Let’s hope that Snow White & The Huntsman is the final revival of Snow White for awhile. Fans of ABC’s Once Upon a Time have had their fill each week, Mirror, Mirror was an abomination, and readers of the Vertigo comic, Fables would agree that it remains as the best contemporary take on re-imagining fairy tales. But there was still plenty to like about this latest Hollywood endeavor, directed by Rupert Sanders, who makes his feature debut after building his reputation shooting commercials.
The story at its apple core is familiar. Evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron, Prometheus) tricks a widower King Magnus (Noah Huntley) into thinking she was a prisoner of a phantom army. She casts her spell but she doesn’t need to. Watch that Christian Dior “J’Adore” commercial and tell me none of you would have been crippled by Theron’s beauty.
Within a day of taking the throne, Ravenna kills Magnus and razes the kingdom, installing her own fleet of worshippers and sentences Magnus’ daughter, Snow White, to a prison tower. She brings sorrow across the kingdom and feeds on the young and beautiful like she’s slurping out the good stuff in a shrimp head.
Ravenna possesses powerful sorcery as long as there is no one who is prettier. But when her magic mirror tells her that Snow (Kristen Stewart, Twilight) has matured into the fairest of them all, well that pushes a girl over the edge quicker than telling her that her favorite moisturizer has been discontinued. If she can eat Snow’s beauty, Ravenna would get immortality and kill the only heir of the throne.
Snow White is guided by two blue birds to a dashing escape, and is assisted by Ravenna’s incompetent and creepy brother, Finn (Sam Spruell) who tried to lay in bed with Snow before escorting her to her death. Snow is chased into the Dark Forest where the weak-spirited are devoured; Ravenna hires the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, Thor), the only man to have gone through the forest multiple times unscathed. Ravenna makes a deal with the Huntsman, but he betrays her and tries to help Snow White reclaim her place on the throne.
Marked by beautiful set pieces, visual effects, luxurious outfits and watching Theron submerge herself in milk baths, this version of Snow White is a spectacle. The Magic Mirror oozes out of reflective golden disc before addressing its Queen; Ravenna looks as if she’s composed of a hundred dirty birds. The Dark Forest is full of the stuff of nightmares. The seven dwarves (Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Johnny Harris and Toby Jones) are grungy little things and provide some much needed merriment.
But there is a gaping hole in the film left by the lack of heart in Stewart’s performance. There was just no warmth in her, no connection made with her fellow actors, especially the Huntsman. We don’t feel the years she was locked up in solitude by Ravenna; outside of some dirt under the fingernail she appears un-phased by her imprisonment. A strangely placed “Our Father” was a head-scratcher too.
We don’t feel the burn within Snow that she wants her kingdom back or peace restored. An inspired speech at the end to rally the final siege is too little too late. She dons a suit of armor and carries a shield, but barely does anything honorable to earn her chainmail. She’s entitled to the throne because of her birthright–great, the ever-loving eye-rolling quality of this generation’s youth, and a major problem in this movie because she’s the main character. And if that’s not enough, there’s a young son of a Duke (Sam Claflin) out there who thinks that he is entitled to Snow White’s heart.
Now, there are some rich concepts and memorable visual sequences, twists that will make you smile, but some of them are just not taken far enough or not explored enough. I particularly liked one sequence when Snow and Huntsman seek refuge at a village, where all the men had died and the surviving women and girls were left with scarred faces so that they could never be or grow up fairer than Ravenna. But this and the Dark Forest were cheated in exchange for two mumbled musical sets with the Dwarves that brought the story’s momentum to a halt.
What was truly missing from this film was a Batman Begins-like training sequence, given by the Huntsman to Snow White, to prepare her for the battle she was destined for. That was his expertise and we could have been given a teacher and student type scene, one in which he gives her no pity or tolerance. He could have at least showed her how to swing a weapon and use her shield. A scene like this would have helped link the two leads better, that would have been a reason to rally behind Snow, and given the audience a reason to admire her, as well as believe that a bond was building between them. Instead, he teaches her one thing and of course, that’s useful knowledge by the story’s end.
On the other side of the magic mirror, Theron was in her element. One could tell she savored this wickedness, that she could twist and torment Ravenna into this desperate soul, who by the way, was also ripped away from her family. If only they had botox and microdermabrasion back then. Theron is as easy on the eyes and terrifying, putting Julia Roberts to shame in the same role. She’s so convincing that you’ll be rooting for young people to be sacrificed just to see what she’ll do next. If only she could have been in every scene.
Snow White & The Huntsman needs to be applauded for their imaginative bleak take and pushing the visuals to an equally grim place; Colleen Atwood’s costume work should be a front-runner for an Oscar for her flawless work and opulence. I only wished that the story deviated from the original even more and taken a twisted life of its own–there was still plenty of room to march towards the edge, even with a PG-13 rating.
Fantasy lovers will and should see this film, and it’s not a bad experience; it’s just not complete. It’s not right that Stewart’s “Tin Man” performance keeps this film from ultimately working well. Ravenna displays more heart, more conviction, than Snow and draws more sympathy, at least from this viewer. Just like that “J’Adore” commercial, Charlize works it, and works it well!