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REVIEW: "Snow White And The Huntsman" Takes Fairy Tale To New Levels

Sara Itkis |
June 3, 2012 | 4:17 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Kristen Stewart as Snow White (Universal Studios)
Kristen Stewart as Snow White (Universal Studios)
Last night, I was supposed to watch “Moonrise Kingdom.” I drove to the indie theater in the next town with a friend, we stood in line, and got turned away at the ticket booth. Sold out. We got back into the car, drove back to our town, and instead of a whimsical indie film, we ended up with an epic blockbuster.

With the initial disappointment of being denied Wes Anderson and the abrupt change of genre, I entered “Snow White and the Huntsman” with much skepticism. To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. Having little in common with the original fairy tale, it manages to carry the atmosphere of that universe well, all the while adding a whole other dimension of epicness. It does have its small share of cheesy lines and pointless plot elements that tend to come with the genre, but these details are ultimately outweighed by its beauty, its fairy-tale-esque strangeness, its epicness (yes, I will use that word a lot), and Chris Hemsworth’s eyes.

The very first shot pulled me in; it is simply a wide shot of a snowy promenade, but it is breathtakingly beautiful––so is every shot in this film. Aided by the countless costumes of Colleen Atwood, and accompanied by the beautiful but subtle soundtrack by James Newton Howard, the film is a treat for the senses.

“Snow White” is director Rupert Sanders' first feature film, having previously worked in commercials. He has certainly mastered a grasp on visual technique from working in that field, where nothing is more important. The seamless CGI couldn’t have hurt either. (Brief anecdote: in an interview with the BBC, Sanders tells about how, when dissatisfied with a closeup of some droplets of fake blood, he simply used his own blood for the shot.) From the “Lord of the Rings”-like landscapes, to the extreme closeups of Chris Hemsworth (have I mentioned his eyes?), to that one centered shot of Charlize Theron’s bare back––you’ll know it when you see it––it is a feast for the eyes. 

Speaking of Charlize Theron: Wow. As the evil Queen Ravenna, she possesses an entire array of magical powers, the rules and limits of which are never clearly defined, which is refreshing. She is also armed with a dark, vague history of abuse from men, which helps to explain her considerable batch of crazy. Her portrayal of the stepmother brings fairy tales to a whole new level of creepy. Terrified of aging, she feeds off of young girls and bird hearts, bathes in strange substances, and consults a mirror that transforms into a metallic silhouette when properly addressed. Theron transforms from drop-dead gorgeous, to appearing tired and old, to simply very frightening, and back, many times––and it is not just the makeup that does it. Her twisted relationship with her brother, creepily played by Sam Spruell, adds to her sinister persona. 

Chris Hemsworth, as the Huntsman, also gives quite a memorable performance. Having achieved recent fame with “Thor,” “Cabin in the Woods” and “The Avengers,” Hemsworth brings a wonderfully deep voice, pretty blue eyes, and an attitude of casualness and humor that, though first seeming out of place, works to pleasantly counterbalance Kristen Stewart’s solemnity. 

Oh yes, Kristen Stewart is in this movie too, right? Well, what with the colorful performances of Theron, Spruell, Hemsworth, and the eight dwarves (yes, there were really eight––at first), Stewart’s portrayal of the title character is somewhat forgettable. Her redeeming quality is her voice, steady and deep, but she tends to forget to use intonation, and her accent changes several times throughout the course of the film. I acknowledge that her type of character––one who embodies all that is good, “life itself”--is often difficult to portray as exciting, fascinating, or anything but overly simple. Perhaps Stewart’s understated performance is the only alternative to an unbearably cheesy protagonist. 

The story itself digresses greatly from the original tale by the Brothers Grimm. The gist is still there––evil stepmother, seven dwarves, poisoned apple, a Huntsman, Snow White’s heart. Then there are also the military takeovers of the throne, the troll, the love triangle, the creepy brother, the dark forest containing hallucinogens, a white horse (where in the world did it come from?), a gorgeous, stunning, imaginative heaven of a fairy Sanctuary, and a few more little details of the same caliber.

One plot element that left me dissatisfied was the love triangle. The film avoids harping on the romantic subplots, which is probably a wise strategy overall. However, slightly greater closure in that department would have been much appreciated. Hemsworth's rival is Snow White's childhood sweetheart, William (Claflin). William is not a very memorable character, and there never seems to be much competition; yet there are few "moments" shared between Stewart and Hemsworth, and certainly no clear resolution of this triviality. Ultimately, “Snow White and the Huntsman” is an epic showdown between good and evil. Some may say that it is two-dimensional, or overly black-and-white, or old-fashioned; I say it is quite refreshing.

Reach reporter Sara Itkis here.



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