What you see is what you get – and if you’ve seen the breathtaking trailers for Snow White and the Huntsman, chances are you’ve already seen everything that’s good about it. The second of two Snow White movies out this year (the first being the campy Mirror, Mirror), Rupert Sander’s stylish adaptation re-packages the classic Brothers Grimm tale as a medieval fantasy epic set in a grisly and desolate world awash with ash, populated with rotting forests, ghouls, trolls and desperate souls.
Chief among these desperate souls is Ravenna, a crazed sorceress so obsessed with youth that she literally sucks out the beauty of other women, eats the hearts of parrots and bathes in pools of milk –just to look younger. Fittingly, she’s played by the stunning Charlize Theron in a performance comprised exclusively of excessive scenery chewing. Since it’s not exactly cheap to fund those hobbies, Ravenna makes her move when she marries a recently widowed king of a neighboring kingdom. Brutally slaying the king on their wedding night, she imprisons his daughter Snow White in a castle turret and assumes control of the kingdom alongside her brother – a pervy looking nincompoop who sports a ridiculous Prince Valiant haircut.
Years later, when dramatically told by her magic mirror that Snow White’s beauty will be her undoing, Ravenna erupts into a hilarious fit, ordering Snow dead. Alas, this assassination attempt only results in the princess (now played by Kristen Stewart) escaping into a dangerous forest that no one seems to come out alive. Infuriated, Ravenna sends out a drunken Huntsman named Eric (Chris Hemsworth) after Snow, but that too fails when he elopes with the princess instead. Now fugitives, the duo plan an uprising against Ravenna, and along the way bump into a clan of scarred villagers, trolls rejected from The Lord of the Rings movies, an arrow-wielding Prince named William, and a group of dwarfs who look like shorter versions of Mr. T, Hobbits and the guys from Time Bandits.
Snow White and the Huntsman has been pitched as a revisionist take on the classic story, and while Sanders and his screenwriting team of Hossein Amini, Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock deserve some credit for steering away from the traditional Snow White tale, the end result feels, more than anything, like a hodgepodge of The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and even Tim Burton’s execrable Alice in Wonderland. While this mix may sound interesting, the execution is anything but since the film’s plot eventually devolves into the tiresome rebel-against-the-tyrant plot that we’ve seen at least a 100 times before. The revisionism here is akin to Ridley Scott’s pathetic reinvention of Robin Hood from two years ago.
Sanders who, like Ridley Scott, comes from a career in advertising, is a talented fellow with an obvious flair for sumptuous visuals; the film is a gold mine of eye-popping shots and dazzling visual effects work. Scenes of a fairy forest featuring turtles and snakes with grass for skin, and flowers with butterflies for petals had members of the audience I watched the film with gasping in awe! A nightmarish sequence where Snow White gets trapped in a deathly forest beset with hallucinatory toxins rivals some of the most terrifying scenes in the Lord of the Rings films.
But despite these amazing visuals, you can tell that he is far less attuned to character-development and eliciting capable performances from his actors. Theron, a generally reliable actor, is the worst offender –shocking since this film also stars the wooden Stewart. Her Ravenna is supposed to be this sinister, demonic and scheming character but Theron plays her as a manic-depressive with a bi-polar disorder. She’s either screaming at people at the top of her lungs or sulking in misery. There’s no in-between. It’s as if she took acting tips from Al Pacino’s performance in The Devil’s Advocate – a movie she also appears in.
Stewart while far better here than in the Twilight films, feels woefully out of place in a room full of knights. While she’s suited to play the damsel-in-distress, she’s laughably bad as a warrior princess giving inspirational speeches. Hemsworth, who also appears in The Avengers as the mighty Thor is the only cast member who survives unscathed – even though he sports a ridiculous Scottish accent that comes and goes as it pleases. The man is a charisma magnet and he’s bound to be a huge star – that is, when given a decent script and enough to work with. As for the dwarfs – they’re played by some of the finest character actors in the business (Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones). Unfortunately, all they get to do is walk about, sing songs (once again, blatantly ripped off from The Lord of the Rings might I add), arguing about whether Stewart is “The One” or not, and being the butt of stereotypical dwarf jokes.
Snow White and the Huntsman boasts of some of the most eye-popping visuals you’ll see in a movie this summer. Yet, despite benefiting from these stunning images and effects work, its poorly developed characters, lethargic pacing, and tiresome rebel-against-the-tyrant plot render it a drab and exceedingly dull experience. Think The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – but without substance, strong characters, and Kristen Stewart in place of Viggo Mortensen as the king.
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN
Directed by: Rupert Sanders
Written by: Hossein Amini, Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock
Starring: Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Ian McShane
Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality)