Because we're seemingly running out of fairytales we can identify with, “Snow White and the Huntsman” from newbie director Rupert Sanders is most welcome. This modern take on the age-old story of purity, greed and true love is beautifully and hauntingly shot, captivating, terrifying to a point, but inconsistently acted.
2012 turned out to be the year of Snow White, in what can only be deemed a most unfortunate coincidence for all those involved in both projects. Luckily, the futility of all comparisons becomes apparent while watching “Snow White and the Huntsman.”
On a script by Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock, Sanders takes his previous experience in advertising and Xbox games, and puts it to great value by creating one of the most amazing and creative fairytale worlds in recent years: rich of contrasts and made possible with such attention to detail it's almost a character on its own.
King Magnus has everything he could ever want in life: a beautiful and loving wife who has just given birth to a daughter, a prosperous kingdom and happy subjects.
As in the original fairytale, the queen dies and the king is left a widower, inconsolable, heartbroken – until he meets the most beautiful woman he's ever laid eyes on, Ravenna (Charlize Theron).
He marries her and, on their wedding night and no later than 15 minutes into the film, finds his demise at her treacherous hand. Ravenna, you see, is a feminist par excellence, having long vouched never to let another man use her and then ditch her to the curb as one would a piece of garbage.
She's taking matters into her own hands, literally, employing every trick in the magic book to make sure she will never grow old or become ugly.
With her army of darkness and her loyal and creepy brother (Sam Spruell), she takes over the kingdom and turns it into ashes, letting it sink into poverty and despair, while they leech off it.
The king's daughter, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is locked in the North tower until she comes of age and the Evil Queen (and no one deserves that title more than Theron) learns from her trusted mirror on the wall, now a Terminator-style figure of molten copper, that her fairest-of-them-all title has been challenged.
Snow White is the Queen's ruin and salvation and, because no respectable Evil Queen wants to go away quietly, Ravenna rules she must have Snow White's heart so that she can gain immortality and eternal youth and beauty.
It's easier said than done.
Trouble really begins when Snow White escapes from the castle into a magical and terrible location called the Dark Forest, where the Queen has no powers – but our heroine is just as helpless, as we find out in one of the most outstanding scenes in the film.
To bring her back, the Queen hires a drunken widower, a former Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), who changes sides when he finds out that the girl he was hired to hunt down had committed no crime other than that of breathing.
Together, aided by Snow White's former childhood friend William (Sam Claflin) who also doubles as her Prince Charming but not quite, the seven Dwarfs (who are now 8, for some reason), and an exiled army of knights and soldiers, they set out to kill the Queen and reclaim the throne for their mighty princess.
It's almost satisfying to see that, in its bid to make of Snow White more than a damsel in distress who swings with the wind and is powerless against the forces she clashes against, this film doesn't allow for a passionate love story, even though there are clear indications of a love triangle even Stewart's Bella from “Twilight” might be jealous of.
However, it also fails in its chief aim, that of making the fairest of them all into a cross between Joan of Arc and Miss Universe. Blame the script on that.
Stewart, though putting on a performance that stands out from all her previous films, is still characterized by hesitancy and sulkiness – whereas our heroine should be anything but. She's fair but she's no brave soldier, but rather a more or less willing participant in events she has no power to control.
Considering how evil the Evil Queen is, and how much relish is noticeable in Charlize Theron's take on her, Snow White hardly poses a threat.
The Oscar-winning Theron, on the other hand, is a sight to behold: painfully beautiful even underneath layers of CGI and makeup, statuesque and rocking fancier costumes than Lady Gaga herself on tour, she takes Ravenna from silently threatening to raving mad and desperately campy in a blink of an eye.
Ravenna is deliciously perverted and yet deeply wounded, justified in her evilness. Even better, she's convincing – so much so that there are moments when one almost wishes she would triumph over Snow White.
Praise also goes to Chris Hemsworth, who is here more comfortable than ever as an action star. He also shows off his acting chomps, getting funny and emotional in turns – a welcome change from the gloomy atmosphere around him.
Fun is also going through the not too easy task of identifying the 8 Dwarfs, a genuine gathering of who's who in British cinematography: Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Johnny Harris and Brian Gleeson, all made short through the wonders of CGI and smart editing.
However, the best part of “Snow White and the Huntsman” is the world it creates for these characters to populate, the Dark Forest and the Sanctuary in particular.
All in all, this film might have its flaws and they may be apparent, but it's still a captivating, most original journey to take.
“Snow White and the Huntsman” runs for 127 minutes and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality. It opened in most territories on June 1, and will conclude its run in Italy on July 11th, 2012.
Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth steal the show in “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Action scenes are particularly outstanding thanks to good FX and CGI, as also are the magical realms of the Dark Forest and the Sanctuary. Director Rupert Sanders has an amazing eye for the beautiful and the grotesque – and the fine line where these two meet.
The movie isn't called “The Evil Queen and the Huntsman” as it feels it should. Kristen Stewart's Snow White is notably absent (not physically) from major events in her life, most likely due to a limpy script. Visually stunning, the film feels hollow at times, since not enough attention is paid to the characters and the story.
“Snow White and the Huntsman” is flawed, but it still drives the message home: women, be they good or bad, can be also tough. It's beautifully shot and very creative, has outstanding cinematography and an impressive score, all of which should be enough recommendation. Acting is inconsistent, but Theron and Hemsworth save the day.