Snow White and the Huntsman is less of a dark reimagining of the famous Grimm fairytale and more of a rediscovery of the source material’s surprisingly macabre roots. There’s murder, black magic and suggestions of rape… but no blood (except a handful of drops) in this mostly teen-friendly fantasy adventure. Snow White is the kind of film in which a shot of a cup of red wine spilling stands in for the more visceral blood and guts routine that separates more mature stuff like Game of Thrones and even The Lord of the Rings.
The story is nothing new: evil and monstrously vain Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) desires to consume beautiful Snow White’s heart so that she may become ‘fairest of them all’ and immortal. Snow (Kristen Stewart) manages to escape from imprisonment at the opportune moment but is beset by the gruff, buff drunk that’s the Huntsman (Chris ‘Thor’ Hemsworth) who’s been tasked by the Queen with tracking down the fugitive Princess. Alas, the Huntsman has a charismatic streak that sees him end up as Snow’s protector. The dynamic duo thereafter work together to reach a resistance force settled in a distant castle, intending to ultimately return and unseat the usurper Ravenna from her throne.
Theron is well over-the-top as Ravenna, prone to yelling, screaming and screeching without rhyme or reason. You get a strong sense that she’s an unstable and dangerous woman which makes for an effective villainess, even if Theron does go down the hyperactive melodrama route more than was probably necessary. In any case, it’s clear that she gives the most electric and praiseworthy performance of the lot.
Stewart is capable but bland by comparison, proving herself to be more than the expressionless plank of wood that’s starred in the Twilight Saga. An uninspired and hackneyed rallying speech towards the climax notwithstanding, Stewart convinces as much as she has to for the duration of the film. It’s Hemsworth’s roguish Huntsman who’s the most likeable character of the bunch however, partly because he recalls a medieval version of Han Solo but also because he just kind of gets caught up in events so it’s easy to root for him. The chemistry between the two leads isn’t palpable but it’s enough – if only Sam Claflin’s pointless Prince wasn’t there to act as a third wheel and distract from their driving relationship.
It’s a shame that it gets off to such a rocky start though, as the movie begins with one of those tired prologue narrations that so many fantasy films seem to begin with. It doesn’t help that it remains dry for a good while, taking around 20 or 30 minutes for the plot to really gain any steam. I just wasn’t engaged at all throughout that period, and any time I started to get into it something happened that just ripped me right out of the experience. The worst instance of this was when Snow suddenly quoted the Lord’s Prayer. Really? This Snow White is set in a magical fantasy world featuring fairies, trolls and even some sort of forest god so bringing in something as overtly religious as the Lord’s Prayer (in addition to other offences) just felt so profoundly wrong that it yanked me straight back to reality and had me shaking my head in disbelief.
Speaking of which, the ‘forest god’ creature that the characters eventually encounter just smacks of either rip-off or tribute. The fact that the entire sequence set in the sanctuary area, while visually stunning and delightfully whimsical (it was one of those ‘stupid grin on my face’ moments), reminded me so strongly of Hayao Miyazaki’s fantasy masterpiece Princess Mononoke means I’m convinced Snow White director Rupert Sanders must have intended it as an homage. At least the eight dwarves (not seven!), portrayed by an assortment of strong talent such as Ian ‘Blackbeard’ McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone and Nick Frost, remind us that this is actually a Snow White movie – albeit a mishmash of more enjoyable fantasy fare.
Snow White and the Hunstman is the familiar Snow White story by way of The Lord of the Rings, Narnia and Princess Mononoke, but wonky pacing and script issues threaten to undo the flick’s more magical moments.