- Movie Rating -

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

| June 9, 2012 | 0 Comments

I have made it a personal policy – at times difficult to follow – never to go into any movie with either high or low expectations. I have to give every movie a fair chance.  Yet, I have to admit that walking into a movie called Snow White and the Huntsman, my heart wasn’t exactly leaping for joy.  I don’t know what I expected from this movie, but what I got was a great deal more than it could have been.  Having been witness to last year’s torpid (not to mention embarrassing) reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood, I walked into this movie with a sense of dread.

Yet, Snow White and the Huntsman is a movie of generous visuals, sumptuous production design and a story that, while admittedly thin, has just enough meat on it that the visuals don’t feel as if they are propped up on a story made out of tissue paper.  This is a reimagining of the Snow White legend, not too far from the 1812 story by The Brothers Grimm, but just far enough to make the story feel new.

The story tells of a raven-haired king’s daughter named Snow White (Kristen Stewart) whose mother dies and whose father takes a second wife, a beautiful woman named Ravenna (Charlize Theron), only a day after he meets her.  On their marriage bed, the new queen murders the king and takes over the kingdom.  Revenna is pure evil, a witch whose rabid obsession with youth and beauty leads to her commit multiple-murders and leave the kingdom to rot (her obsession with her beauty has a frighteningly contemporary feel).  She has powers that are beyond imagining like the ability to summon an army made out of sharp metal objects and transforming herself into a flock of birds. She is so feared by the populace that, a small village of women have scarred their own faces just to get off the queen’s radar.

Revenna’s powers are such that she maintains her youth and beauty by sucking the life out of helpless young virgins.  Unable to keep up that pace, she asks her magic mirror for help.  The mirror – which morphs into an oddly beautiful golden figure – explains that she is no longer the fairest, that another has that mantle, and further explains that in order to have ever-lasting beauty, she must possess the girl’s heart.

The girl, of course, is Snow White, whom Revenna has locked away in the north tower of the castle for a decade.  Sending her boot-lackey brother to kill the girl, Snow White attacks him and escapes into the woods.  Not to be undone (and since she can’t enter the forest herself without losing her powers) the queen hires a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to go into the forest to find her.  He is a good fellow well-met, a heavy drinker whose fighting skills are none-the-less superior.  Yet, his eyes betray a weary heart.  He was a soldier who recently returned from battle to find that his wife had been murdered.  Finding Snow White in the woods, he sees a power in her nature that is worth saving and becomes her ally.

If that had been the only thing worth mentioning in this movie, it would have been a total washout.  The scenes with the evil queen were to be expected, but I was not prepared for the breathtaking imagination that brings the haunted forest to life.  It is gloomy and dark and overgrown and filled with perilous magical creatures that reach out to swallow travelers whole.  The special effects turn to the forest into not just a place, but a living, breathing entity unto itself.  All around are branches the reach out, creatures that writhe around and a merciless troll that resides (not surprisingly) under a bridge.  There is a powerful moment when the troll attacks the duo and Snow White brings him down simply by staring into his eyes.  This moment surprised me because, in lesser hands, it would have come down to just a standard fight to the death.

Along the way (and this I didn’t expect), Snow White and The Huntsman are aided by eight dwarfs, not seven.  They are not identified by the peculiarities but are recognizable as played by several great British actors: Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan.  All of whom have been brought down to size through special effects which can’t make the Little People of America organization very happy for putting several diminutive potential actors out of work.  The effect none-the-less is impressive as we feel that we really are watching little people rather than just a special effect.

The dwarfs lead Snow White and The Huntsman to the safety of a glen that is pure magic.  It is green, and lush and populated by wondrous creatures of every size and shape and looked after by thousands of fairies.  A close-up of the fairies reveals that they are not just actors shrunk down to the size of fingernail clippers, but have lovely faces that seem almost insect-like – they seem organic and not just like tossed-off special effects.  The forest is ruled over by a magnificent creature, an enormous white stag with giant antlers that seem less like an appendage and more like a work of art.  That provides the single best moment in the movie as Snow White is allowed a rare approach to the feet of the magnificent beast.

As I said before, the story is thin. The relief is that first-time director Rupert Sanders knows how to handle it.  He takes the material seriously and doesn’t pad it with in-jokes and silly asides.  He paces the movie beautifully in order to give us time to get involved in what is going on.  He allows moments to linger long enough that we can get a feel for the locations especially in the forest and in the glen. He allows Revenna’s machinations to sink into our minds so that we understand, at all times, what is at stake.  Charlize Theron’s performance here nicely over-the-top, giving us a character whose power and obsession lead her to turn the kingdom to ruin.

Sanders is not as sharp, however, with the presentation of Snow White.  Kristin Stewart’s performance is the polar opposite of Theron.  Whereas Theron is exuberant and powerful, Stewart underplays the role of Snow White to the degree that she almost seems half asleep.  I would go so far as to say that I think she is miscast.  I could imagine someone else who might have brought more life to the character, someone like Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman, Jennifer Lawrence, Rooney Mara or Ellen Page.  Stewart is not one of my favorite actors. She always seems, I don’t know, disinterested in what is going on.

Still, I think that Snow White and the Huntsman is a movie that rises above its flaws.  It is better than it could have been but it doesn’t tip over into greatness.  There may have been no way that it could have avoided coming down to a tired old storm-the-castle showdown, but it might have been nice if the screenplay could have used the same imagination in its third act that was put into that haunted forest.  THAT would have been a great film.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.