“First, I will take your life, my lord, then I will take your throne.”
Is it wrong for me to watch Snow White and the Huntsman and root for the evil queen? How about disagreeing with the magic mirror on the wall about Snow White (Kristen Stewart) being the fairest of them all, when Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) is absolutely ravishing? I’m sorry, Twihards, but Stewart isn’t even in the ballpark compared to Theron’s stunning beauty, not to mention acting chops. How do I reconcile these feelings with the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed this gothed-up version of the beloved and culturally ubiquitous Snow White fairy tale? With Mirror Mirror in the theaters earlier this year and the new hit series Once Upon a Time, as well as the direct to video Snow White: A Deadly Summer (with Marcia Brady as the evil stepmother which I had the great misfortune to review) perhaps Snow White fatigue is setting in a bit, but this is my personal favorite take on the story since Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Warning, some minor spoilers ahead!
In this version, Snow White is the daughter of good King Magnus (Noah Huntley). After the death of her mother, the king remarries the evil sorceress Ravenna who murders him, steals his kingdom and imprisons Snow White in the tower where she grows into a beautiful teenager. The magic mirror then gives Ravenna some bad news, good news, bad news: the queen is no longer the fairest in the land, however, if she eats Snow White’s heart she will be immortal, but if she doesn’t kill Snow, the girl will eventually destroy her. Ravenna sends her compulsively codependent brother, Finn (Sam Spruell) to fetch Snow, but the girl escapes with the help of friendly Magpies and a waiting horse to take her into the Dark Forest. Ravenna orders the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to help Finn and his men track the girl, but the Huntsman ends up falling in love with her and aiding in her escape. Eventually (far too late in the movie for my tastes) Snow and the Huntsman cross paths with dwarfs (eight in this version). Of course there are near misses, sad deaths and poison apples spiced with loads of sorcery and magical creatures galore.
First time feature director, Rupert Sanders, brings a wonderful visual style to the movie, combining the beauty of Ridley Scott’s Legend, the epic battles of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the brutal magic of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. Theron is fantastic in her villainous role; she is so wondrously evil you can’t get enough of her and her performance is worth the ticket price alone. The dwarfs steal the show as well, incorporating the incredible talents of Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, and Nick Frost, among others. The magical creatures are breathtaking in this dark retelling of the classic fairy tale, and there is an awesome mystical sequence in a place known as Sanctuary which had the audience cooing like babies.
Unfortunately, the screenplay by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini tries to fit a trilogy’s worth of story into a two hour movie and ends up shortchanging character development, most criminally with the Dwarfs. We needed much more of those feisty little people. They also set up a childhood love interest with the character of William (Sam Claflin) that goes absolutely nowhere other than to show off some cool bow and arrow fight scenes. In fact, the ambiguity of it all almost suggests Snow might end up living happily ever after with both William and the Huntsman in a royal ménage à trois.
The biggest problem with film is the miscasting of Kristen Stewart as Snow White. Now don’t get me wrong, I think Stewart has the chops to be a great actor. Her portrayal of teen rocker Joan Jett in The Runaways was pitch perfect, fully utilizing Stewart’s innate surliness, petulance and rage. She just doesn’t live up to the untainted nature of Snow White, whose ethereal pureness conquers nature, man and magic. There are some great close-ups of Stewart’s expressive eyes, but her delivery is all id and angst. There is a Joan of Arc-style speech she gives to rally the troops for a battle against Queen Ravenna which plays so flat it pulls you right out of the movie. Her miscasting isn’t as grievously bad as Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker’s Dracula; her performance doesn’t kill the movie, but it just doesn’t elevate it either.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and highly recommend it to fantasy lovers. There are some sequences which may be too intense for children, the PG-13 rating is pretty much right on the money, but all in all this is an excellent summer family blockbuster. I look forward to Rupert Sanders’ next film.
“I would rather die today than live another day of this death.”
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