Fairy tales are stories almost as old of time. They’re narratives that stem in oral history: people spent generations spreading these tales to one another. Sure things change with different cultures (one Italian version of a particular fairy tale involves a lot of lasagne) and different times but the tales remain essentially the same. They all have some of these elements: hero/heroine, a wicked step mother, an old crone, evil sisters, a youngest son, guardians such as fairies, shapeshifters and more. They all have a moral to put across usually in order to encourage good behaviour in good children and now they’re all subject to modern retellings or adaptations. You are likely very familiar with the Disney films Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Mulan and various other modified fairy tales for contemporary audiences made by the company. More film makers are jumping on this idea. One such person was director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan who directed the Snow White and the Huntsmen prequel The Huntsman: Winter’s War. This film sees Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron return to their roles as the Huntsman and Ravena respectively as the audiences find out the events that preceded Snow White with Ravena’s cold-hearted sister Freya.
Retelling a fairy tale to fit the modern audience isn’t always as easy as one may imagine. Whilst the stories themselves are quite simplistic, it requires careful thought to alter it in a way that would make sense. The Huntsmen: Winter’s War use some of the fairy tale tropes rather nicely: the sisters that typically stick together are twisted against each other in a believable way and that’s definitely helped by the performances of Theron as Ravenna and Emily Blunt as Freya.
Unfortunately some cliches do come to rear their head in a rather annoying way: romance sub plots that seemed to deviate too much from the initial narrative, the comic relief that seems to sometimes rely on the value of a British accent more than the actual dialogue delivered, an ending that seems to nearly erase its predecessor and an overall story that seems a bit dragged out and unnecessary. It’s a shame as there are some great talent behind this film but the story isn’t entirely compelling. If anything, it is quite sloppy and pretty disappointing.
Regardless of what the film gets right and wrong in terms of the narrative, the use of colour and mise-en-scene are incredibly effective in providing consistent visual metaphors throughout. The two queens are constantly in shiny metallic colours whether it’s whites, blues and silvers for Freya or golds and yellows for Ravenna whilst the protagonists are constantly in darkness wearing quite muted browns, blacks, and dirty whites in their almost nomadic costume. Even during the nicely choreographed fight sequence, the lighting maintains the darkness and shadows motif for the protagonists and the lit-up but oxymoronic lightness for the warring queens. Whilst it definitely doesn’t make up for the inadequacies of the plot, it at least provides the audience with something spectacular and entertaining to watch for 113 minutes.
If you’re looking for an joyous retelling of a classic fairy tale, you may have more luck with the Disney films which is quite a statement from a reviewer who isn’t much of a Disney fan.
THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR IS OUT ON DVD & BLU-RAY NOW!