Director: Rupert Sanders
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Ian McShane, Sam Claflin, Ray Winstone, Eddie Izzard, Bob Hoskins, Eddie Marsan, Lily Cole, Stephen Graham, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Liberty Ross, Noah Huntley, Sam Spruell
RunTime: 2 hrs 7 mins
Rating: PG13 (Violence)
Released By: UIP
Official Website: http://www.snowwhiteandthehuntsman.com/
Opening Day: 31 May 2012
Synopsis: In the epic action-adventure Snow White and the Huntsman, Kristen Stewart (Twilight) plays the only person in the land fairer than the evil queen (Oscar(r) winner Charlize Theron) out to destroy her. But what the wicked ruler never imagined is that the young woman threatening her reign has been training in the art of war with a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, Thor) dispatched to kill her. Sam Claflin (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) joins the cast as the prince long enchanted by Snow White's beauty and power. The breathtaking new vision of the legendary tale is from Joe Roth, the producer of Alice in Wonderland, producer Sam Mercer (The Sixth Sense) and acclaimed commercial director and state-of-the-art visualist Rupert Sanders.
Never in our farthest imaginings did we envision Snow White to be an ass-kicking warrior princess who would lead an entire army into battle, but that’s the reason why first-time feature film director Rupert Sanders’ interpretation of one of the Brothers Grimm’s most beloved fairy tales has been labelled revisionist. So revisionary is it that it even manages to turn its very title on its head, so much so that all that is white as snow is almost completely gone from the movie, replaced by dark and foreboding landscapes the stuff of some younger children’s nightmares.
Inspired no doubt by the contemporary age of feminism, first-time (yes we know this will be the second time we’re using that word) writer Evan Daugherty has taken interesting liberties with both the titular character as well as the villainous Queen. The latter in particular is given an intriguing twist as a woman both liberated and trapped by her beauty, for it was her ravishing looks that first won her the attention of a king but which diminishing by age had left her heartbroken. Fuelled by contempt, Ravenna (as the Queen is known here) has over decades gone from kingdom to kingdom winning the hearts of kings and then taking their lives.
Her latest conquest is that of a kind-hearted widowed King Magnus (Noah Huntley) and father of Snow White, whom she poisons then slaughters with a dagger on their wedding night. Of his young daughter Snow White she keeps imprisoned in a high tower, until a premonition by her golden mirror on the wall years later leaves her yearning for the come-of-age Snow White’s heart to achieve true immortality. Alas Snow White seizes the opportunity to escape when Queen Ravenna’s brother Finn (Sam Spruell) enters her cell to retrieve her for the Queen, fleeing the confines of her father’s former castle for the enchanted Dark Forest.
In turn, the Queen sends a grief-stricken drunk known only as the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) with knowledge of the woods in pursuit- though it doesn’t take long before he switches sides and ends up protecting her against Finn and the rest of his army. As Snow White endeavours to get to the grounds of Duke Hammond, an ally of her father’s, the Huntsman becomes as much her protector as well as her romantic interest. But as formula would dictate, there should be another corner to complete the love triangle- hence the obligatory presence of the Duke’s son William (Sam Claflin), who has apparently had a soft spot for Snow White since he was young.
What happened to the dwarves you might be ask? Well, rest easy if you’re a fan of the tale- the seven dwarves are still around, though they only appear in the second half of the movie. And just to reassure you that they have not been sidelined, they do play a pivotal role in Snow White’s mission to depose the Queen. As portrayed by a whole bevy of distinguished British character actors the likes of Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Toby Jones and Brian Gleeson, their rowdy presence is also a much welcomed one, bringing some sorely missing levity into the otherwise sombre proceedings.
While the signature elements- poisoned apple, wall-hanging mirror, dwarves and evil Queen- are no doubt drawn from the classic fairy tale, Daugherty and his co-screenwriters John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini adopt a cinematic tone and style taken from more contemporary fantasy adventures. In fact, the trio together with Sanders could be accused of leaning too heavily on some of these- Sanders’ framing of Snow White’s quest using sweeping shots against mountainous backdrops set to Celtic music is all too reminiscent of ‘Lord of the Rings’; while a late plot twist that gives new meaning to Snow White’s symbol as saviour to the people immediately invites comparisons with ‘Narnia’.
Chiefly, their version of Snow White isn’t so much Snow White as we know of it, but a feminist version of Robin Hood, who not only stands up for the injustices of those around her but leads them to battle against the forces that prevail. In that regard, this Snow White isn’t all that different from Tarsem’s earlier ‘Mirror, Mirror’, whose protagonist was similarly independent-minded if less swash-buckling. The new-age notion of Snow White as war heroine is interesting, but one that is ultimately let down by Kristen Stewart’s bland portrayal.
Consequently, this Snow White functions less as a character in itself, than as an obligatory complement to the malevolent Evil Queen, played with icy menace by Charlize Theron. The Oscar winner steals every minute of the show she is in- hers a coolly calculated performance of pent-up fury waiting to unleash itself. Theron is also aided by some nifty CGI and designer Colleen Atwood’s ravishing costumes, and we watch transfixed as she steps into a creamy milk bath or transforms back into human form from a flock of crows with her mantle and cloak a glistening black oil slick.
Yes, Sanders, who hails from the world of commercials and Xbox games, has a keen eye for visuals, and it shows amply in the gorgeously crafted shots- especially the contrast between light and dark to represent scenes of hope and despair respectively. And despite borrowing slightly too heavily from genre material, Sanders’ maiden attempt at a big-budget summer tentpole is as assured a debut as any- it is also to his credit that though the story does unfold at a very deliberate pace in the middle, it never turns out boring.
With this version of Snow White, Hollywood continues its recent trend of revisiting classic fairy tales for a modern-day twist, a formula that proved successful for ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (whose producer Joe Roth is also behind this movie) but less so for ‘Red Riding Hood’. On account of its distinctive take on the evil Queen as well as its nightmarishly brutal tone, it belongs in the league of the former than the latter. And indeed, having seen both ‘Snow White’ films this year, we can firmly say that this is the one you should see.
(Dark and unrelentingly Grimm take on the beloved fairy tale, but one that is visually astounding and grippingly paced)
Review by Gabriel Chong