Earlier this year, the film Mirror Mirror took a stab at retelling the Snow White fairy tale. Directed by Tarsem Singh, the result was a largely tongue-in-cheek version that occasionally poked fun at fairy tale conventions, featured Julia Roberts chewing scenery as the evil Queen with an intermittent British accent, had sets that looked to be made of candy and pastry, and largely disappointed at the box office.
The newest version, Snow White and the Huntsman, takes a radically different and, in my opinion, much braver approach, hearkening back to the darker, more menacing roots of traditional fairy tales, which were largely created to scare children into obeying rules, not delighting and entertaining them to play dress-up. The result is a film that seems to meld elements of Game of Thrones (royal intrigue); the Lord of the Rings trilogy (epic battles); the Harry Potter films (magic, monsters, messiah); and with Kristen Stewart playing Snow White with a pretty boy and a hunk longing for her, a good helping of Twilight. Despite the runaway successes of these franchises, Snow White and the Huntsman ends up being a decent but not great film that, despite some considerable strengths, may struggle to find its audience. Watch the trailer for Snow White and the Huntsman below.
The good news starts with the film's truly Oscar-worthy technical feats. Greig Fraser's cinematography is magnificent, whether it's capturing interiors that only seem lit by torches or gray sunlight, a kingdom and countryside drained by an oppressive and ruinous evil, or battle scenes that capture the chaos of medieval warfare with camerawork that's shaky but not too shaky. The costumes are terrific, particularly those worn by Charlize Theron as evil queen Ravenna, which always look glamorous whether she's wearing shimmering gold that could appear on today's red carpet, a black feathered number when she's communing with a murder of crow emissaries, or a scaly reptilian gown for the final showdown. The art direction is also top notch, especially the tangled and menacing Dark Forest, and both the castles and the villages outside it feel lived in even as Ravenna is draining them of hope.
In terms of acting, Theron steals the show, giving us a rare glimpse into what motivates someone to become an evil sorceress, having learned at an early age that beauty and magic are the only ways to wrest power from men who would use and abuse her when her looks fade, which explains her obsession with beauty and why she's willing to kill so many to feed the spell that keeps her wrinkles at bay. Chris Hemsworth (Thor!) does a good job as the Huntsman, bringing the manly, charming gruffness that seems to be the hallmark of Australian male actors, though I felt there was a missed opportunity to make him a more reluctant wiseguy in the vein of Han Solo. Unlike Mirror Mirror , which had actual little people play the seven dwarves, Snow White and the Huntsman took regular-sized actors and shrunk them using tricks and digital effects, which allowed them to get a much higher caliber of actor, including Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone and Toby Jones, who unfortunately feel underused.
Sadly, the bad news is Stewart, whose performance seems transplanted from the Twilight films since she spends so much of both looking either bewildered or angst-ridden with the weight of the world on her shoulders when she isn't running for her life. While the film does well to show how Ravenna and the Huntsman became the people they are (the Huntsman became a moody drunk after losing his beloved wife), it's hard to relate to Snow White, who seems amazingly well-adjusted for someone whose father was murdered by her stepmom and was locked away to spend her formative years in a squalid prison cell. While I know Snow White and the Huntsman isn't a documentary, how she could be so clear-headed and motivated to take back her kingdom after all she'd been through instead of curling up in a ball due to post-traumatic stress disorder was a mystery to me, nor was she believable giving a speech to inspire an outmatched army or wearing armor and wielding a sword that probably weighed more than her. The fact that wild animals and magical beings love her is attributed to her beauty and purity, though I guess there isn't much opportunity for youthful indiscretions when you're behind bars.
It's admirable that the filmmakers made such a serious film, but this might turn off younger viewers and Twilight fans hoping for big romance. Boys might appreciate the action but may be kept at bay by the film's title. While there's some great stuff to see in Snow White and the Huntsman, I'm not quite sure who will be seeing it.