Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

The film updates the fairest fairy tale of them all with more-grim-than-Grimm conviction.

Snow White and the Huntsman
Photo: Universal Pictures

Rupert Sanders’s Snow White and the Hunstman updates a day in the life of Sharon Stone the fairest fairy tale of them all with more-grim-than-Grimm conviction. Much detail is lavished on the medieval setting, a mud-and-shit-everywhere nightmare that could have easily been imagined by the makers of Game of Thrones. For sure, this isn’t your grandmother’s Snow White: Age-defying Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) takes over a kingdom using a freakish shadow army whose bodies are made of obsidian shards, promptly and callously kills her new husband while mounting him, and spends her days maintaining her silken smooth appearance by literally sucking the youth from her new kingdom’s pretty young urchins. Meanwhile, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) comes of age in the castle tower, threatening the queen’s top-model status and handily orchestrating her escape with a nail and a quick slide down the castle’s sanitation chute, then a feet-first jump into the surging currents outside the kingdom’s walls. It’s understood that Ravenna won’t be spared by the destiny that rather obligatorily guides Snow White toward freedom, and in turn her kingdom’s rejuvenation. More surprising is how quickly the film squanders the viewer’s goodwill, succumbing to banal, programmatic storytelling.

Game of Thrones gives way to Lord of the Rings as Snow White traverses CGI-primped swamps, rivers, and forests toward the kingdom where her girlhood crush’s father rules, and where her war cry will rule them all. Enlisted by Ravenna to carve out Snow White’s heart, the huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) becomes the girl’s guide, slowly grasping the nature of her power after bearing witness to a series of curious encounters between her and the kingdom’s people and critters. The film treats Snow White’s world-saving status, ordained by blood, as a given, so when an angry troll threatens to kill her and the huntsman, her best puppy-dog face calms the savage stone beast. But is it destiny that truly empowers the girl or narrative convenience and expediency? Though the film intriguingly thumbs its nose at the Prince Charming fantasy, hinting that the huntsman, not the royal William (Sam Claflin), is her true beloved, the story remains curiously reticent about romance and what Snow White wants both as a woman and a warrior. And that it’s ultimately revealed that Ravenna need not die by Snow White’s hand makes Stewart’s limp Joan of Arc routine all the more beside the point.

As feminist fantasy, the film is non-committal, and as a reimagining of the fairy tale, it’s at best expensive-looking without seeming wantonly so. Its more notable effects are liquid-like, from the man in the queen’s mirror (essentially the gong from The Gong Show) to the Dark Forest’s finger-melting powers, but more thoughtful minds might have drawn a thematic connection between these melting motifs and the angst of its age- and status-obsessed characters. On the auterist Richter scale, this competent showing from first-time helmer Rupert Sanders—who has a coherent sense of spacing and rhythm, but leans a little too much on the sweeping overhead—registers somewhere between a Joe Johnston tremor and a Tarsem blitzkrieg. And a bunch of great, mostly British actors are credibly shrunken to dwarf-size and not given mood-matching names, some even managing a few amusing zingers. But there’s still a sense that everyone is pounding the same one note, all the way toward the preordained conclusion, none more so than Theron. Very much the star of what may be considered a feature-length L’Oreal commercial, the Oscar-winner camps up a fiercely bored storm, suggesting a drag queen impatiently biding her time before opening night by tapping her fingers over and over, hungry for danger. It’s almost as if we were looking at ourselves.

 Cast: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Sam Claflin, Sam Spruell, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Johnny Harris, Brian Gleeson, Vincent Regan, Liberty Ross, Noah Huntley, Christopher Obi, Lily Cole, Rachel Stirling  Director: Rupert Sanders  Screenwriter: Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini  Distributor: Universal Pictures  Running Time: 127 min  Rating: PG-13  Year: 2012  Buy: Video, Soundtrack, Book

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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