Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) / Fantasy-Adventure
MPAA rated: PG-13 for violence and brief sensuality
Running time: 127 min.
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Spruell, Sam Claflin, Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Johnny Harris, Brian Gleeson
Director: Rupert Sanders
Screenplay: Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini
Review published June 9, 2012
First-time feature film director Rupert Sanders, whose prior experience came from crafting popular and acclaimed commercials, imbues the revisionist Snow White and the Huntsman with a dark, slick and energetic look that bodes well in its favor, even if he isn't quite as good at putting all of this wonderful imagery together for a satisfying tale told well. As he does in commercials, Sanders is able to sustain good momentum in small bits, such as in battle sequences, or special effects flourishes, or just the passing of scenery in the background. Where Sanders falls short is in the overall pace of the film, which offers up that collection of fine little moments, but the overriding arc feels truncated, taking Snow White from meek and imprisoned young girl to unflinching warrior princess with only what appears to be a few days of freedom.
Kristen Stewart (Twilight, Jumper) stars as Snow White, who has been imprisoned in the tower of a castle since she was a little girl. Her mother deceased, her father remarried to a beautiful but power-hungry woman named Ravenna (Theron, Prometheus), who kills the king and takes over the land. Ravenna is more than a queen -- she is a witch, who can have eternal beauty and life by absorbing it out of young girls against their will. When Ravenna's magic mirror, who has always been encouraging of her every step, warns her against Snow White's coming of age and beauty, and who is a threat to undo everything the queen has built up, the witch now knows it is time for her to put an end to her stepdaughter's life, with the promise of everlasting life and beauty that would entail. Snow White escapes, into the Dark Forest where Ravenna has no power. A widower huntsman (Hemsworth, The Avengers) who knows the region is hired, under the promise that his deceased wife be brought back to him, but he sees things for what they are and becomes Snow White's protector. On the run, Snow White and the huntsman soon join forces with a group of hearty dwarves, who soon see the young princess as the savior of their land as foretold in lore. They gather together the forces in the hope of being able to challenge the queen and restore good to the land again, but Ravenna has more than a few tricks up her sleeve that will see them fail.
The casting is competent though flawed, with Stewart doing what she does well, which is to look young, shy, and romantically anguished, practically continuing her Bella Swan act for much of the movie. Where she fails is toward the end of the movie, where the story asks her to change from Twilight to Braveheart-aspiring rousing dialogue, under which the film strains from the weight of turning a child inmate into Xena the Warrior Princess. Charlize Theron threads the line between being sympathetically compelling and chewing up scenery, usually in her favor, as the script offers her little to work with but to be a semi-campy, maniacal villain most of the time. Theron's stunning looks does give one pause when having to compare her to Kristen Stewart and wonder which is the fairest of them all, so disbelief must be suspended in this regard. Chris Hemsworth nails the drunken huntsman as if he were born to play it, but his character appears only to serve a purpose, after which he is almost an afterthought. Many familiar faces fill up the troupe of dwarves, whose faces are superimposed on the bodies of much smaller men. The effect is eerie due to the easy recognition factor of the actors much more so than for the believability of the effects.
Despite the rather lengthy film, clocking in over two hours, it's a shame that more time couldn't have gone into bolstering up the story with better explanations. Snow White is seen as the savior of the people, well, because she is foretold to be -- not because of something innately earned. Then there are the things that are glossed over but never adequately explained such as why the evil queen would have bothered keeping Snow White alive and imprisoned to begin with. And if the girl were such a threat to her life and everything she built up, why Ravenna would only send only her aging brother (Spruell, K-19) up to get her from her quarters, and why there would be nothing between the brother and the outdoors that would thwart escape. There is foreshadowing but no explanation given regarding the poison apple, and the same for the infamous kiss of life. There is beauty in the imagery, but where is the poetry? Where is the elegance? Where is the plain old traditional way to spin a good yarn?
Snow White and the Huntsman is a fine looking film with an interesting take on a centuries old fairy tale. As such, it is recommended for those who enjoy such tales, particularly those who enjoy the stories for the imagery and symbolism much more than for the writing style and characterizations. It's more Grimm than Disney, so parents might want to take note that the film doesn't aim toward young children for its audience.
All in all, the good outweighs the bad, though it certainly is better than one might have a reason to expect given recent attempts at fairy tale retellings. If I were the critical mirror on the wall asked to give this one a grade, I'd say, "Fair enough."
©2012 Vince Leo