‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ move review: Charlize Theron steals the show

Or, Snow of the Rings. A joyless, oh-so-serious slog through the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs fairy tale, director Rupert Sanders’ Snow White and the Huntsman features a number of striking, beautifully-designed sequences (particularly those featuring Charlize Theron’s Queen Ravenna), but the funereal tone and deliberate pacing turn this thing into a chore to sit through.

On top of that (maybe a plus for some viewers), Huntsman cranks up the weirdness factor. It’s strange enough seeing Kristin Stewart’s Show White – locked in an isolated chamber since childhood, mind you – decked out in battle gear, delivering a troop-rousing Henry V-esque speech before leading a grizzled army in the siege of her father’s (former) castle.

But then there’s the seven dwarves (actually eight here – for reasons you can probably inter), played by a who’s-who of (normal-sized) contemporary UK thespians – Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Johnny Harris, and Brian Gleeson – shrunk down to dwarf size via CGI and camera trickery. 

The effect is bizarre, to say the least, and a major distraction when any are on screen; it doesn’t help that the dwarf characters are so thinly sketched – we barely learn a few of their names.

You know the basics, which are related here (mostly) via opening montage. Young princess (with hair black as ebony, lips red as blood, and skin white as snow – or, no offense, as close as Stewart comes to that description), dead mother, mourning father, evil queen/stepmother. 

Here, Ravenna wins the affections of Snow’s father by inventing an entire invading army using black magic, just to have him save her, their helpless captive. Too bad she can’t invent the army when she really needs it.

As Ravenna, Theron walks away with the movie, despite being completely forgotten in the middle act. 

Playing the Queen as the embodiment of evil, the actress doesn’t have to do much to hold our attention; it helps that she’s gorgeously costumed, with Sanders’ camera lingering over her, frequently in slo-mo (in a pretty good looking film, she’s the best looking thing on display). Sam Spruell, as Ravenna’s obedient brother Finn, also leaves an impression as a tragic, if not-quite-sympathetic character.

Our heroes, on the other hand, are achingly bland. There’s Snow, who has escaped Ravenna’s clutches into the dark forest and just wants to reach Duke Hammond (Vincent Regan) and (particularly) Prince William (Sam Claflin), her childhood friend and potential savior. The titular Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), brutish but good-hearted, was sent by Ravenna to capture Show, but winds up leading her to safety.

That seems to set up a love triangle, but this film has one thing on its mind: war! Bursting with bloodless, PG-13 action scenes that have little impact, this Snow White lives and (mostly) dies on the battlefield. The worst offender: Ravenna’s vague witch powers. Like Dark Shadows and most other recent blockbusters, Huntsman throws magic across the screen while giving the audience little idea of the characters’ strengths and weaknesses or the actual level of perceived threats; with nothing to relate to, the action is all perfunctory.

Snow White and the Huntsman is the second major Snow White movie to come out this season, following Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror (Czech-dubbed in local cinemas), starring Julia Roberts. That film also struggled with tone, but in the opposite regard: it was too goofy for its own good. 

Throw these two movies together and you might get something, but otherwise, 2012 is zero for two in Snow White adaptations. As far as revisionist fairy tales go, 1997’s Show White: A Tale of Terror is still the preferred film.

Serious-minded fantasy is a hard thing to get right; trying to mine Game of Thrones out of a Grimm fairy tale is the wrong way to go. Director Sanders’ visual prowess is unquestionable, but his storytelling needs some work.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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