Snow White and the Huntsman review

Review Louisa Mellor 28 May 2012 - 05:29

Another fairy tale adaptation has made its way onto the big screen, so what’s the verdict on Snow White and the Huntsman?

According to first-time feature director Rupert Sanders, Snow White and the Huntsman began life as a tongue-in-cheek, Shrek-like adventure. He must have changed everything but the title since then, as the original concept has morphed into a solemn medieval fantasy that’s worlds away from being a comedy summer romp.

A beautifully shot prologue gets us up to speed with a mostly familiar story: Snow White’s (Kristen Stewart) mother perishes, and her father remarries with a beautiful stranger (Charlize Theron) who swiftly dispatches the rightful king and seizes his kingdom, imprisoning his daughter in the castle. The Wicked Queen learns from her enchanted mirror that Snow White’s beauty isn’t only to surpass her own, but that her step-daughter’s innocence and purity is like an anti-ageing magic bullet; all she has to do is eat her heart and hey presto, eternal youth.

What follows is an archetypal story of an exile on a hero’s journey to regain what’s hers and restore balance to the kingdom. Accompanied by the burly, tortured Huntsman sent by the Queen to retrieve her, a rag-tag group of dwarfs and a handy army, Snow White returns to off Ravenna in a very convenient battle, and thence to live happily ever after (at least, until the proposed sequel).

Stewart’s Snow White is part Aslan the lion, part Jeanne d’Arc. A Christian symbol of healing goodness (she walks on water; we meet her reciting the Lord’s Prayer), Snow inspires and restores those around her thanks to her superpower of being really very pretty. Uncomplicated goodness being the path to protagonist boredom that it is, they’ve understandably tried to pep her character up with a flinty shard of rebelliousness, but sadly it’s not enough to flesh her out from archetype to person.

While Kristen Stewart is pretty good as the pretty, good titular lead, it’s Charlize Theron’s crazed performance as wicked Queen Ravenna that leaves the biggest impression. Demonic, furious, and psychologically fractured, Theron is utterly committed to her role as Ravenna, playing the sorceress as the ultimate psycho beauty queen. Theron has long done a good line in dark and crazy, and this, combined with her extreme beauty, make her a perfect fit for the part.

If you’ve seen the trailers, then you already know what Huntsman is very, very good at: visual effects. The film’s canny SFX team have worked out nifty ways to make characters explode into flocks of crows, clouds of butterflies, and splintery shards of coal, and are given ample opportunity to show off their tricks. The whole thing looks fantastic, from the hallucinogenic dark forest scenes to the Elysian enchanted wood, a beautifully created world that feels real while we’re in it.

Those same nifty visual effects have been used to create a recognisable cast of dwarfs, played by Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Johnny Harris and Brian Gleeson. Despite the film extending to 127 minutes, it feels as if we barely meet the entertaining troupe, and that excellent cast isn’t showcased to its potential. A long and largely superfluous river village sequence could certainly have been sacrificed in favour of spending more time with Snow White’s smaller statured companions.

Snow White and the Huntsman hits the darker notes of the Brothers Grimm tale nicely but plays merry havoc with the romance plot, aiming for surprise but ending up by telling only half a story. The pleasingly sturdy Chris Hemsworth has a meatier backstory than Sam Claflin’s wispy Prince character, but both are difficult to pin down, and neither excites much empathy.

The overwhelming result is an exquisite-looking, but somehow empty fantasy adventure. Huntsman isn’t quite mad enough to be The Neverending Story, and it’s far too earnest to be Labyrinth, but sits somewhere on a par with the Narnia adaptations. While we’re talking comparisons, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the most obvious reference, from Huntsman’s battle scenes to its sweeping mountainside helicopter shots. Unlike that trilogy, though, Sanders is working from source material that could be told in full during one bedtime story; thin soup compared to the rich stew Jackson had to work with.

In short, Sanders’ film takes on too much. It aims to people the inevitably paper-thin pages of a fairy tale with robust, psychologically believable characters, as well as ticking off romance, epic action, stunning visuals, and comic relief. It’s simply too tall an order and results in an unbalanced, slightly dissatisfying film, if one with visuals to die for. Sanders has aimed high, something never to be discouraged, but ended up only somewhere in the middle. A visual tour de force, and an admirable debut from a talented director, but not an instant classic.

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Huh, that's actually pretty much what I expected...that they were trying to make too much out of a fairy tale.  I figured it would be good, but not great.  Love Charlize, always figured she would leave the biggest impression.  She's a freaking Oscar winner and there really are very few actresses on the same level as her, and none that are young enough or physically the right fit for the role of Snow White.  Glad to hear that Kristen Stewart did good though and didn't suck.   I was a bit worried...I know she got really good review for On the Road and some other indies, but she's so just so blah in Twilight (I only saw the first one, and to her credit she was very blah but defn. not the worst one in that film).  Then again, it's Twilight.  Anyway, I'm glad she was pretty good because if she was terrible that would have dragged down the film a bit.  I'm definitely seeing this though because of Sanders and the visual effects.  Kind of wish they had left out the romance, as Theron, Hemsworth, and Stewart characters and the visual effects sound more interesting than some Prince Charming type.

It's funny you should have mentioned Narnia, I walked out the cinema thinking that could have been the nex Narnia movie gone hardcore. Charlize was definately the best part of the movie and very much looking forward to seeing her again at the end of the week. Visually again I can't fault the effects, some very good ones and original too and thats rare enough these days.

The day Kristen Stewart becomes more beautiful than Charlize Theron is the day I may consider watching this film.

Pretty much what I thought it'd be from the trailer, then.

Small cavil: it's Jeanne d'Arc, or Joan of Arc when Anglicised. "Jean" is a male name in French. Sorry, I know it's anal ::)

there are definite story elements that have to stay in order for it to be the Snow White story but unless they were going to go totally leftfield with it then you wouldn't be going to see this for the story alone.

I'm glad to see that the influence of the Lord of the Rings trilogy is still having such an impact on fantasy movies all these years later.  The FX will be the only reason I go to see this and I hope they are absorbing enough to stave off the boredom of sitting through the well trodden storyline.

See. All that hollywood rubbish.  It's my fault.

It is an instant classic.
I wonder if not so good or average ratings to this excellent movie are due to pressure to pump up the upcoming 20th Fox's Prometheus which instead looks like quite a disappointment already (other than having been censored by 20th Fox with a fake R rating). 
Or maybe is it due to Sony's Men In Black 3 not getting as much money as the managers wanted and expected?
Anyway, this movie is breathtaking, it's darker than the very good tv series Once Upon A Time which first season just ended and it features top-notch CGI and action scenes.
It's on par with Lord Of The Rings trilogy movies but with the added bonus of having an updated top-notch CGI and way better cinematography, coreography and action scenes (which I seriously doubt the upcoming The Hobbit movies will be able to deliver).

Predictible as sunrise.

But...then...that's what hollywood does these days.

But any movie that begins with the premise that Stewart is hotter than Theron?'on! That alone makes this strictly a fantasy film.( and a whole lot harder to suspend disbelief)

(Of course if Stewart could actually act, that may help her case...but that appears to be asking too much of even this fairy tale)

So...yeah...Snow is the femanist's bigger-set-of-b*lls-than-all-of-the-men ideal.

She'll save Thor (Hemsworh) along the way...lead the charge...and save the day. Women smart. Men dumb. The End.

And the usual PC crap will be enjoyed by all.

I give it a rating of Wait-Til-$2-Bargain-Bin.

And even then, maybe.

saw this last night and REALLY enjoyed it!

Part of that was Hemsworth, Part of it was Theron, Partly the dwarves but mostly it was the film-making.  The look and feel of it was totally immersive and believable as a fantasy world.  From the Dead Kingdom, to the Dark Forest to the Sanctuary it was a world you want to see more of.

There were certain Star Wars elements to it I found as well especially with hemsworth/stewart channeling the Han/Leia relationship from epIV and the coronation at the end.

All in all a much better experience than I thought it would be.

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