Fantastic fantasy, shame about the lead
Orphaned and imprisoned in the castle, young Snow White escapes as she comes of age – fleeing from the evil Queen who would devour her heart to earn immortality. Rupert Sanders may not have had the brightest or most original script but has to be commended for taking the material and going for broke in bringing it to the screen. From the very first scene, he’s committed to not only selling the reality of this alternate world but also carving out his own dark vision of the ancient story.
The result is a veritable feast of vivid production design which manages to appear lived in as well as visually attractive. The scale is generally impressive and the real world locations are apt, while the cold and stark UK shot location work helps it stand apart from other titles.Sanders also drives the film to some incredibly dark places, both visually and in terms of his commitment to the murky corners of the narrative. Snow White’s first visit to the dark forest is shot through with some genuinely disturbing, drug addled imagery while the creature designs and general tone of the film is extremely grim. Actions have consequences in this version of the fairytale and not every character will make it out alive.
But, amid the squalor, violence and death, there’s also a sense of magic to Snow White which truly makes it a memorable fantasy. As Snow’s mission becomes more and more desperate, she gets a moment’s reprieve in a place of animals, fairies and sprites that provides a stark and wondrous contrast to the darkness of the piece.Sanders wrangles some impressive CG throughout, serving up unusual creatures and imposing castles with aplomb, while also crafting a couple of moderately exciting action scenes.Charlize Theron takes on the role of the evil Queen Ravenna and manages to create something more than a cookie cutter villain. It’s not an overly deep character and there’s rather too much shoting for my liking but her accent holds up well and her obsession with the power of beauty and some murky personal history are enough to keep you engaged. Chris Hemsworth wrestles with his shaky Scottish brogue but still musters some considerable charm, adding levity to the otherwise serious proceedings.
There are other performers here, like the dwarfs played by famous British actors you should know the name of (Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone) to generally entertaining effect as well a decent turn from new pretty boy Sam Claflin. But you really want to know about Stewart, don’t you?
In truth, she’s not that bad. Her accent holds for the most part and she manages to quell some physical ticks. There’s also a sense that the film has been edited to keep her presence as limited as possible, with few shots lingering and a role that’s mostly passive. And yet, she still manages to spoil an otherwise impressive production, drowning important dramatic moments in forced awkwardness and failing to bring any passion to a supposedly rallying speech.Snow White and the Huntsman is a convincing and steady-handed debut for director Rupert Sanders, bringing a stark new vision to the age old fairy tale, supported by solid design work and some engaging supporting performances. But while Stewart’s presence on the poster may draw in the Twilight crowd, she’s marginalised in the final film and, even in this limited capacity, still manages to bring the quality of the production down.
The biggest surprise about this new take on the Snow White fairy tale? It’s actually rather good.
First time feature and experienced commercials director