Snow White is the only person in the land fairer than the evil queen, who is out to destroy her. But what the wicked ruler never imagined is that the young woman threatening her reign has been training in the art of war with the huntsman who was dispatched to kill her.
Genres:Adaptation, Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Fantasy Running Time:2 hours 7 minutes Release Date:June 1, 2012 MPAA Rating:PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality) Distributor:Universal Pictures
Cast And Credits
Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Sam Claflin
Joe Roth, Palak Patel, Samuel L. Mercer
Iâ€™m not sure this counts as a spoiler of anything other than Universalâ€™s sleek and seductive marketing campaign â€” which has properly emphasized crows, swords and Charlize Theronâ€™s hair â€” but there are actually some dwarfs in the new movie â€œSnow White and the Huntsman.â€ The small fellows who befriend the exiled princess here are nothing like the grumpy, sneezy, dopey guys you remember from the Disney version. The actors who play them (including Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan, Ray Winstone and the great Bob Hoskins, all digitally shrunken) might otherwise have been assembled for a nasty little Cockney gangster film. These dwarfs are industrious, but they donâ€™t whistle while they work. Their most memorable song is a haunting dirge performed at the funeral pyre of a fallen comrade. So take note: There is nothing cute about this movie.
And that feels right. There is something exciting about how seriously â€œSnow White and the Huntsmanâ€ takes its themes. Most of the fairy tales that have become fixtures of modern popular culture â€” including those, like â€œSnow White,â€ published by the Brothers Grimm in the early 19th century â€” emerged from the dark, violent folk landscape of early modern Europe. They are fables of innocence, but also of terror, dense with superstition and sexual anxiety. Walt Disneyâ€™s justly beloved 1937 animated feature, though it has some spooky, gothic visual touches, expelled most of the demons and turned the heroine into an emblem of chaste and cheerful domestic normalcy. Since then, Hollywood fairy tales have mainly tacked between wide-eyed romanticism and winking self-consciousness.
â€œSnow White and the Huntsman,â€ directed by the first-timer Rupert Sanders from a script by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini, tries something new. Or maybe something old, even atavistic. Though it is an ambitious â€” at times mesmerizing â€” application of the latest cinematic technology, the movie tries to recapture some of the menace of the stories that used to be told to scare children rather than console them. Its mythic-medieval landscapes are heavily shadowed and austere, and its flights of magic are summoned from a zone of barely suppressed rage and dangerous power.
Most of the power and nearly all of the rage belong to Ravenna, Ms. Theronâ€™s golden-haired, furious queen. Having murdered the king on their wedding night and imprisoned his daughter in a tower, Ravenna preens in front of her liquid-metal mirror, plucks the hearts out of birds (with metal fingernail extensions apparently designed for that purpose) and terrorizes her subjects. She is loyally attended by her creepy brother, Finn (Sam Spruell) â€” a kind of Dorian Gray portrait of his flawless sister, the ugliness of whose soul seems inscribed on his leering, pitted face â€” but otherwise alone in the castle of her cruelty.
The evil stepmothers of the past have been monsters of self-generating female narcissism, but Ravenna seems to be a woman with a legitimate grudge against a male-dominated world of sexual violence and patriarchal entitlement. With a slight shift of emphasis, â€œSnow White and the Huntsmanâ€ might have been her story, the tale of a victim turned righteous avenger. And it may be that being denied this status fuels Ravennaâ€™s resentment. Her wrath is directed principally at other women: at the girls whose youth and beauty she steals to feed the spell that keeps her from aging, and at the blameless princess who threatens her simply by being young and alive.
That would be Snow White, of course, played by Kristen Stewart at the precise point of intersection between action heroine and damsel in distress. Since Ms. Stewart has become, thanks to â€œTwilight,â€ the very embodiment of romantic indecision, there are two possible suitors chivalrously circling her. Or two unshaven dudes, at any rate, vying to protect her and dividing the audience into Team Handsome Prince and Team Huntsman.
The â€œprinceâ€ is William (Sam Claflin), a childhood friend of Snowâ€™s and the son of a nobleman who has remained loyal to the memory of her father. He is a gifted archer and a dashing enough young man, but there really is no contest. The movie is not called â€œSnow White and William.â€ The Huntsman, a hard-drinking, belligerent widower with no other name, has the advantage of being played by Chris Hemsworth â€” Thor! â€” with sly, gruff magnetism.
After an overwrought beginning â€” during which drops of blood fall to the snow with a crash, and James Newton Howardâ€™s score roars and howls like Wagner with a stubbed toe â€” the movie comes down to earth and springs to life when Mr. Hemsworth shows up. His huntsman, like the dwarfs, is a gruff human presence in a world that might otherwise have been too airily and abstractly fantastical.
In turn, the roughness of those characters, along with the scratchy earth tones of Greig Fraserâ€™s cinematography, make possible episodes of enchantment that feel fresh even to eyes that have seen everything under the digital sun. A terrifying slog through the dark forest, a serene sojourn in the garden of the fairies, a visit to an encampment of women and children â€” each of these scenes casts its own specific and effective spell.
In this carefully imagined reality â€” the production designer, Dominic Watkins, has done exceptional work â€” Ms. Theron is, if not the fairest, then surely the most striking one of all. She has a remarkable ability to mix coldness and sorrow, and as the special effects etch lines on her face and then smooth them away, she at once invites and refuses sympathy. Ravenna, taught as a girl that beauty was the source of power, has made herself into a perfect aesthetic object and destroyed herself in the process. Snow White, rather than try to beat her in the contest of appearances, must create a new game, based on a different meaning of â€œfairnessâ€ and on her own modest, real-girl appeal.
Ms. Stewart, stumbling through the forest and racing through an awkward, Shakespeare-lite speech to her hastily mustered good-guy army, understands the job perfectly and undertakes it in good faith. Her Snow White is part of an interesting new breed of warrior princesses â€” Katniss Everdeen is their current leader â€” whose ascendance reflects the convergence of commercial calculations and cultural longings. Long may they reign.