Snow White and the Huntsman is a valiant effort, as noble in its cinematic ambitions as its heroine is in nobility of heart.
Once Upon a Time
This new take on Snow White is partly exhilarating and partly frustrating. The exhilaration comes from the filmmakers’ ambitions to take the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale and spin it with a tougher edge than is typically seen (there’s no confusing this one with Mirror Mirror, Julia Roberts’ springtime flop). The frustration comes from the film’s sometimes leaden pacing and inability to loosen up for a wee bit of fun.
It’s similar to what happened with Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood. The earnestness of the material and the ambitions behind the retelling (plus that great line, “Rise and rise again until lambs become lions”) made it a hard movie to hate, but no less easy to embrace wholeheartedly.
Snow White and the Huntsman isn’t the crowd pleaser the title might suggest; while an honorable movie, it’s also a tough sell as a piece of summer entertainment.
Director Rupert Sanders got his start in commercials (much like Sir Ridley) and herewith makes his feature film debut. He certainly has the eye for visual flair; there’s always something to look at on screen and the visual effects are exceptional. It’ll be interesting to see where Sanders takes his big screen career from here.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
The heart of the story revolves around the most basic of human needs: love and trust. Unfortunately for Ravenna (Charlize Theron, The Devil’s Advocate), she’s been used and abused – and now she thrives on retribution. Feigning capture by the Dark Army, she is rescued by a widowed king who is instantly enamored by the striking woman. He marries her the very next day.
Shame on him for rushing to the altar. While he had hopes his new bride would mend his broken heart, her nefarious plan was to make it bleed.
Once her army storms the castle, Ravenna ascends to the throne and makes things comfortable for herself, which is to say miserable for everybody else. Ravenna drains the life – and hope – out of the village.
And she imprisons the king’s daughter, a young beauty of pure heart named Snow White (Kristen Stewart, The Twilight Saga). While the queen quite literally sucks the life out of young girls in order to maintain her own youthful appearance, her mercurial man in the mirror doesn’t clue her in on Snow White’s true worth until Snow has come of age, escaped from her dungeon, trudged through the sewers, and made her way into the Dark Forest.
Snow White, Ravenna is told, is both her undoing and her salvation. With Snow White’s blood Ravenna can obtain eternal youth. But Snow White’s pure heart can also topple Ravenna’s empire.
Love Conquers All
Theron is a scene stealer as the evil queen, relishing the opportunity to play larger-than-life evil, but a pleasant surprise comes in Chris Hemsworth’s performance as the huntsman. The guy who played Kirk’s father in the Star Trek reboot and attained even more global fame as Thor presents an agreeable mix of toughness and likability here. Maybe, just maybe, he very well might have the range to be the next Russell Crowe.
Actually, there are several other surprises in the casting department. Through the magic of modern filmmaking (and computers), the lead dwarves are played by Ray Winstone (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit), Ian McShane (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End), and Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes). Not a one of them a dwarf in real life, it takes a couple minutes to come to terms with who is behind all the makeup and short stature.
Oh, yeah, and Kristen Stewart pulls off a nice blend of innocence and increasing toughness as she grows through her ordeals while seeking to unseat Ravenna.
Snow of Arc
Solid cast. Terrific visual effects. Compelling story. Strong climax. These are the components that make this movie “rise a knight” and forgive its shortcomings. It’s a much more fully realized vision of a fairy tale land than Ridley Scott’s fantay mashup, Legend, and it’s more accessible than John Boorman’s take on King Arthur, Excalibur.
Another striking element is the handling of the romantic angles. The huntsman is also a widower, a man who dearly misses his wife; she kept him in check and helped him steer clear of life’s darker pathways. There’s also William (Sam Claflin, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), a childhood friend of Snow’s who is burdened with feelings of having abandoned Snow during Ravenna’s castle siege.
Where the story takes these characters is really elegant, both by what is said and, more importantly, by what is not said. The key is that it’s not the nobility of one’s station in life that matters most, it’s the nobility of the heart. The kiss, that famous kiss of life, is handled well; it’s a delicate scene of regret and honesty.
And it works its spell enough to soften the edges on this sometimes challenging, sometimes magical fantasy.