4K UHD Review: “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”
Distributor: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Street Date: August 23rd 2016
Technical Specifications: 2160P Video, Color, 2.39:1 Aspect Ratio, DTS: X HD Master Audio
Runtime: Theatrical- 114 Minutes, Extended Cut- 120 Minutes
It’s hard to imagine that a studio would actually spend 115 million dollars on The Huntsman: Winter’s War and not deliver a better film. I mean, surely that’s enough money to hire a proven screenwriter and director that could deliver something of substance….right? Unfortunately, The Huntsman instead serves as the very definition of mediocrity. Don’t get me wrong, making this movie makes sense from a financial standpoint, given the first film’s profitable box office haul, but this is precisely that; a franchise prequel-sequel that borrows elements from other, far better mythological/fantasy films and even cashes in on the recent popularity of Disney’s Frozen with some plot elements ripped directly from it. In the filmmaker’s defense, the film purports to be based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, which also served as the basis for Frozen. It’s a shame, because I love the actual talent involved in this film! Theron, Hemsworth, Blunt, and Chastain are wasted here, forcibly uttering pure drivel from an often-terrible script. There are, however, some magnificent moments in this movie…from the elegant and elaborate costume design to some incredible scenery and even Liam Neeson’s inviting narration that almost sold me on these concepts (though clearly cliché), that is…until someone speaks.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War serves as both a prequel and a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman. The official plot synopsis from Universal is as follows: Betrayed by her evil sister Ravenna (Charlize Theron), heartbroken Freya (Emily Blunt) retreats to a northern kingdom to raise an army of huntsmen as her protectors. Gifted with the ability to freeze her enemies in ice, Freya teaches her young soldiers to never fall in love. When Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and fellow warrior Sara defy this rule, the angry queen does whatever she can to stop them. As war between the siblings escalates, Eric and Sara unite with Freya to end Ravenna’s wicked reign.
As I stated above, there are elements of The Huntsman: Winter’s War that I did appreciate, from the gorgeous costume design to James Newton Howard’s heroic score, but unfortunately, these benefits are outweighed by a film with poor writing, an aimless meandering plotline, and a supreme lack of originality. And no, I didn’t expect David Mamet quality writing from what amounts to a medieval adventure film, but certainly something better than dialogue that had me cringing on several occasions throughout. The performances here seem phoned in, and the sense of “adventure” one would hope for in a film like this just doesn’t ever seem to arrive. Though some of it’s visual spectacle is certainly appreciated, I can’t recommend The Huntsman: Winter’s War to my dear readers. It’s not a terrible film, but simply not enough to satisfy and far too many flaws to ignore. If you’re in the mood for some high fantasy or medieval cinematic adventures, I will instead, recommend the following: Excalibur, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Willow, Kingdom of Heaven, Conan the Barbarian, The Princess Bride, Legend….even Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves would do.
While I can’t say that I appreciated the film itself as much as I’d hoped, this 4K UHD release from Universal is jaw dropping! The Huntsman: Winter’s War marks the distributor’s first “new release” title on the format (they also released catalog titles including Lucy, Oblivion, and Lone Survivor in early August), and the visuals from the film are a wonder to behold. One of the highlights of the film for me was Colleen Atwood’s beautiful costumes for the cast, and the intricate detail is on full display here in ultra high definition. Freya’s snow queen dress in particular looks amazing, with a frosty glow and metallic veneer that warranted more than a few pauses throughout, just to fully appreciate the captivating design. The living mirror of molten gold, along with Ravenna’s black and golden costume, also comes to life in vivid detail. The gorgeously rendered landscapes and CGI effects work are also beautiful to behold, even if the 4K video quality sometimes reveals the some shortcomings (see the white owls for instance). Even with a 2K digital intermediate utilized, The Huntsman: Winter’s War looks breathtaking on the new format, and fans will certainly be pleased with the results.
The included DTS: X and 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio mix certainly makes for an immersive and impressive home theater experience. Dialogue comes through clean and clear without any hiccups, and even the subtlest of background effects are rendered seamlessly here with a range of low range dynamics and high frequency sections. The score from James Newton Howard is powerful and every instrument utilized can be appreciated. I am quite in love with DTS: X and the extra four overhead channels make for a near-theatrical quality experience. This is quite the impressive audio track!
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment has given fans of The Huntsman: Winter’s War a solid selection of bonus content. Here’s a list of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary with Cedric Nicolas-Troyan: The Director offers a fairly engaging commentary where he details much of his process, dotes on the actors involved, and shares some behind-the-scenes tidbits that fans of the film will appreciate. I especially enjoyed his discussion of the locales involved and the special effects work that went into the film.
- Deleted Scenes- Four scenes are presented here with optional commentary from Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. I’m not sure any of these would necessarily add much to the film itself, but fans should appreciate their inclusion as a bonus feature on this release.
- Gag Reel- Nearly 10 minutes of outtakes from the cast and crew, and some of these are pretty entertaining! Even if I didn’t love the film, the cast certainly seemed to enjoy making it!
- Winter’s Vistas: The Making of The Huntsman: Winter’s War: Nearly 40 minutes of behind-the-scenes and making of material spread over five sections includes detailed looks at the characters of the film, the dwarves, the special effects, the costume design, and the style of the film. I found the segment focusing on Colleen Atwood’s costume design to be the most engaging, as it was certainly one of the only aspects of the film that I thoroughly enjoyed.
This 4K UHD Blu-Ray release from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment features a gorgeous metallic slipcover featuring the original theatrical poster design for the film. This is Universal’s first new release on the 4K UHD format, and I’m impressed by their choice in packaging design. On the reverse of the slipcover you’ll find a short plot synopsis for the film, a list of bonus content, and technical specifications. Inside of the case is the 4K UHD disc, a Blu-Ray disc, the Ultraviolet Digital HD code insert, and another insert advertising future Universal 4K UHD titles and a promotional code for a free digital download release from their catalog.
The Huntsman: Winter’s War isn’t a terrible film, but instead, the very definition of mediocre cinema. While there are elements of the movie that I did appreciate, from the gorgeous costume design to James Newton Howard’s heroic score, unfortunately they are outweighed by a film with very poor writing, an aimless meandering plotline, and a supreme lack of originality. The performances here seem phoned in, and the sense of “adventure” one would hope for in a film like this just doesn’t ever seem to arrive. Nevertheless, this 4K UHD Blu-Ray edition from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment features breathtaking video quality on this new format, and the DTS: X audio track offers viewers a unique and immersive home theater experience. The special features are also solid, and fans of the film will have plenty of interesting material to sift through. I can’t say that I recommend the film itself beyond some amazing visuals, but both the video and audio on this release are demo-quality material.