Snow White and the Huntsman arrives hot on the heels of the lukewarm reception recieved by Tarsem Singh’s Mirror, Mirror. However, whilst Singh’s saccharinely sweet re-imagination had more in common with the camp vulgarity of pantomime theatre, Rupert Sanders’ glossy and brooding retelling of this Grimm fairy tale is perhaps the darkest interpretation we’ve seen since Michael Cohn’s TV adaptation, Snow White: A Tale of Terror. Starring Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth, Sanders’ directorial debut is an aesthetically arresting portrayal of this much loved fable which successfully captures the sinister overtones of the original German tale.
On witnessing three drops of blood fall from her recently pricked finger onto the crystal white snow a queen says to herself “Oh, how I wish that I had a daughter that had skin white as snow, lips red as blood and hair black as ebony”, her wish comes true and Snow White (Stewart) is born. However, the queen dies whilst in labour and Snow White is raised by her father and his new queen, Raveena (Theron) a manipulative witch who steals the essence of young women to remain forever beautiful. She soon kills the king and locks Snow White away, high up in one of the castles most isolated turrets.
Almost 18 Years pass and the kingdom crumbles into a desolate and improvised collection of provinces, however, despite giving this wretched world the ruler it deserves Raveena is dismayed when she asks her magic mirror who the fairest in the land is and he no longer replies with her name but that of Snow White! Angered she calls for her execution but Snow White manages to escape to the castles nearby enchanted forest. Unwilling to get her hands dirty Raveena sends a huntsman (Hemsworth) to capture her, however once presented with Snow White’s ‘striking’ beauty he instead decides to help train her and assist her in overthrowing Raveena and take back the kingdom which is rightfully hers.
Relying heavily on its visual allure, it’s clear for all to see that Sanders’ background is in making highly stylised TV adverts. Using an aesthetic pallet more akin to a perfume advert than a film, Sander’s slick shine is both the film’s strongest asset and sadly its downfall. Whilst the world Sander’s has created for his characters to roam within is undeniably handsome – complete with a myriad of mythical creatures and beautifully CGI rendered monsters – too much time has been spent creating this magical realm, exposing the viewer to countless alluring visuals whilst neglecting to build upon the characterisations of the film’s relatively miniscule cast. At times these paper thin depictions of the film’s characters comes as a welcome relief, especially when the film threatens to expose us to another mythical love triangle involving Kristen Stewart, however as a whole Sander’s film feels like it could have been greatly enhanced by focusing more on plumping out its characters rather than the environment they exist within.
Despite the two dimensional portrayal of the film’s players, Sander’s has still managed to create a thoroughly enjoyable and surprisingly unique adaptation of a story which has been enjoyed in one form or another by all generations. Adding a refreshing slant on this age old tale (even if some of these welcoming flourishes are strangely reminiscent of Princess Mononoke and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy) Sander’s deeply oppressive version of a story more often associated with jovial children’s tales and fairy dust is a mightily ambitious and impressive debut that should be heralded for breathing fresh life into a story which has long run out of steam.
The film’s performances are somewhat hit and miss and many will struggle to see how Kristen Stewart could ever be perceived as ‘fairer’ than Theron, with her trademark cold detached stare and teenage pout still preventing her from expressing any emotion other than adolescent angst. Theron is perfectly cast as Raveena, yet is sadly underused, whilst Hemsworth who despite initially struggling with his Scottish accent manages to rescue his role from become a clichéd portrayal of the patronizingly ‘drunken Scot’. However, the highlight of the film’s casting lies in the ‘dwarf guessing game ‘contained within the film’s third act, with each of Snow White and the Huntsman’s seven dwarfs played by a well known British actor – those who can name all seven without the aid of IMDB deserve a well earned pat on the back.
Whilst undeniably visually mesmerising Snow White and the Huntsman is perhaps overly long, with the film’s finale feeling more like a whimper than a full on battle cry. Whilst sadly lacking substance behind its beautiful façade, Sander’s film remains a thoroughly enjoyable piece of escapist fantasy that’s well worth the price of admission.
Snow White and the Huntsmen is out in cinemas 30th May 2012.
Director: Rupert Sanders
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron | See full cast and crew
Runtime: 127 min