I had some misconceptions about Snow White and the Huntsman going in, namely that it was going to be a lower-budget ho-hum modern revisioning of a classic fairy tale. Why did I assume this, despite the fact that commercials promised a lush visual experience? Because it looked like it was for teens and starred Kristen Stewart. I was thinking this would have the look and feel of the usually visually shoddy Twilight films, or 2011’s horrid Red Riding Hood. You can imagine my shock then, when I discovered Huntsman was a serious big-budget fantasy epic. It looks like The Cell, retold by Disney. It’s even got a fancy score, by Mr. James Newton Howard (And a killer credits track, Breath of Life by Florence + the Machine).
Huntsman stays semi-close to the original Grimm tale – a young Queen pricks her finger, births a gorgeous daughter, dies, the King marries a psycho, and gorgeous daughter grows up to be the fairest creature in all the land. The film opens with the back story, explaining how the evil Queen dupes Snow White’s father into marrying her. For reasons unknown, the Queen, here named Ravenna, played with delicious psychosis and familial disturbance by Charlize Theron, keeps Snow White locked up in a tower, where she still manages to looks stunningly dirty-beautiful, even though she hasn’t seen a bath for years. Ravenna is a deeply troubled soul, with a creepy albino-ish brother, and it’s clear that their childhood has jacked them up for life. Once the mirror, or large golden serving platter, tells Ravenna that Snow White is the most beautiful woman in existence, she sends her brother to fetch her from her prison cell, so her beating heart can be consumed. (Ravenna pops tickers from birds like they’re cherries. Sick, but looked cool. Also can I just say that Charlize Theron is at her best when she’s doing batshit. She plays Ravenna like Mavis from Young Adult, if Mavis was a Wiccan) Snow White is a badass warrior though, as opposed to a meek girl who whistles while she works, and manages to escape, into the horrible acid-trippy forest.
The Huntsman, played by Chris Hemsworth, oozing the alpha male hunk appeal he does sooo well, is commissioned to find Snow White and bring her alive to the Queen. He finds her almost instantly, but something about her causes him to question what the hell is going on and she insists that whatever the case, the Queen is lying to him and will kill them both. As he’s a drunkard who’s down on his luck, he trusts the dirty runaway more than the creepy upper-crust siblings. The two escape, and become reluctant partners, as opposed to the fairy tale, where the Huntsman falls madly in love with Snow White, cannot bear to kill her, and brings a boar’s heart and lungs to the queen, and we never hear from him again.
The rest of the film follows this pair on a journey through the forest, trying to get to her childhood friend’s father’s castle (mouthful). Encountering adventures along the way, they eventually meet up with the seven dwarves. Here, however, they are travel companions – she does not become their cleaning beyotch. I was surprised to see the dwarves weren’t really dwarves at all, they became small by CGI and camera tricks. At first glance, I thought, “wow, that guy looks like Ian McShane, but obviously he’s not..” After a few moments I realized, it WAS McShane, along with Nick Frost, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, and a few other men, turned into dwarves by the wonders of technology. I imagine this cost a pretty penny, to pay recognizable actors along with the expense of the CGI, when they could have just hired actual little people. However, after reading the recent interview with Peter Dinklage in Rolling Stone, he expressed that it’s slightly dehumanizing to be cast as a fantastical dwarf in stories like this, so maybe it’s a good thing?
But Snow White is about beauty, and this version’s got it in spades. Kristen Stewart has never looked more beautiful. I was in awe, literally. She somehow found it within herself to drop the twitching/gasping/lip-biting/fidgeting that she assaults us with as the wretched Bella, and became a lovely, magical, stunning heroine. I am obsessed with finding out what they used to make her lips look naturally blood-red. Ravenna is gorgeous villainy – amazing smoky eyes, elaborate, decadent gowns. The magnificent sets, costumes, effects, and makeup were all just a part of the reason why I enjoyed this flick – gothic castles, massive landscapes reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, and a sparkling, magical pixie/fairyland are all splendid eye-candy.
My minor complaints are the length (WHY does every movie think it’s allowed to be over two hours?!?! WHY.), and a sort of lag in the middle. The journey through the forest really does feel drawn out, even as it’s advancing the plot. My major complaint is the way Snow White defeats Ravenna (did you honestly think evil would prevail?) – it was VERY anti-climactic. All that build up should have given us a little something special. And lastly, the lack of humor. Overall, the tone is really dark, which is fine, but there are some mild attempts at humor that fall flat, as it’s mostly the dwarves uttering nonsense, and they mumble so much I found it difficult to understand what they were actually saying.
Overall, it’s a gorgeous way to spend a couple of hours, albeit a dark and gloomy one. I haven’t seen this year’s other Snow White re-imagining, Mirror, Mirror, so I cannot compare them. All I know is Hemsworth, Stewart, and Theron are a pleasure to watch (and stare at, with jealousy and/or longing).