“SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN” My rating: B- (Opens wide June 1)
127 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
Woody Allen once said of his childhood viewing of Disney’s “Snow White” that the titular heroine was a a drag but that he found the evil queen to be incredibly hot.
One might say the same of “Snow White and the Huntsman.”
It’s not that Kristen Stewart’s Snow White is bland, exactly (heck, she ends the film encased in steel and leading an army like Joan of Arc), but rather that Charlize Theron’s evil queen provides the most formidable competition imaginable. Theron is hands down the most compelling thing in sight.
And given the wildly imaginative art direction on display here, that’s saying something.
This is not your Disney “Snow White.” The screenplay by Evan Daughtery, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini and the direction of Rupert Sanders (making his feature debut after a career in commercials and shorts) are chock full of daring ideas and breaks with convention.
And while many of the basic elements of the classic fairy tale are still there – the dwarves, a magic mirror, a poisoned apple, the heroine awakened from a death-like sleep by true love’s kiss – they are delivered with such eye-boggling visuals and unexpected twists that the yarn seems remarkably fresh.
The princess Snow White (Stewart) is imprisoned in a tower by the evil Queen Ravenna (Theron), who invaded the kingdom and killed all other members of the royal family. Ravenna retains her beauty by literally sucking the life out of virginal young women.
After years in darkness, Snow White escapes into the woods. The Queen, having learned from her mirror that Snow White will become her great rival, employs a drunken huntsman (“Thor’s” Chris Hemsworth) to track down the fugitive and return with her heart.
But the Huntsman (he apparently has no proper name, though if he did it might well be Han Solo) befriends the princess. Joined by a band of dwarves (played by great Brit actors like Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Brian Gleeson, Eddie Marsan and Toby Jones, all cleverly “shrunk” thanks to state-of-the-art f/x), they join a rebel army and lay siege to Ravenna’s castle.
Along the way there are various close calls, a battle with a troll, and much derring-do, all of it captured with some of the most atmospheric art direction and cinematography in recent memory.
This is an extremely dark version of “Snow White,” always poised on the edge of violence, but captured with a rare visual beauty.
That said, “Snow White and the Huntsman” comes very close to being a movie about the art direction.
It lacks an emotional center. No relationship, character or idea dominates the proceedings and gives it a reason for being.
The closest we come to such an anchor is Theron’s wicked monarch, a creature of such aching beauty and icy resolve that she dominates the proceedings. In her stillness she’s more compelling a host of knights on galloping chargers.
(The screenwriters have attempted to root Ravenna’s evil in psychological realism, even providing a back story about why she hates men and how she came to be such a vampiric figure. I’m not sure it’s necessary…and in fact such realism is at odds with the yarn’s fantastic elements).
Stewart is an acceptable Snow White, though she doesn’t yet seem quite freed from the glum morass of the “Twilight” saga. I much prefer her indy efforts…though we might not see many of them in her future. Helmsworth finds a bit of Errol Flynn swagger in the Huntsman. And the dwarves are real scene-stealers.
But the real star here – apart from Theron – is the picture’s look. It’s almost enough.
| Robert W. Butler