Snow White and the Huntsmen

Director: Rupert Sanders
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Charliz Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Sam Spruell, and Noah Huntley.
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Runtime: 127 mins. Reviewed in Jun 2012
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Fantasy themes and violence

Two movies about Snow White have appeared recently. The first, “Mirror, Mirror” (2012) gave the tale of Snow White a modern, psychological twist. This film, based on the same fairy-tale by the Brothers Grimm is looser still, not at all whimsical, presents more of a twist, and is much darker. It is unusual for the same fairy tale to result in two such different versions, almost at the same time, and both movies have been directed worlds away from the fantasy version of the tale, depicted by Walt Disney in his animated classic, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937).

In this film, the evil Queen’s murder of Snow White’s father (Noah Huntley) on their wedding night leaves nothing to the imagination. Imprisoned by her evil stepmother, Ravenna (Charliz Theron), Snow White (Kristen Stewart) grows more beautiful as time goes by, and the Queen must kill her to remain the fairest in the land. The Queen recruits a Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to do her bidding and bring her Snow White’s heart. But instead of murdering Snow White, the Huntsman joins her in her destiny to save the people from the evil Queen.

Somewhere during the story, a young Prince William (Sam Claflin) falls in love with Snow White, but he plays second fiddle to the Huntsman. Seven dwarfs, (actually eight, before one gets killed), who were originally hostile to the Huntsman join forces with him to help Snow White infiltrate the Queen’s castle. As forest brigands, they add an impish touch to a film that is mostly very bleak. In the final scenes of the movie, Snow White and her stepmother engage in one-to-one combat. In the confrontation, Snow White stabs her stepmother in the heart, and the Queen withers into a decrepit old woman, reminding us that she has stolen the beauty from many women in the village by sucking in their youth. Fed on unlucky villagers that her brother (Sam Spruell) has brought to her, she finally withers away, her magic over-used.

Despite its dark streak, this film is the evil Queen’s picture. Charliz Theron is truly malevolent, and one has little doubt that she will eat the heart of Snow White, if ever it is given to her. Her lust for beauty is palpable, and her hatred for Snow White is the same. Kristen Stewart’s projected goodness is a compelling foil, but she never quite captures the ferocious intensity of Theron’s performance.

The film is a creatively bold retelling of a familiar story. There are fantasy sets, great photography, and thrilling landscapes. Surges of happiness and joy rarely intrude into this movie, and the film has more to do with “Joan of Arc” feminist warfare than throwing light on moral goodness as intended originally by the Brothers Grimm. The film’s darkness permeates its soul. The Huntsman, for instance, is a drunken widower, whose wife was killed by the Queen’s forces, and for most of the movie he doesn’t know it. He provides the real romantic interest in this film, not the Prince, and it is his love of his late wife, sealed movingly by a kiss planted on Snow White, that finally defeats the Queen’s evil spell and brings Snow White back to life. But with the darkness comes technological light. The visual effects are wonderful in the film, and only modern cinematic techniques could have produced them. There are two forests – one evil and one enchanted, that are amazing to see, and thrilling special effects surround the magic of Ravenna, the Queen.

Rupert Sanders’ film is original, and clever, and its bleakness defines its twists. In the film, the gasps of delight at past versions of Snow White have been well and truly replaced by dark emotions that happen to have wondrous technology, and highly imaginative direction, to back them up.

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