Rupert Sanders' "Snow White and the Huntsman" so badly wants to feel like a big epic that it nearly gets there, but it's bogged down by a sappy and solemn screenplay that wastes some brilliant cinematography and another committed performance from Charlize Theron. What we end up with is a movie that takes itself far too seriously and leaves us with a ho-hum new take on familiar material, one that would have been better off if it didn't cling so desperately to the hero formula. In a great summer for action movies, "Snow White and the Huntsman" is one that is nothing if not forgettable.
By this point, the basic tale of Snow White and her nemesis the Evil Queen, Ravenna, is so well known that it doesn't really need much of an introduction. In this version, Ravenna (Charlize Theron) seizes power with a few neat tricks that result in the murder of the reigning king and her leading an invasion to seize the realm. After slaying most of the people within the castle walls, Ravenna takes pity on poor Snow White (Kristen Stewart), sending her to rot in a cell high in the castle.
From early on, it's clear that this is Ravenna's show, and the film is built around Theron's ability to turn in a frightening performance as the soulless queen. Unlike the Disney version, Theron's queen seems ready to burst from the inside and she is often on the brink of one complete psychological breakdown or another. Lost in a web of vanity and hunger for power, Ravenna literally sucks the beauty out of all the pretty young maidens she can get her hands on, preserving her claim to immortality.
The only threat, her magic mirror tells her, is Snow White, who has been up in her cell for so long that she's been mostly forgotten. Ravenna is incredulous that Snow White can actually harm her, but she tries to kill her anyway and accidentally gives her an opportunity to escape. Though Snow White is momentarily free from the clutches of Ravenna, she stumbles into the Dark Forest, which is exactly what it sounds like. In a world of magic, the Dark Forest has just about all the creepiest magical beings in the kingdom, and Snow White seems to have traded one path to death for another.
Despite being told that Snow White has wandered into a forest likely to kill her, Ravenna forces a local drunkard named Eric (Chris Hemsworth) to head out and bring her back. In the process, Ravenna makes the mistake of assuming that Eric would rather fight for her instead of the beautiful and much kinder Snow White. Ravenna may have magical powers to turn into a flock of crows and kill men without touching them, but foresight isn't really her strong suit.
Once the pieces are in place, it's not exactly a surprise when most of the movie turns into a circus of CGI and swordplay, but what was nice to see was a great visual design by director Rupert Sanders and cinematographer Greig Fraser. The plot may be silly and simple-minded, but the lush landscapes create a picturesque background that deserved a better movie. In the Dark Forest, it looks like a foggy nightmare loaded with demonic creatures ready to crawl up through the never-ending mud, and the lavish Enchanted Forest looks brushed by transcendence. Throughout, "Snow White and the Huntsman" at least looks and feels like a fairytale worth paying attention to.
But the biggest problem is a lack of development in our main characters, who whip toward their destinies with so much ease that it all feels inevitable. Kristen Stewart has made a career of playing kind-hearted, virginal girls of vast beauty, though here she lunges from shy maiden to the second coming of Joan of Arc in a matter of only a few screen minutes. When she's suddenly slaying seasoned soldiers in the midst of bloody battles, well, it's probably time to completely surrender any semblance of logic.
Theron's Evil Queen is also just as underdeveloped, though she digs so deeply into character that she does manage to look as crazy and frightening as intended. "Snow White" does hit a high note with a gang of humorous but loyal dwarfs - most played by great character actors like Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane and Ray Winstone - but even they mainly feel like comic relief to break up the serious tone of the movie.
There have been countless remakes, reimaginings and new spins on old material in recent years, and plenty of those have found ways to breathe new life into familiar ideas. "Snow White and the Huntsman" isn't one of those movies, mostly because it plays its cards too far from its chest and a lot of the moments expected to shock fall flat. When it comes time for Snow White to be awakened by the kiss of a true love, which shouldn't be a spoiler to anyone above six years old, the filmmakers come crawling back to the original material almost as if they're afraid they'll lose their audience.
Despite creating a dazzling new visual universe for Snow White - not to mention a frightening one - the last act of the movie feels more like connect-the-dots than the thrilling climax it promises. Though it could have gone far worse, "Snow White and the Huntsman" will sit in the shadow of other big-budget summer movies that have upped the ante on character-oriented storytelling.
by RTT Staff Writer
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