“This is no fairy tale,” an ad for Snow White and the Huntsman warns us, and it’s right: while the film preserves many of the same elements, it raises both the scale and the stakes of the classic story. On the whole, this makes it a worthy summer blockbuster, though it sometimes buckles under its own weight.
Coming in on the heels of Mirror Mirror, a frothy Snow White tale released barely two months ago, this is a much darker, more adult version, with measurably more violence, scares and blood. (Parents be warned – this is no Disney film.) Evil witch Ravenna (Charlize Theron) enchants and marries a sad and lonely king, murders him and takes control of his kingdom. Through magic, Ravenna maintains an immortal beauty, but she knows her power can be undone by one more beautiful than she. And by now we hardly need a magic mirror to tell us that the king’s daughter, Snow White (Kristen Stewart), who Ravenna keeps locked in a tower, is destined to be the fairest in the land.
Overwhelming Ravenna’s creepy brother Finn (Sam Spruell), Snow escapes and ventures into the Dark Forest, a place beyond the Evil Queen’s magic. A local Huntsman (Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth) is recruited to bring her back, but he, a drunken widower in need of redemption, changes sides and helps Snow flee, where she might inspire a rebel army to overthrow Ravenna and return hope and life to the kingdom.
The epic scale of Snow White and the Huntsman at times resembles the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and indeed the whole production has a similar look. But some plot points, meant to give it a more fantastic feel, go nowhere. An attack by a giant troll and a side trip to a land of fairies are interesting up to a point, but they have little to no relationship with the story, and merely bloat the running time.
The movie also feels even longer due to a distinct lack of comic relief, or any light moments at all. As the story goes, Ravenna’s influence has drained the life out of the entire kingdom, but director Rupert Sanders and his scriptwriters have allowed that idea to spread to the performances. Hemsworth is a charismatic and noble Huntsman, but surely his rough-around-the-edges demeanor could lend itself to a chuckle or two. Even the famous dwarves – played by veteran British actors including Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, and Ray Winstone – spend all their time recalling sad memories and arguing about destiny. In a film that casts its heroine as so dour a character, someone needs to step forward to take the edge off.
Those concerns aside, however, the story told is an exciting one, and it gets a boost from great acting. Of the former, Theron is the powerhouse, ranging from quiet menace to utter fury, but always believable in an over-the-top role. And while many would question the casting choice, Stewart focuses on Snow’s strength and determination in a role that seems custom-written for her particular brand of young adult angst. It makes sense that no one seems wrapped up in beauty other than Ravenna, whose obsession with it is her undoing.
The visual effects are also spectacular, though it’s the more subtle ones that impress the most, particularly the dwarves, created through a combination of taller actors’ faces on the bodies of little people. It’s likely to be a controversial choice, but it’s also impossible to deny the seamlessness of the result.
For those who like medieval fantasy, Snow White and the Huntsman is a must-see, even if you’ll occasionally get a little fidgety watching it.
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