The story of Snow White is very familiar – almost threadbare: beautiful, raven-haired princess runs off to the forest and befriends a group of friendly dwarves, as her wicked stepmother tries to kill her with a poison apple. In an astonishingly assured directorial debut, Rupert Sanders delivers Snow White and the Huntsman, a thrilling and exciting retelling of the famous tale. With a defined feminist bent as well as eye-popping special effects, this take on the Grimms story is a fantastic update.
The film – written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini – takes cues from the original. A kind King (Noah Huntley), dotes on his beautiful queen (Liberty Ross) and his darling daughter, Snow White (played as a child by Raffey Cassidy; by Twilight heroine Kristen Stewart as an adult). The queen dies, and the King is grief-stricken. In an interesting twist, a Trojan horse of an army invades the king’s castle and is easily defeated; he befriends a gorgeous prisoner, Ravenna (Oscar-winner Charlize Theron), who he quickly marries. On her wedding night, instead of consummating the relationship, she kills the guy, and her real army swoop into the kingdom, taking it over. Before the little Snow White can escape, she’s captured by Ravenna’s evil brother Finn (Sam Spruell), and locked up in a tower for years.
Fast forward a few years, and Snow White’s a gorgeous young woman, dressed in tatters and wasting away her life in a tower like Rapunzel. Ravenna’s an evil queen that makes Medea seem like Mother of the Year. She’s dolled up in some imaginative gowns – some with Maplethorpe-like inspiration. The fabled magic mirror instead is a huge disk of gold – like a giant cymbal. When she utters the famous line, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” the mirror oozes onto the ground like liquid mercury and takes humanoid shape before constantly reassuring Ravenna that she’s the most beautiful. Except one day the mirror lets her know that Snow White’s fairer. There’s also a prophesy: Ravenna needs to eat Snow White’s heart to stay beautiful and young forever. Before Snow White can be brought to her stepmom as a sacrifice, she fights of Finn and escapes into the dark forest. The queen hires a huntsman, Eric (Chris Hemsworth), a widower whose wife died when Ravenna invaded the kingdom. She promises him to bring back his dead wife if he brings back Snow White. He quickly finds the fleeing princess, but Finn admits that the queen was intent on double-crossing him, so Eric fights of Finn and his army and flees with Snow White deeper into the forest. The strike up a wary friendship as they make their way through the magical forest.
Meanwhile, the queens aging quick, so she’s sucking the souls of young maidens and recapturing her youth. If some of this sounds familiar, then it should: in 2007’s Stardust, a filming of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel, the movie’s witch (played by of Michelle Pfeiffer) had to eat the heart of a dewy ingenue (Claire Danes) to stay young and beautiful.
Watching this movie, many will have to forget the Disney classic. There will be no singing mice or birds (though there is a sequence in an enchanted wood that borders on twee). There are also the seven dwarves, but they’re much more realistic and gritty. Also in this film, thanks to the success ofThe Hunger Games, Snow White’s able to fight and kick some ass.
Because so much of the film is stylish, the actors run the danger of being a bit upstaged by the arresting imagery and scenery. Kristen Stewart as the titular heroine is adequate in her role; she’s wooden and she doesn’t really emote all that much, but doesn’t embarrass herself. Hemsworth as her hero, does better, able to disguise his Australian accent with a credible brogue. As the wicked queen, Theron is fantastic – it’s a near-operatic performance. Her character will burst into ravens, melt into black blood, and emerge coated in milk, but the actress doesn’t lose herself in the business of the special effects. The writers wisely give the queen a backstory, and though we don’t sympathize with the queen, we at least are given a reason for her evil. Theron also wisely plays Ravenna with shades of mental illness and madness. The force of Theron’s performance make her scenes the most interesting, outclassing Stewart’s slightly wan acting.
Snow White and the Huntsman isn’t a perfect film: it’s a bit stuffed and a touch overwritten. The second half of the film appears a bit too much like an action movie, but still it’s a visually stunning movie. And despite Stewart’s weak link, it’s still a film I’ll highly recommend. Also, viewers should stay for the credits to listen to Florence and the Machine’s fantastic goth-pop inspired them tune.