After a decade of attempted franchise-starters capitalizing on the success of 'The Lord of the Rings', Rupert Sanders’ so-called re-imagined fairy tale could have been one of the best of the bunch. His slick commercial style makes his expertly designed medieval fantasy world look as dark, mysterious and luscious as anything in the LOTR realm. Unfortunately, the film is let down by its biggest gamble, the brooding Kristin Stewart as Snow White, who sucks the energy out of the film when it should be rousing, fun entertainment.
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) dir. Rupert Sanders
Starring: Kristin Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Caflin, Ian McShane
By Alan Bacchus
To save us a 2.5-hour running time Sanders opens with an elaborate prologue getting us up to speed on the background of this fairy tale world, the origin story of the Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who, after having her family killed by the war-mongering ravages of evil men, takes over the kingdom of a widowered King and imprisons his gorgeous daughter, Snow White, in their castle. Through the familiar mirror on the wall we learn that the Queen achieves her power by stealing the youth of women more beautiful than her. When Snow White escapes her prison, the Queen needs to find her and her heart in order to solidify all her desires for power.
Enter the ‘Huntsman’, played by the new hunky Brad Pitt-like star Chris Hemsworth, who is charged with finding Snow White. Of course, he kind of falls for her and teams up to fight back against the encroaching despotism of the Queen. It wouldn’t be Snow White without some dwarves, and just at a point when the film plateaus and threatens to wallow in its self-seriousness we’re introduced to those seven gold miners expertly realized with a combination of CG and terrific casting and performances from a well-put-together group of British character actors, including Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Brian Gleeson and Johnny Harris.
In between the textbook mythological journey plotting are a half-dozen great medieval fight scenes, not too bloody to make an R-rating but choreographed in concert with the distinct visual design and flare of Sanders’ overall fairy tale/sword/sandal hybrid, which is the real star of this film.
Sanders is the latest filmmaker in a 30-year trend of commercial directors making a large leap directly into tent pole filmmaking. Like Tron's Joseph Kosinski, IMDB shows that Sanders doesn’t have a single credit to his name other than this film. But Hollywood has been graduating the coolest, slickest spot-makers for years, going back to the famed ‘British Invasion’ of the '70s (Tony Scott, Ridley Scott, Adrian Lyne, Alan Parker). And it’s this visual freshness which elevates what could have been a humdrum fantasy vehicle into something inspired.
That said, Sanders can’t escape the disastrous casting of the American mistress of glum, Kristin Stewart, presumably given the role because of teenaged girls’ fascination with Twilight. As Snow White, Stewart extends us yet another brooding, partly sleepy and dull heroine. Hemsworth, nor his male competitor Sam Caflin (playing William, White’s childhood love interest), can prop up a non-existent romance. Ms. Theron, whose aging makeup transitions go from gorgeous to somewhat less gorgeous, chews the scenery as best as she can given her uber-devious role as a fairy tale baddie.
Snow White and the Huntsman is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal Home Entertainment.