More than fair
A refreshingly dark version of the Snow White fairy tale
As summer entertainment, Snow White and the Huntsman is an engaging and welcome de-Disneyfication of the old fairy tale, grimed-up and pitched at teenage girls while still remaining accessible to everyone else. It has some weaknesses, but those are flaws only if you walk into it churlishly. Which is kind of a stupid headspace to walk into a movie after spending eight bucks on a ticket.
Here we have Charlize Theron as wicked ice queen Ravenna, who after seducing then killing the king (who fell in love and married her after seemingly rescuing her from a phantasmagorical battalion of CGI dark knights), locks his daughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart) up in a dark tower to let the young girl’s beauty rot away in a dank cell. That inexplicable approach to threat management turns around and bites the queen in the ass a few years later as Snow White blossoms in her cell and manages to escape.
A growling huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) is set loose on Snow White’s trail, which also crosses that of a band of ruffian dwarves. Her adventures with the conflicted huntsman and her eight little friends adds seasoning to a rebellious stew that builds up to a Joan of Arc-like crusade back to Ravenna’s despairing kingdom.
Weaving its way through such dark fantasy antecedents as Legend, Lord of the Rings and even Princess Mononoke, Snow White admittedly relies a little too heavily on gratuitous spectacle. There’s really no reason to have the image in the mirror spill out onto the castle floor before standing up and delivering the fairest doctrine, and the arrival of a dreadnaught troll seems like an outtake from Clash of the Titans. Although the latter does serve a narrative function, so these are small quibbles when taken as part of the fabric of a visually lush mise en scène.
While the backstory of Ravenna is promising (her betrayal by another king a long, long time ago serving as the catalyst for her narcissistic psychosis and misandrist agenda), her growth as a villain is stunted the minute Snow White takes center stage, leaving the queen as little more than a default scowling villain.
But the casting is spot on. Theron sinks her teeth into the role like it’s Shakespeare, and Stewart has an earthy beauty that plays well against medieval despair. Despite the Twilight haters, Stewart handles herself capably here (although she does occasionally slip into her stock “Who farted?” expression). As the romantic interest Hemsworth is … well, Hemsworth. The dwarves, however, played by the likes of a CG-altered Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone and Bob Hoskins, are worth the price of admission by themselves.