Here we have it, ladies and gentlemen – the best so far of the new wave of live-action fairy tale adaptations. This isn’t to say that fantasy actioner Snow White and the Huntsman doesn’t have its flaws, but visually it’s so sumptuous, and its magical scenes so breathtaking, that you can overlook a good chunk of the film’s many plot failings. If rival Snow White film Mirror Mirror (our review) felt like it would captivate little girls, there’s the sense that PG-13 Huntsman could easily capture the imagination of all children… like its similarly dark, imperfect fantasy predecessors from the 1980s.
As a revisionist, mature take on the Snow White fairy tale, Snow White and the Huntsman is, on the whole, satisfying. There is enough of the original Brothers Grimm story to be recognisable, but also enough well-considered changes that the audience can’t always predict what’s coming next.
So the stunning Ravenna (Charlize Theron) marries and murders the king. Evidently having no reason to harm her, Ravenna locks away Snow White (Kristen Stewart), only to regret her decision years later when her magic mirror explains that the lovely young princess will either destroy the queen or grant her immortality. By then Snow White has escaped and is fleeing through the Dark Forest to the rebel homestead of her childhood friend William (Sam Clafin). Ravenna has no other option but to convince the surly, grief-stricken Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to retrieve Snow, but he quickly sides with the princess in her quest to depose the queen.
With moments highly reminiscent of Stardust, The NeverEnding Story, Black Death and The Hunger Games, Snow White and the Huntsman is predominantly gloomy in look and tone. However, this bleakness is punctuated by occasional spikes of heart and breathtaking beauty. Similarly, the film is a mix of pros and cons.
First up on the pros list is the obvious: special effects, cinematography and art direction. Although too many of the film’s signature moments have been revealed in the film’s trailers – and that Florence and the Machine music video – Snow White and the Huntsman is hands down the most strikingly beautiful film of the year so far. At this stage, if the movie is a box office success, Oscar nominations in the technical categories seem likely.
Anyway, remember the first time you watched 300, and were blown away by the multiple, perfectly composed shots that seared their way into your memory? Snow White and the Huntsman, under the direction of former TV commercial maker Rupert Sanders, is like looking at a series of extravagant full-page illustrations in a vintage fairy tale collection. The forest sanctuary sequence is especially lavish, encouraging a sense of childlike wonder in the viewer.
As already mentioned, Snow White and the Huntsman may be a po-faced, dark and muddy for the most part, but this helps to make the film’s “magical” moments stand out. There’s a nice, convincing twist to the famous poison apple scene, and the filmmakers even manage to credibly integrate Snow White’s bond with cutesy forest critters into this gritty movie.
Also impressive are the dwarves. As one of the few elements smartly kept under wraps during marketing for the film, they’re a real treat. Although undeveloped as characters, they bring some much needed heart and humour to proceedings. And all of them are recognisable faces (e.g. Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Nick Frost) attached, via the power of brilliant special effects, to a dwarf body. It’ll be interesting to see if Peter Jackson’s dwarves can top this band in upcoming The Hobbit.
Speaking of performances, Hemsworth is likeable even if his character is a complete cliché, and Stewart’s Snow is too proactive and assertive to be truly irritating… even if she maintains a Bella-esque tendency to curl up in a forest and flank herself with two hot guys.
Theron’s queen meanwhile has undergone an intriguing overhaul from the Grimm source material. Ravenna evidently only conquers kingdoms to spite rich noblemen and secure a supply of young women to drain of their vitality. There’s a strong sense that Ravenna’s beauty, and the maintenance of it, is her own curse, and Theron plays the queen continually on the verge of tears; angry, exhausted and despondent. Pity about Charlize’s booming, theatrical style of line delivery, which distracts from this otherwise non-conventional portrayal of fairy tale villainy.
In terms of Snow White and the Huntsman’s cons, meanwhile, by far the greatest is the film’s many failings in logic. Huntsman is regrettably a movie where the audience ends up muttering “but?!” a lot. For example, if the queen knows exactly where the rebel forces are holed up, why hasn’t she laid siege to that castle? Why wouldn’t you raise your shields when the enemy is raining arrows on you? Don’t you know that a bow is a lousy melee weapon? And why do villains always have to monologue at crucial moments, providing the heroes with the exact information they need to destroy their foe?
There are a few other niggles as well, particularly the speed with which the Huntsman aligns with Snow White. It all boils down to lazy plotting, as much more could have been made of the Huntsman’s tense pursuit of the princess, followed by their gradually developing trust in one another. But nope, such screen time is allocated instead to a largely pointless village scene.
Still, in the end there’s no denying that Snow White and the Huntsman is an impressive debut effort from director Sanders. The film is magnificent looking if a bit wobbly in other areas. File this one alongside the work of Guillermo del Toro – a feast for the eyes if not always the brain.
Last Updated: June 4, 2012