Review: Snow White and the Huntsmanon January 24, 2013 at 11:24 pm
Snow White and the Huntsman
Rupert Sanders, 2012
Gritty revisions of popular fairy stories are hardly a genre most people expect much of, least of all when they’re headed by one of the stars of the internet whipping boy Twilight franchise. It’s somewhat of a relief, then, to find that Rupert Sanders’ Snow White and the Huntsman turned out to be one of the more pleasant surprises of last year.
Snow White (Kristen Stewart, Twilight, The Runaways) is captured and imprisoned by her stepmother Ravenna (Charlize Theron, Monster, Young Adult) following Ravenna’s seduction and murder of her father, the King, giving her sole rule of the kingdom. Following Snow White’s eventual escape to the Dark Forest, Ravenna sends the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, Thor, Cabin in the Woods) to track her down, only for him to switch sides and take to her cause. Struggling to evade the queen’s clutches, the pair work together to oppose her rule and bring peace and prosperity back to the ravaged land, with lots of nods to the classic tale along the way.
Above all else, Snow White is a beautifully crafted piece of work. Sanders’ debut is visually striking in the best kind of way, with a focus on intricate production design and location shooting, mostly veering into CG effects only when the more fantastical elements demand it. This gives the world some real texture and grit, far removed from more sterile blockbusters we’ve come to expect of late.
When the CG creatures do arrive, we’re treated to some thoughtfully realised creations, twisting fantasy archetypes in interesting ways that betray the influence of Guillermo Del Toro’s work, which is never a bad thing. Though at one point the level of effects threaten to overpower the film, it’s quickly pulled back to more reasonable levels, and the rest of the time they are used confidently and effectively, never more so than with the freakish, creative transformations surrounding Charlize Theron’s Ravenna.
Conversation surrounding this film inevitably tends to drift towards Theron’s performance, and for very good reason. Ravenna dominates the film as by far the most interesting element, a surprisingly fleshed-out character bolstered by an intense, scene-devouring portrayal that openly demands the viewer’s attention. Ravenna proves to be a wronged, vengeful soul, her viciousness at least partly the product of a troubled history only hinted at by the story. Not exactly oscar material, but a nice embellishment on the typical Wicked Witch, elevated by Theron’s giving it her all.
Stewart acquits herself reasonably well as Snow White, doing her best to bring a little life to a very slight character, but there’s not really much there to work with and it all ends up a little inconsequential. Hemsworth manages better as the Huntsman, offering some much needed humour and a natural charm while making a meal of his accent, jarring at first but less of an issue on subsequent viewings. There’s a vague attempt at a love triangle with Sam Claflin’s William that falls entirely flat, so it’s left to Hemsworth to carry the day.
As we couldn’t have much of a Snow White story without a few Dwarves, they show up here as a rowdier than usual bunch played by a frankly staggering array of characters actors including the likes of Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins and Toby Jones. They clearly have fun with their roles and help liven up the mid-to-late sections of the film, though the levels of stunt casting may prove distracting to any movie geeks in attendance.
Snow White and the Huntsman is a film full of singular moments that stick in the memory, while never quite coming together as a convincing whole thanks to an undercooked screenplay that tends toward sketchy characterisation and awkward narrative leaps that leave a lot unresolved. While that could be enough to damn some films, the elements it gets right dazzle enough to raise it beyond the sum of its imperfect parts. The closest comparison is Ridley Scott’s Legend, a similarly beautiful film dominated by a powerhouse villainous turn, and one that succeeds and fails in a lot of the same ways. While certainly flawed, there’s enough here to captivate many fans of the genre, and hints toward a bright future for its first-time director.