A film review by Craig J. Koban June 7, 2012


2012, PG-13, 127 mins.


Snow White: Kristen Stewart / Queen: Charlize Theron / Eric: Chris Hemsworth / William: Sam Claflin

Directed by Rupert Sanders / Written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini

Remember MIRROR, MIRROR, the other recent film version of the legendary Brothers Grimm fairy tale Snow White?  

Didn’t think so.  Most audiences stayed away from it as if an evil Queen placed a damning curse over any viewer that dared to endure its egregiously misguided attempt at turning the fable into a post-modern farce replete with snappy punch lines and some off-putting, self-congratulatory camp value.  The film was an unmitigated mess. 

On the heels of that release now comes SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, the second Snow White-centric film of the last few months, and this revisionist effort is the one that works.  Whereas MIRROR, MIRROR took Grimm’s narrative and spun it into a banal comedy of manners, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN stays truer to the sinister underbelly of the source material and crafts a darker, more macabre, and more visually arresting fantasy.  The scope has been indelibly enhanced, the foreboding sense of dread and peril that typified the Grimm catalogue has been lovingly maintained, and an overall sense of audacious imagination permeates throughout.  The real irony of SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN is that it creates a rich tapestry of haunting and, at times, beautifully evocative imagery that lingered with me longer when compared to MIRROR, MIRROR.  Considering that Tarsem – one of the pre-eminent visualists of the movies – helmed MIRROR, MIRROR is kind of surprising, seeing as SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNSTMAN outclasses his efforts at every turn. 

The story hardly needS introduction.  Snow White (TWILIGHT’s Kristin Stewart, refreshingly absconding away from her more recent and irksomely mannered performance quirks) is a jailed orphan that lives under the oppressive rule of her stepmother, the vindictive and very, very evil Queen Ravella (Charlize Theron, a million times more sinister and intimidating that anything Julia Roberts mustered).  Ravella married Snow White’s father, but after some kinky foreplay on their wedding night, she unleashed her hellish magic and brutally killed him, leaving her the heir to his kingdom.  Her motive for murdering him has some compelling angles, like the primary fact that she despises how men in power subjugate women beneath them.  This Queen, beyond being an odiously malevolent creature, is a militant feminist at her dark core. 

While Ravella cast a dark and ominous shadow of influence over her new kingdom, Snow desperately looks for a way of escaping her prison at the castle’s north tower.  When she does manage to escape the Queen’s clutches and flees into the Dark Forrest (which looks like a nightmarish hellscape right out of the post-apocalyptic THE ROAD), Ravella recruits a drunken widower named Eric the Huntsmen (played by an expressively understated Chris “THOR” Hemsworth) for his tracking skills to find and apprehend Snow. He does manage to locate her, but he slowly begins to realize that Ravella’s intentions with her are not pure of heart.  Eric decides to befriend the troubled Snow, and along the way they have a chance encounter with a band of not-so-merry dwarves (eight in this version, played by many well know actors that I will not spoil, shrunk down with computer tinkering; were they no dwarf actors available?) that eventually come to aid Snow in an effort to siege Ravella’s castle and end her reign once and for all. 



MIRROR, MIRROR mistakenly and insipidly used THE PRINCESS BRIDE as a source of influence, but SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMEN clearly has the lavish and ambitious grandeur of fantasies like THE LORD OF THE RINGS as its inspiration.  First-time feature film director Rupert Sanders envisions a SNOW WHITE universe of startling creativity and boundless variety; he combines location shooting, bravura costume and set design, richly atmospheric cinematography, and superlative CGI visual effects to create a magical realm that gives this fable a tactile reality while, at the same time, allowing for it to truly transport viewers to another plane of existence.  This is one of the most exquisitely rendered films I’ve seen in a long time. 

Just consider some of the its intoxicating imagery: At one point the Queen uses her sorcery to turn herself in and out of the form of countless black birds of prey, or another incredible sequence where she takes the glass from nearby windows and materializes them into demonic creatures that can impale and slash their victims with minimal fuss.  The whole look of the ravaged and plagued Dark Forrest is an unqualified triumph, which is a brutal landscape of death (nothing seems to live or continue to live here).  As Snow, Eric, and the dwarves continue on their journey in the story we are introduced to a mystical and lovingly realized fantasyland of vibrant color and eye-popping spectacle that nicely counter-balances the look of the Dark Forrest.  Giant mushrooms form eyes to peek at its onlookers, animals of all shapes and sizes occupy the frame, and doll-sized fairies buzz around the heroes with an inquisitive tenderness.  

It’s easy to overlook the performances in a marvelous looking film like this, but SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN succeeds on this level for the most part.  Theron forges a wickedly depraved creation, and the actress walks the difficult middle ground between over-the-top theatrics and more subjugated and internalized angst (this is a villain that had a traumatic childhood, which has, in turn, allowed for her powers to separate herself from the world).  Chris Hemsworth gives arguably the more layered and intriguingly grounded performance in the film as the inwardly damned huntsman that carries a level of Shakespearian tragedy about him.  I think that Hemsworth’s status as a beefcake hunk sometimes blinds viewers from seeing what a subtle and persuasive performer he is capable of being. 

As for Snow herself?  Stewart – a gifted young performer when not subjecting herself to playing sullen teen teases torn between vampires and werewolves - is an adequate mixed bag here.  She has a natural beauty and conviction that the role requires, and she certainly sells Snow’s victimized temperament early in the film.  Yet, Stewart seems ill-at-ease when it comes to comfortably – and convincingly – morphing into a battle-hardened Joan of Arc-styled revolutionary, which leads to the least intriguing elements in the film: the climatic siege of Ravella’s castle that is preceded by a perfunctory rallying speech given by Snow to her hopeful troops (been there, done that).  Then there is the character of William (Sam Claftin), an old childhood friend that becomes an master archer in adulthood that gets reacquainted with Snow and forms a love triangle with her and Eric that has an unfortunate aura of a similar one in the Twilight films.  SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN is held back at times by this unnecessary element.

Ultimately, though, the film still has emerged as one of this summer’s more inspired surprises.  It easily wipes the sour taste of MIRROR, MIRROR out of the mouths of those that saw it with its thrilling blend of austere atmosphere, hallucinogenic visuals, and an underlining narrative that is laced with a menacing solemnity (just as, perhaps, the Brothers Grimm originally envisioned).  It’s in the finest rich tradition of eye-popping escapist screen fantasy. 

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