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Snow White and the Huntsman

(2012) ** 1/2 Pg-13
127 min. Universal Pictures.

/content/films/4342/1.jpgSnow White and the Huntsman is something else. It’s neither the kid-friendly take of 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or the two-month-old Mirror Mirror, nor the R-rated horror version offered by 1997’s Snow White: A Tale of Terror. No, it’s something else. But is it enough?

And, perhaps more to the point, whom is it for? Rupert Sanders’ frequently intense PG-13 film isn’t for kids (the pre-teen next to me twice clutched her mother in fear), and it’s not exactly for adults either. The soggy new script by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini doesn’t dig deep enough, work hard enough, or draw compelling enough characters to unequivocally fascinate or entertain, leaving Sanders to justify his film’s existence through tasteful visuals. But then, it’s increasingly the lot of cinemagoers to be treated like children, whether with fairy tales or comic books.

Silly critic: Snow White and the Huntsman is for Twi-hards! Kristen Stewart (Twilight) stars as this Snow White made over in the image of Joan of Arc. A princess deposed by her evil stepmother Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), Snow at first embodies “innocence and purity,” but it is her destiny to save her people and their blighted environment. It takes a while for Snow to embrace her destiny as a hands-on leader, but when she does, she dons armor and leads the charge. Have fun storming the castle!

Or not: Sanders takes a mostly mirthless tack. Pale natural light, as well as production design and effects designed for a tactile credibility, create a bleak medieval landscape; we get only a brief respite in the beautiful and verdant fairy land the heroes pine to recapture. The gang’s all here: a stone castle (perched over crashing waves), “the dark forest” (enchanted, but of course), a magic mirror (a golden gong of sorts), a poison apple, and eight dwarves (yes, eight), played by a gaggle of CGI-shrunken British thespians, including Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Ray Winstone and Nick Frost.

And then there’s Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman, a.k.a. Eric (Monty Python would be proud). Be vewwy, vewwy quiet: add Eric and Snow to her boyhood pal Prince William (Sam Claflin), and you get another love Twi-angle. Crack archer William’s all about the Robin Hood look, while the widowed Huntsman’s more of a “slash, crack, thank you Jack” type, charging into the fray wielding ye olde sword (and brooding over his emotional bruises). As Snow comes into her own, however, romance must take second place to career.

Snow White and the Huntsman does give some ammo to future theses: an outpost of self-mutilated women who sacrifice beauty for better lives (in opposition to tortured beauty-hoarder Ravenna) and a motif of nasty oil slicks that constitutes a forward-looking environmental consciousness. Still, these feints, along with Sanders’ good eye and appealing naturalistic restraint, can’t magically turn the thin, glossy pages of this eye-catching picture book into a transcendent fantasy fable.

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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