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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



The Huntsman-Winter’s War, Review: Ice Maiden and Sinister Sister


The Huntsman-Winter’s War, Review: Ice Maiden and Sinister Sister

What? No Snow White in the title? Right. Almost no Snow White in the picture too. Many Huntsmen, one ‘The Huntsman’, two evil queen sisters who hate everybody, including each other, a few dwarves, a kingdom of gnomes and monsters, and the ubiquitous mirror that often steals the image (read: scene).

Evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who has the power of shooting tentacles to wrap her opponents, betrays her good sister Freya (Emily Blunt) by killing her new-born child, born out of wedlock. This horrendous act freezes Freya’s heart to love, and unleashes in her an icy power she never knew she possessed: producing tons of ice by a mere twist of the hand. Retreating to a kingdom far to the north, Freya captures boys and girls, and trains them as an army of Huntsmen, her protectors and plunderers. She also imposes one strong rule with an iron hand: no two of them should ever fall in love.

As a war for domination escalates between the two queens, the hero standing between them is Freya’s most elite Huntsman, Eric (Chris Hemsworth). Alongside him is fellow warrior and faultless archer, Sara (Jessica Chastain), the only woman who has ever captured his heart. Hopelessly in love, the two have violated Freya’s commandment, and face her wrath. Eric must also help Freya vanquish her sister…or Ravenna’s wickedness will rule for eternity.

This 2016 version is credited to three writers. Evan Daugherty (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Divergent) is given his due for the characters he created in the 2012 Snow White and the Huntsman. Evan Spiliotopoulos (Hercules, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, Battle for Terra) and Craig Mazin (The Hangover/s, Identity Thief, Scary Movie/s) are the two writers who worked on this edition. Finding means of taking a very familiar story backwards and forwards is always challenging to any writer, and the duo have come out with just about acceptable results.

A kingdom where men and women falling in love is forbidden (this is neither an exclusive nor inclusive observation, merely confined to the film), and a locket that can save a life, are tropes that were common in Hindi films from the 1940s till the 1970s. Maybe it came this way from the Hollywood movies of the 1930s-50s! It is still quite incredible that two queens could enslave hordes merely under the fear of unleashing their power when disobeyed. Surely they could have been vanquished before they realised it. There is some lack of clarity on the various kings and queens and goblins, and the reasons/commitments in the conflicts. Maybe some of it is lost in the accented dialogue and digital sound mixing.

Directed by Frenchman Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, visual effects supervisor of the 2012 Snow White and the Huntsman, Winter’s War has a judicious mix of technical wizardry and emotional narrative. The mirror, as expected, is the centre-piece, while the forest is as god as Disney gets. Nicolas-Troyan shows a keen sense of humour in executing the scenes with the dwarves, sometimes even letting the dialogue get indulgent. Casting of Jessica Chastain is commendable, the director avoiding falling into the pit of choosing a drop-dead gorgeous face to match the Brad Pitt-esque persona of the lead actor.

And that lead actor is Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek, Thor, Avengers), tall, well-built without being brawny, just that wee bit vulnerable. Here, Thor wields an axe, but with little result. He has a lot of fighting, not often emerging the winner. Charlize Theron (Snow White and the Huntsman, Mad Max: FuryRoad) is her usual, ravenous self. Half dead, half alive, made to go around her sister in circles, striking sinister poses and whispering venom, she is convincing. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, Interstellar, The Martian) makes the best of a meaty role. She shows guts and gumption, and an indomitable spirit. Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, The Jane Austen Book Club, Sicario) wins the audiences’ sympathy when targetted by her sister, and even in her Ice Maiden incarnation, she essays the dual traits of victim and perpetrator effectively.

Nick Frost reprises his role from the four-years ago outing as the dwarf Nion, in the company of three others cast in similar parts: Rob Brydon (Welsh TV comic), Sheridan Smith (British TV and theatre actress) and Alexandra Roach (The Iron Lady, Anna Karenina, Welsh TV actress). It’s fun when they are around, in a segment that stands on its own against so much evil and fighting. Sope Dirisu (British TV actor, small part in Criminal) plays the black boy, Tull, who develops a soft corner for his fellow Huntsman, Eric. Stock character, stock casting.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War represents the not so new genre of fairy-stories that are really violent and depict the worst machinations of the human brain. But it is considerably less disturbing than many other films seen in recent years. That might dilute its impact. Again, in an era when CGI and VFX rule the roost, Nicolas-Troyan’s approach of not going over-board (which is fine with this reviewer) might work against the film.

Rating: **1/2


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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