The second Snow White movie of the season is upon us, and with the first, Mirror, Mirror, generally being
derided as ineffective fluff it is up to first-time director Rupert Sanders to show that all is not Grimm in the
land of fairy-tales…
This re-imaging of the Snow White tale sees fair maiden born into the royal household of a much loved king. Having lost his wife while Snow White was still very young he is drawn into battle with a mysterious army, in the midst of which he finds a beautiful woman bound in a carriage. Taking the mysterious beauty as his new wife he is quickly dispatched as the woman reveals herself to be Ravenna, a powerful and psychotic witch. Seizing control of the kingdom she locks Snow White in the castle tower until her magic mirror reveals that Snow White is destined to be her undoing. After Snow White escapes her clutches she hires a huntsman to track her down and bring her Snow White’s heart so that she can remain forever young. Queue much running, fighting, poisoned apples, dwarfs and so on…
One thing is for certain Snow White and the Huntsman definitely has enough star-power to be a summer blockbuster with Twilight‘s Kristen Stewart joining The Avengers Chris Hemsworth as the titular duo. Stewart has proved herself to be a fine actress away from the vampire saga with strong turns in Adventureland and The Runaways. Here however she is more scenery than star with a role that requires little from her except to look good and let the men do the work. So limited is her dialogue that you could probably write in all down on the back of a business card. Hers is a role of pained expression and breathy bosoms, relying on a guy with an axe, or a guy with arrows, or a castle full of guys to help aid her cause. Hemsworth is as gruff, worldly and psychical as the role demands, having traded hammer for hatchet as the heroic huntsman. The film has decided to lumber him with a Scottish brogue, but even this doesn’t deter (mostly) from a charismatic and enigmatic performance. Sadly everything that Hemsworth is as a cinematic presence and focal point of the film, Sam Claflin is not. Playing Snow White’s childhood companion and potential love interest he is cast in a role that has no direction, no dialogue and absolutely no purpose. On the villain front Oscar winner Charlize Theron is having an absolute ball playing the vainglorious youth-obsessed Ravenna. She easily commands attention with a deliciously over-the-top, almost camp psychosis and blood-lust. Underutilised are the smallest members of the cast the 8 dwarfs, played with great gusto by such noted actors as Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone and Eddie Marsan. They provide the comic relief as well as an providing much needed plot points such as why Snow White is so damn important other than as a trophy for Ravenna. More dwarfs, less prince, much less Snow White and we’re on to something.
Where the film really stands out is in the visuals. Here first-time helmer Sanders has really shown that he is someone to be reckoned with. The film is a beautifully simple mix of black, white and reds to begin but the artist palette opens to encompass a vibrant mosaic of colour and mood, ranging from the dark and foreboding forest to the ethereal lakes, to the lush sanctuary of the fairies. The CG in all scenes is remarkable, with fluid dynamics utilised brilliantly for the first time since T2 for the magic mirror and Ravenna’s crow transformation, and mythical creatures blending seamlessly with real backgrounds, the standout of which is a troll that even the Billy Goats Gruff wouldn’t want to cross. The pacing is off with the opening too long, the middle falling flat and the ending rushed. The script is also not up to scratch with poor dialogue, superfluous characters and a rallying cry that fails to rally a single shred of emotion. The failure of the latter might be due to the stunted delivery of Stewart but the words fall far short of “They may take our land…” The costumes are magnificent and the production design Dominic Watson deserves singling out. As too does the mythical, reserved score provided by James Newton Howard, which underpins the drama perfectly and helps set the fantastical aura of the film.
While it is parts Narnia, parts Lord of the Rings, and parts Alice in Wonderland the stunning visuals lift it above being merely ordinary. It’s just a pity that Kristen Stewart wasn’t given more direction and that the script lets everything else down. Still on the whole it is a worthy and enjoyable summer movie.