Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
A starry-eyed princess does not lilt and fantasize about how someday her prince will come in the new "Snow White and the Huntsman."
The more fitting lyric for the film's theme could come from Rage Against the Machine. "We gotta take the power back."
First-time feature director Rupert Sanders' reimagining of the Brothers Grimm tale transforms the sweet, innocent princess from Walt Disney's 1937 film into a steely feminist heroine who requires little saving beyond a fateful kiss. Here she even gets a white horse of her own.
A male voiceover catches the audience up to speed with rapid exposition. Princess Snow White (Kristen Stewart), a child of rare inner and outer beauty, has recently lost her mother. Her father, in a state of shock and depression, acts out by engaging in war with a sinister army. After his battle, he discovers an exceptionally gorgeous prisoner, Ravenna (Charlize Theron), whom he immediately takes as his wife.
This shotgun marriage represents the first of several leaps of faith that the audience is asked to endure in order to propel the story.
But the lovely blonde is no prisoner. She is a conniving force of evil who has tricked her way into the king's bed. In an embittered diatribe, a jilted Ravenna explains to the king how men simply use women for their beauty and then toss them to the dogs like scraps. Ravenna kills the king and, emboldened by her army and subservient brother Finn (a pasty Sam Spruell with a goofy Little Lord Fauntleroy haircut), takes the throne.
Under Ravenna's reign, the land withers and dies. Sanders renders Ravenna's castle and surrounding area in jagged charcoals and blacks, the weather always bleak and ruinous.
Young Snow White is imprisoned in a dank tower for years before eventually escaping to the creepy dangers of the Dark Forest. Why she waited so long to flee is unclear.
Despite her anger over being treated as an object, Ravenna finds all of her power in her beauty. That which she most hates has consumed her. When she asks her trusty mirror (more a golden disc that morphs into something resembling an Oscar statuette) who is the fairest of them all, Ravenna discovers that the supremacy of Snow White's purity holds the key to the wicked queen's beauty and eternal life.
So, icy Ravenna, who bathes in tubs of milk to keep her skin radiant, sends the drunken ne'er-do-well Huntsman (he has no real name; we're working with archetypes here, after all) to capture the princess.
But the Huntsman ("Thor's" Chris Hemsworth as little more than wounded eye-candy) finds himself entranced by the quiet and stern princess. He takes her under his wing and offers a few lessons in combat as the two dodge Ravenna's army.
In the midst of their fleeing, the two come across a band of dwarves. These fellows don't have cute names like Disney's Doc, Happy, Bashful and Sneezy, but the bickering and jocular bunch does come across as a collection of unique individuals. The group includes British actors Ian McShane, Ray Winstone and Nick Frost. The camera doesn't stay still on the dwarves long enough to allow a dissection of whatever CGI magic was used to make these large actors diminutive.
The dwarves come along at the perfect time in the movie to provide a moment of comic relief. And Snow White's communion with animals in the dwarves' enchanted forest introduces the idea of the sanctity and purity of both the natural world and Snow White.
After a close call with death at the hands of Ravenna, Snow White summons her courage and rallies her father's remaining troops, along with the dwarves, for an attack on Ravenna.
The final battle scene suffers from the same claustrophobic feel of many of the fight scenes in this violent, though mostly bloodless, film.
The brutality feels crammed into shots, with no space to let the action breathe or allow the audience to gain perspective.
Sanders, who has made a career filming television commercials, uses an almost colorless palette to depict his epic world as a dangerous place where evil is a constant presence, but he saps some of that intensity with random, wistful slow-motion shots that look ripped from a Calvin Klein cologne commercial.
The screenplay lightly skips over several plot points. How does a girl who spent her adolescence in prison so quickly learn to fight like a warrior? What is behind the burgeoning romantic feelings the Huntsman and Prince William (Sam Claflin) have for Snow White and why are their nascent romances tossed aside so quickly once battle begins? How exactly did Ravenna get so evil? But the swift pacing and taut action sequences ignore these questions.
A trio of writers, including Hossein Amini ("Drive") and Texan John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side"), receives credit on the screenplay, and the differing styles and tones of the two men can be felt as the story mixes slow-burn brood with brief, uplifting homilies about fear, love and duty.
Theron plays Ravenna with impassioned glee and melodramatic sorrow. She also proves her lack of vanity once again (see: "Monster" and "Young Adult") by allowing herself to be shown as less than beautiful at times, as her face ages into a stone mask.
Though her lines are limited, Stewart brings a calm grace and power to Snow White. While she has escaped the role of Bella, the medieval elements of the film may not completely save the actress from future typecasting.
But Stewart's steely resolve and warm compassion fit this repurposed princess wonderfully. Her character, more unattainable muse than prized possession, should give young female viewers a sense that instead of waiting to be saved, they can tap into their own innate power.