Call me a sucker for fantasy pictures, but I really enjoyed “Snow White and the Huntsman”. In fact, I would go as far as to call this movie one of the biggest surprises of the year. In cinematic terms, this darker retelling of the classic Snow White fairy tale is pure fantasy through and through. We get trolls, dwarves, fairies, and magic but there is nothing lighthearted about it. Unlike the other Snow White movie of 2012 “Mirror Mirror”, “Snow White and the Huntsman” aims for a broader audience by creating a dark and often times creepy fantasy world that doesn’t shy away from cool horror elements and death. In the end, it was an effective approach that completely caught me by surprise.
One of my main concerns about the movie centered around Kristen Stewart in the lead role. After seeing her previous work I was never convinced she was a good actress. “Snow White and the Huntsman” does nothing to change that. But the writers seem aware of that and the script cleverly limits what Stewart is required to do. Much of her story unfolds through the words of other characters so Stewart isn’t asked to do much. It was a smart approach and I can’t help but think the movie benefits from it. For the most part Stewart is a good Snow White. She runs, rides horses, and innocently looks in wonder at the new world around her. It’s only when Stewart is asked to rouse the crowds in the third act that you’re reminded of her past work.
The movie takes the key ingredients from the popular fairy tale and mixes them with several unique twists. As a child Snow White witnesses the murder of her father the king at the hands of her wicked stepmother Ravenna (Chalize Theron). Queen Ravenna takes over the entire kingdom and throws Snow White into a tower prison cell. Ravenna is dependent on dark magic for her power thanks to a spell cast on her by her wicked mother. She maintains that power by draining the lifeforce of the young girls from the nearby villages. Years pass and Snow White has grown up yet is still confined to the tower. Queen Ravenna learns from her magic mirror that Snow White is destined to topple her so she figures it’s time to suck the life right out of her competition. Snow White escapes into a dark and marshy forest where the Queen’s powers can’t reach. The queen bribes a drunken widower (Chris Hemsworth) who has survived the forest to lead her forces in order to capture the princess.
While Hemsworth seems to be falling into the same type roles for each of his films, I still really like him. Once again he plays the tough and rugged sort and once again he’s very good. It’s a pretty simple role that fits the fantasy character model well. He has a decent chemistry with Stewart which is helped by the fact that the script doesn’t force anything on their character’s relationships. And what is Snow White without dwarves, right? Several fantastic actors played the dwarves, or at least had their faces placed on different, smaller bodies. It’s a remarkable bit of animation. Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins, and Toby Jones are a blast to watch in the roles. But it’s Theron who steals the show as the wicked queen. She sells each calculated expression and devious grin and she opens up a fairly layered character. Theron has a lot of fun and it shows.
Another standout component to the movie’s success are the wonderful special effects and cinematography. The fantasy environments are well done and often times stunning. There are several cool creatures, beautiful landscapes, and some really slick magical effects. As alluded to, “Snow White and the Huntsman” isn’t necessarily a kid’s movie and some of the effects attest to that. Maybe that’s one reason it worked so well for me. It helps make the movie more closely resemble “Lord of the Rings” than the Brothers Grimm classic fairy tale. And as a fantasy fan, that’s a really good ingredient to this incredibly surprising movie.