Snow White and the Huntsman (United States, 2012)

June 01, 2012
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Snow White and the Huntsman Poster

Let's start out by not dwelling overmuch on the existence of Mirror Mirror. The basic story outline may be the same, but the similarities end there. Everything of importance is different: tone, intent, plot specifics, and so forth. Mirror Mirror is a family film with occasional bursts of Time Bandits-inspired comedy. Snow White and the Huntsman is a darker, more serious endeavor - a fantasy-tinged action/adventure tragedy that may disappoint traditionalists expecting something more child-friendly. The participation of Kristen Stewart will garner some attention from the Twilight crowd, although this incarnation of Snow White is 180 degrees from the passive, chronically victimized Bella Swan. Imagine, if you will, Bella dressed in armor and swinging a sword.

There's something almost Shakespearean about this movie. The three leads are emotionally damaged and spend a great deal of time trying to work through some issues. All could use a weekly therapy session but they find ways to compensate. At times, Snow White and the Huntsman is almost too grim for its own good. It's not a lot of fun and the heroic element drowns in the leaden atmosphere. Attempts to inject a little humor via the antics of the dwarves don't work, especially since one of the little people is killed early in the proceedings. No one's going to be singing "Hi ho! Hi ho! It's off to work we go!" after that happens.

Snow White and the Huntsman includes plenty of PG-13 violence with creatures that would be at home in The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, or Harry Potter. The larger battle sequences, of which there are several, are perfunctory, suffering by comparison with the long, gritty, detailed conflicts presented in Peter Jackson's films. Visually, however, Snow White and the Huntsman is splendid, arguably offering a more eye-popping experience than the fantastical world created by Tarsem in Mirror Mirror. First-time director Rupert Sanders treats his cinematic canvas like a grand playground, allowing his imagination to run free with the aid of CGI. An evocative sequence in which a flock of crows comes together to form the queen is emblematic of Sanders' visual sense. Whether or not he can direct actors with equal expertise remains an open question; Snow White and the Huntsman does not provide sufficient evidence to assign a grade.

The story follows a trajectory that is generally familiar. Snow White (Kristen Stewart) grows up an orphan under the thumb of the cruel, beautiful Queen Ravella (Charlize Theron), who married Snow's father then killed him on their wedding night. Snow is kept prisoner in the castle's north tower while Ravella terrorizes her subjects. When an opportunity to escape presents itself, Snow seizes it, fleeing into the Dark Forest. There, she meets The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, carrying an ax instead of a hammer), who agrees - for a price - to convey her to the estate of the rebel duke who is sheltering refugees from Ravella's purges. Along the way, they encounter a troll, fairies, a band of dwarves (initially numbering eight), and a white hart while being pursued by the queen's brother, Finn (Sam Spruell), and his elite corps. By the way, the Ravella/Finn relationship may call to mind that of siblings Cersei and Jamie in Game of Thrones. A sexual liaison is not explicitly revealed (to do so would result in an automatic "R" from the MPAA) but it is hinted at.

The film's most strident performance belongs to Charlize Theron, who emphasizes Ravella's evil by shouting every line of dialogue. A traumatic childhood and reliance upon soul-sucking magic have leeched all humanity from the queen; her inevitable end will make the castle a quieter place. Theron is fine in scenes when she has no lines, such as one in which the queen disrobes and immerses herself in what looks like a milk bath but, when speaking, she's often too over-the-top to convey true menace. Chris Hemsworth offers a low-key portrayal as the titular Huntsman, allowing the tragedy that haunts the character to inform his every action and decision. It's a nice, understated piece of acting. Unfortunately, Kristen Stewart, perhaps still experiencing a thespian hang-over from spending so much time appearing in Twilight movies, is flat. Her Snow White is the least interesting character, unless you count her potential love interest, William (Sam Claflin). The dwarves are played by normal-sized actors like Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, and Ray Winstone who have been miniaturized by special effects.

Snow White and the Huntsman's romance appears to have been modeled after the Luke/Han/Leia love triangle, with Snow torn between the mercenary Huntsman (whose reasons for helping her change from monetary to personal over the course of the film) and the heroic, good-hearted (and boring) William. It becomes obvious who the "winner" is when we see whose kiss awakens her from the poison apple's spell. The love story is kept in the background and is not used as a hook to attract would-be female viewers.

Expectations for Snow White and the Huntsman might determine its reception. The movie, with its ominous subjects and dark, stylish execution may prove to be unpalatable to those who crave lighter fare. Then again, Chris Nolan's Batman movies have not been hampered by a bleak tone. As far as live-action reimaginings of fairy tales are concerned, this is one of the more inventive ones and is unquestionably better than 2011's Red Riding Hood misfire. And for those who think Snow White and the Huntsman is too scary for young kids, they're right. But they're not called the Brothers Grimm for nothing.

Snow White and the Huntsman (United States, 2012)

Run Time: 2:07
U.S. Release Date: 2012-06-01
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1