Saturday, June 2, 2012
'Snow White and the Huntsman' Is Nightmarish in a Good Way
Hemsworth is likably gruff as the Huntsman, a drunk widower who gradually begins to find purpose in his life through protecting Snow White. There's also a "prince" of sorts, Snow's childhood friend William (Sam Claflin), and a pack of dwarves that are played by non-dwarf actors who've been reduced by special effects (Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Brian Gleeson, Johnny Harris). The motley crew helps Snow White along the way, but in the end it is she alone who must vanquish Ravenna.
The conflicts at the heart of the Snow White fable—age vs. youth, physical beauty vs. inner beauty—are present and accounted for in this version, but many other aspects have been reimagined. The most successful of these moments is the famous apple eating scene, which is deftly done and genuinely surprising. And if you hadn't already gathered this from the title of the movie, the iconic wake-up kiss has a twist as well.
There are various problems in the story of Snow White and the Huntsman—why didn't Ravenna kill Snow White when she was a child? Why is Snow White "destined" to breathe life into the dead land and destroy the queen? What is this furry white stag and why do we care that she's petting it? Why even bother with William at all when we've already got the vastly more interesting Huntsman? But in the end there is enough good stuff, both visually and performance-wise, to overcome the movie's faults. It's a glossy new version of the classic tale that gives us a heroine for the modern age. Gone is the girl who sings to the birds and requires a prince to rescue her. In her place stands a strong young woman who fights her own battles and, ultimately, saves herself.
After years of being sidelined by Cinderella and young upstarts like the Little Mermaid, Snow White has suddenly become the most popular girl in school. ABC has the apple-eating heroine at the center of its series Once Upon a Time, and earlier this year Relativity Media offered up the campy Mirror Mirror starring Lily Collins. Now comes Snow White and the Huntsman, director Rupert Sanders' gothic take on the classic Grimm fable.
But this is not the technicolor Disney version of Snow White that you grew up with. No, this is a dark, violent world that is filled with the stench of decay. Death hangs over the land, and there are vast shots of scorched Earth and nightmarish forests filled with noxious gases and hoards of creeping insects. This is a world where phantom armies shatter into razor-sharp shards of black obsidian, mirrors pool into liquid gold figures, and evil queens morph into flocks of ravens at a moment's notice. Sanders' imagery in the film, equal parts beautiful and cruel, is wildly inventive and at times absolutely breathtaking. The special effects are top-notch, which is impressive considering this is the director's first feature film.
But there is more to Snow White and the Huntsman than just visual effects. The film is anchored by a trio of generally strong performances from Kristen Stewart as Snow White, Charlize Theron as the evil queen Ravenna, and Chris Hemsworth as the titular Huntsman. Theron, in particular, seems to be having a ball playing the sinister Ravenna, who isn't blindly evil but rather is intent on extracting a sort of feminist revenge on the kingdom that once took everything away from her. She is obsessed with youth and sucks away the lives of young women to help maintain it. But that is only because she knows (rightly so) that youth and beauty are powerful tools in a world that tends to discard women as they age. Ravenna is the film's villain, but one cannot help but sympathize with her when she bitterly bellows, "I will give this wretched world the queen that it deserves."