The second of dueling “Snow White” adaptations that have hit the cinema screens this year, “Snow White and the Huntsman” has been getting quite negative reviews. When the two films were originally announced, I was immediately more interested in Tarsem’s version “Mirror Mirror”, but by the time both films had trailers released it appeared that “Mirror Mirror” was destined to be an absolute train wreck, while “Snow White and the Huntsman” looked the more interesting of the two. One thing was certain, the two films looked decidedly different, with “Mirror Mirror” taking a comedic approach with the material, while “Snow White and the Huntsman” appeared to be more action orientated. History shows that “Mirror Mirror” didn’t turn out to be the disaster it looked to be, so how did “Snow White and the Huntsman” fare?
I think most people know the story of “Snow White” pretty well by now, but here is a brief rundown of this version. Daughter of the former King, Snow White was orphaned at an early age and left in the care of her wicked step mother (and now Queen) Ravenna, who keeps her locked in a room at the top of a tower located in the castle, a prisoner in the place she once called home. Ravenna rules the land with an iron fist, wasting all the natural resources around her and destroying anything of beauty, as she takes pride in knowing that she is the most beautiful and fairest of them all. Anything that may challenge this she destroys, as the Queen is all powerful and forever young. She achieves this feat by draining the lifeforce of her younger victims and stealing their youth. One day whilst in conversation with her magic mirror, Ravenna is made aware to the fact that a certain person has come of age that could not only challenge her title of beauty but may also be able to destroy her forever, the person in question is none other than her imprisoned step daughter Snow White. The mirror continues explaining that if she was able to kill Snow White and devour her heart, she will become immortal. Upon hearing this news, the Queen immediately summons her brother, Finn, to fetch Snow White. Realizing something is amiss, Snow White uses this opportunity to escape the castle, running straight into the dangers of the dark forest for protection. Knowing her powers do not extend into the forest, the Queen sets about hiring a local drunkard to hunt the young girl down and to bring back her heart. She ends up convincing a young widower to take up the job by promising him to return his deceased wife to life once he succeeds in his task. After finding out the true identity of Snow White, The Huntsman decides to go against the Queen’s wishes and instead sets about protecting her. Witnessing first hand the purity and kindness Snow White possesses, both The Huntsman and the dwarves (with whom the duo met up and befriended on their journey) understand that this young girl has the ability to unite the broken kingdom and to raise its armies in an attempt to fight and defeat the Queen, and to reclaim the land that once flourished and was full of happiness back when her father was in power.
As I mentioned earlier, “Snow White and the Huntsman” has been getting rather poor reviews and in this case I believe they are unwarranted as I found this film to be a very entertaining romp. I am not sure if it is to do with the casting of Kristen Stewart and her association with the “Twilight” franchise that so many critics felt the need to knock this film, but whatever the reasons I do not feel they are justified here. Sure the film is not perfect and it actually has a number of flaws, but for the most part it is actually pretty great. In fact Kristen Stewart is a large part of why this film works so well, she is a fantastic Snow White. I mentioned in my “Mirror Mirror” review how much I adored Lily Collins as Snow White, I thought she was perfect in that film, but the two characters while the same are completely different. It is no secret that I am not a fan of the “Twilight” series and I think that Stewart’s performances as Bella in these films are incredibly bland and extremely boring. She never smiles in them and just comes across very flat. Her portrayal of Snow White is the complete opposite of Bella, she is so charismatic and she comes across as an utterly charming creature. She appears so innocent and Stewart looks like she is enjoying herself here. Even at the end when she is charging into battle on horseback made up in chainmail looking like Joan Of Arc, she is utterly delightful. I must admit that I loved the slow motion shots of her riding on the horse. The only off note in her performance was during her big speech that inspires the soldiers into battle, I just did not believe this moment at all as I felt she did not carry the right amount of weight in this scene. The only thing I would have liked from a visual standpoint was to make Snow White’s skin paler, her hair blacker and to really make her lips a blood red. I suppose this is a cliché, and may not have fit with the seriousness of this adaptation but I missed these elements.
Chris Hemsworth also impresses greatly in the role of the Huntsman. He delivers his lines in a thick Scottish accent that to my ear sounded perfect, never once did I hear him drop into his Australian accent. Like Stewart, Hemsworth also displays an incredible amount of charisma here. Although his character is a bit of a loser, it is easy to care for him and feel his pain. In fact Hemsworth does a great job of depicting a man finding himself and learning to live again. At the beginning of the film, as I mentioned he is a drunk and after the loss of his wife cannot see the good in life anymore, but by meeting Snow White and seeing her innocence and love of the world, it sparks something in him, and he starts to head down a path where he is more of a participant in the world again. There is something in Snow that also reminds him of his wife’s beauty and by the end of the film we can see that the Huntsman is a changed man. Throughout the film, Hemsworth does a great job at displaying these subtle emotional changes in his character. As “Thor” showed us, Hemsworth is quite adept in the action department and he also stands out in these scenes here, this time brandishing an axe as opposed to a hammer. I also think that the creators of “Snow White and the Huntsman” deserve some credit in not forcing a romance between the Huntsman and Snow White. It would seem like an obvious thing to do but it just would not have been the right thing for the film, instead their relationship built on friendship and respect seems perfect. There is another male character whom appears destined for a romance between Snow White in the film, but that romance also fizzles. William is one of Snow’s childhood friends who agonizingly had to leave her behind when Ravenna was massacring the kingdom’s army from within. Assuming Snow had died on that night, he is forever haunted by that memory, however when he finds out that Snow has lived he does anything to get her back. Unfortunately, I felt the character of William was one character too many in a film that has a lot. We didn’t ever really get to know much about him and as such I feel this is one of the film’s weak points.
Every fairytale needs a great villain, and “Snow White” has one in the evil Queen Ravenna. Charlize Theron plays the role of the Queen and visually she is perfect in the role, but sadly her performance is the biggest flaw in “Snow White and the Huntsman”. She is absolutely terrible, in fact it is one of the worst performances I have ever seen by an Oscar winner. She is so over the top and lacks any subtlety at all, shouting the majority of her lines. As I mentioned, visually she is amazing and all of the film’s best images revolve around her, but whenever she was on screen she sucked the life out of the movie. Seriously, she made me cringe. The other villainous role, Ravenna’s brother Finn (who is played by Sam Spruell), also suffers due to a ridiculous hairstyle that made me struggle to take him seriously in any scene at all.
You may notice that the dwarves are not a part of the film’s title and frankly that is because their participation to the plot is actually pretty minor. Director Rupert Sanders made a brave choice by not actually hiring real dwarves in the roles, but rather using an ensemble of great British talent such as Ray Winstone, Nick Frost and Ian McShane (to name a few) and resized them via CGI in post. Personally I think it works, and they all give fun and amusing performances and there is actually one really great scene when Snow White dances with one of them. Incidentally there are actually eight dwarves in this version.
Much has been made about how visual the movie is, and while I agree it is very beautiful, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t just shallow shiny images that I was expecting. The film is quite dirty and grimy in parts which I liked. Prior to seeing the film I was not aware of the fact that the Australia cinematographer Greig Fraser performed the duties here, but as usual his work was stellar. There were some amazing shots in this film, like Theron rising from the bath of milk(?), the Queen turning into a flock of ravens, to the shadow army being decimated by the soldiers at the beginning of the film, but the shots I really loved were the simple ones of Kristen Stewart which looked similar to something you would see in a Terrence Malick film, simple but beautiful.
While the film’s marketing has made it look like an all out action film, I was again pleasantly surprised by the large amount of fairytale elements throughout. I thought the film was going to ditch these elements but thankfully they did not and the scenes set in both the dark and good forests are an absolute highlight. The moments with the troll and the magical deer were also amazing (although I felt the CGI on the deer needed more work). In regards to the action scenes while they are well done (with the exception of one ridiculous shot that looked like something out of a video game), I actually felt that they were not the strongest element of the film.
Overall, “Snow White and the Huntsman” was a huge surprise for me due to the fact of how much I enjoyed it. While the performance of Charlize Theron was terrible, the great performances from both Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth made up for it. I loved that the film was much more of a fairytale than the “Lord Of The Rings” type adventure I was expecting, and visually the film is an absolute delight. In the battle of the “Snow White” films, this version comes out on top and it was so entertaining that I recommend it to everyone.