3. The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016)

Not many people buy DVDs nowadays. They’re still for sale, sure, in supermarkets and on the Internet and so on, but Netflix and other, less legal online streaming services have pretty much supplanted the market for them among people my age.

I think I might be an anomaly in that I still really like films on discs; I like having the physical copies of films visible like a large bookshelf (self-congratulatory, I know).

I watch a lot, usually buying them off Amazon second-hand for an average of, say, 50p each, and I now have a large collection of 150-odd DVDs on my bedroom shelves. However, there is one film in particular that people often deride when they browse them: Snow White and the Huntsman.

Tonight, I watched the sequel, The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016), and I want to write a defence of two films that I think are deceptively well made.

There are three basic things in particular – and they are basic – that made this one, Winter’s War, good: casting, humour (especially in this case; it has been a while since I saw the first film but I don’t remember it being that funny; here it is new and welcome) and most importantly, the visual effects.

The casting first. I’m a big fan of both Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain (watch The Tree of Life, ye who somehow doubt). They both always choose roles that suit them. Liam Neeson is also pretty cool as the noble voiceover (returning as the Mirror-dude in his Aslan-esque way), and Charlize Theron is predictably menacing. Chris Hemsworth is also a strong actor when he has to be (Rush was great fun), but I think the female characters in this movie were given more to work with.

They were powerful and compelling, and the one scene in particular that drove this home was the scene in which Jessica Chastain’s character, Sara, tells Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman that, after seven traumatic years apart, he can’t just rekindle their love by “passing some sort of test” (or something to that effect). This scene perfectly second-guesses the film; up to then, Hemsworth’s character was pretty much doing just that. And then he admits that he’s doing it, and they kiss, make up, and have 12A-rated sex – and even though she has called the film out for what is going on the whole way through, and openly acknowledged the slightly flimsy plotline, it is redeemed by addressing the problem head-on.

And this is something that is basically done throughout. The movie has no aspirations to high art, really – there is some typical Hollywood dross about love conquering all (though Hemsworth and Chastain are, in fact, very believable as a couple) – but at its heart, this film does the fantasy basics very well.

It also does well to include humour; something often sorely missing from this sort of movie, especially when aimed at young adults. (How many times did you laugh at The Hunger Games?) Sheridan Smith is as good as ever; Rob Brydon too. These are big names, working with what is little more than regional-accent humour – it’s not very advanced or nuanced, but it works! This film, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, has some very amusing moments! Who would have guessed?

Then finally, the tour-de-force of CGI that is the visuals in this film. I could probably watch this movie on mute, with maybe some Wagner at the extreme action bits and something more chill (Grieg? It would be twee but it would fit…) in the peaceful bits, and it would be nearly as good. Everything, from the sweeping Nordic landscape panoramas to the detail in Jessica Chastain’s earrings, from the feral goblin villains to the golden drapery of the revamped Mirror-cum-Ravenna, from the Ice Queen’s palace – which looks disconcertingly similar to the one from Frozen – to the mad wigs that everyone in this movie wears; everything looked beautiful and striking. In the early Noughties, the Lord of the Rings trilogy used very little CGI and prospered for it; in this case, the opposite applies. Peter Jackson’s trilogy has aged incredibly well for the hard work that went into its make-up, costumes and set design (unlike the Hobbit series, which looks garish and kitsch), and I think that this will too, because of the sheer attention to detail in the computer imagery, down to the very dust motes in the air.

Perhaps this is a slightly earnest take on a film that got bad reviews. I don’t care; those reviews missed the point. Watch this movie, and its prequel. If you still don’t like them, fine, but if you want to slag them off without giving them a chance, you are a film snob.



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