Rupert Sanders‘ revisionist adaptation of the Snow White saga takes its cues from two recent fantastical period pieces rather than the Grimm brothers’ original legend: Peter Jackson‘s Lord of the Rings trilogy and HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones. If only it ever felt as grand as the former, or were as incest and decapitation laden as the latter. The gritty Snow White and the Huntsman is a flat, humourless affair, lifted only occasionally by the scenery chomping of Charlize Theron and the affable Chris Hemsworth. It also benefits from having truly enchanting special effects, and a tangible quality to the more mystical elements that was sorely lacking from producer Joe Roth’s previous epic, Alice in Wonderland. But not all the cutesy wood sprites and grassy trolls in the world can bring this deathly dull screenplay back to life with true love’s kiss.
Kristen Stewart portrays Snow White with the joie de vivre and fiery passion we have come to associate with all of her performances. That is to say, not much. Her Snow – supposedly the manifestation of life itself, and inevitably charged with rousing an army to battle Theron’s evil Queen – doesn’t even feel present for much of the flick; neither tortured nor troubled nor angered nor inspiring. Stewart is a fine actress, forced to fight an uphill battle in the Twilight saga and the interminable On the Road. Here, with little on the page to work with, her nervy, awkward demeanour is scarcely enough to make us root for such a personality-free cipher. She’s supposed to have chemistry with the roguish Huntsman, though the three screenwriters (Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini) can’t even conjure for her a single witty retort, or saucy reply, or any interesting line of dialogue at all.
It seems redundant repeating the plot of the world’s most famous fairy-tale, especially considering it’s the second feature film retelling of it in 2012 alone (side note: I recommend Tarsem‘s nutso comedy Mirror Mirror before this). Nonetheless: Theron’s man-hating Queen Ravenna has devoted herself to being eternally beautiful, sucking the life force out of the kingdom’s womenfolk. Having done away with King Magnus (Noah Huntley), she banishes beautiful step-daughter Snow White to a tower, where she will stay until her coming of age. Before she can be sacrificed to the ravenous Queen, Snow escapes the clutches of Ravenna’s brother Finn (Sam Spruell) and absconds to the dark forest. The drunken Huntsman (Hemsworth) is tasked with finding the little minx, and returning her to their clutches. Instead, he falls for Snow’s charms (I guess), and helps her lead a rebellion. There’s also a mirror, an apple, a stag, and a milk bath.
A bunch of fine British actors star as the eight dwarves (yes, eight). They include Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Johnny Harris, Brian Gleeson, and Bob Hoskins as their leader. I’m not sure how the technological wizards worked their magic behind the scenes to shrink this octet, but they did a convincing job. Still, I much preferred the dwarves in Mirror Mirror, played by actual little people, each with their own distinct personality and flavour.
Sanders has a definite handle on the technical aspects, impressing with the battle sequences and Theron’s shape-shifting sorceress (who frequently bursts into a flock of ravens, grows older and younger within the same scene, and at one point emerges from a pool of black goop). The mysterious woods are home to the best set-pieces, and feel substantial despite seeming totally otherworldly. The make-up is always convincing, and Colleen Atwood’s costumes are gorgeous, and now I’m just listing the mechanical things I liked about the movie because little else about it is interesting and the emotional elements never satisfy.
At one point, a Twilight-style love triangle is alluded to with the introduction of Snow’s childhood friend William (Sam Claflin). He too wants to rescue the damsel in distress, much to the Huntsman’s chagrin. With the promise that this is but the first in a franchise, I sincerely hope that the central characters can have some spirit breathed into them before they return to the screen. And please, give Hemsworth something funny to say. He’s a funny guy.
Snow White and The Huntsman is now showing in Australian cinemas.