Blu-ray Review: “Snow White” In The Woods
The summer movie season has ended. And the summer movie season has restarted, on home video. Following the sunken Battleship into your player is Snow White and the Huntsman, which gained some tabloid traction when star Kristen Stewart was revealed to have strayed from Team Robert to Team Rupert. (Sanders, that is, the director of the movie.) The bounce didn’t help much–in a period as depressed as the Romney campaign it was the 9th biggest earner, ahead of another Charlize Theron bitch special, Prometheus–but at least someone got their jollies from the experience. We don’t even get a fabled kiss that registers in a stirringly emotional way.
This is another attempt to tart up fairy tales in superheroic/Lord of the Rings fashion, with an emphasis on gloom and darkness that is briefly dispersed by bouts of axe-swinging, ass-kicking action. Sanders, a veteran of TV commercials, is fully aware of selling us seasonal product, and you can practically see the checklist he and the three screenwriters (including Blind Side writer-director John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini, an Oscar nominee for The Wings of the Dove) consulted. Yes, it’s a fairy tale, but let’s make it a PG-13 adaptation, with enough scuffles and battles (one every ten minutes by my count) to bring boys into the theater. Snow White’s kind of passive, so let’s give her a Joan of Arc outfit toward the end and have her adoring prince (Sam Claflin) say that she looks “fetching in mail.” Let’s beef up the part of the Huntsman, who becomes the protector of Snow White after being assigned to her assassination, and cast the guy who plays Thor (Chris Hemsworth) for that comics mojo. The seven dwarves? Let’s digitally shrink good actors like Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, and Toby Jones to play them, but, you know, kids stuff, so let’s keep them offscreen until after an hour has gone by and give them, ahem, short shrift. They had their movie.
Taking charge is the evil, innocence-sapping queen, played by Theron, who looks to have been dressed in raven feathers by Tim Burton’s costumer, Colleen Atwood. Blu-ray was invented for characters like hers, and the movie is intermittently resplendent when she’s casting her spells and plotting, even if the actress has gone down this route before (three times in the last year; there aren’t any angles left to “icy.”) More’s the pity that even in the 132-minute extended edition that’s part of this disc she hasn’t been given a single memorable line to utter, not even a standout “mirror, mirror” (the mirror having been turned into a T2-ish liquid metal thing, so as not to remind us perhaps of the Julia Roberts flop). OK, it’s not Henry James; still, a little of the effort that went into the costumes, production design, cinematography, and other externals might have been diverted into the script. There’s no wit to accompany visual marvels like the pulsating Dark Forest or the enchanted glen, with its bright, Avatar colors. (And the queen’s brother is a lousy henchman, one of those guys who talks and talks, giving his foes plenty of time to clobber him.)
The Blu-ray has the requisite making of material, all well-handled, and a commentary that includes Sanders, who reveals the intimate details of his extramarital tryst with his star and trash-talks Robert Pattinson. I’m fibbing, of course–he’s focused and on message about this dull debut assignment. I’ll stick with the delightful Puss in Boots for my fairy tale fix.
This is Chris Hemsworth Month on DVD and Blu-ray. Besides Snow White his No. 1 hit, The Avengers, is out next week, and you can also check into The Cabin in the Woods, where he’s noticeably less hunky, the movie having been shot in 2009. (That’s about all I have to say about Hemsworth, who, like Channing Tatum, seems like a fine slab of meat given life to act in films.) Back for a second helping I still appreciate this anything-goes horror movie, without really loving it. Too meta, maybe, without enough pulse of its own.
Still, it intrigues, and you want to know more. Beyond the enticing lenticular cover (who doesn’t love those?) and a sharp if somewhat darker transfer based on my memory of a February screening there are some noteworthy extras, beginning with a commentary pairing co-writer/director Drew Goddard and co-writer/producer Joss Whedon, known as “God” in some circles of fandom. In it they recount their battles over blood (Goddard wanting more, Whedon arguing for less), their friendly push-pull as a producer and a director invested in the same co-created material from different perspectives, and how the simplest effects (extras in masks) get the biggest jolts from audiences. Speaking of monsters there’s two rewarding featurettes about them, one focused on the film’s terrific makeup effects, and the other on the digital side. The two filmmakers are all over the other, more fannish supplements on the disc, but, really, the best reason to own The Cabin in the Woods is to repeatedly pause the image during its last act and admire the finest monster menagerie since the Hellboy movies.