Around," "Dressed to Kill" and "Love Conquers All") that delves into the film's principal and supporting characters, the creation of the visual effects and the costume design, and the camaraderie among the cast.
  • Feature Commentary with Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan - Available on both the Theatrical Version and the Extended Version, Nicolas-Troyan shares his thoughts about the actors' work ethic and performances, the filming locales, the visual effects and the visual design, the fight choreography, the production and costume design, and more.

The Huntsman: Winter's War is available from Universal Studios Home Entertainment as of August 23rd, 2016. The Blu-ray features English DTS:X, English DTS:X Headphone, Spanish and French DTS 5.1, and English Dolby Digital 2.0 Descriptive Audio tracks. The film is presented with English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles. The total runtime is 1 Hr. 54 Mins. (Theatrical Version) and 2 Hrs. 0 mins. (Extended Version)

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on April 22nd, 2016.

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