In March when I reviewed this year’s other Snow White film, Mirror Mirror, I mentioned that I completely understand an actress’s desire to play Snow White’sWicked Queen. She’s a baddie for the ages. In both Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, the quest for physical beauty consumes and ultimately destroys the Wicked Queen. In Mirror Mirror, the journey was as goofy and over-the-top as the wonderfully outrageous costumes. In Snow White and the Huntsman, the quest is as dark as the deathly haunting art direction. Snow White and the Huntsman is dark and grim, as the Brother’s Grimm intended, a peek into dark souls motivated by hatred and revenge. Charlize Theron as Ravenna—the girl who would be queen—takes her bite of the apple in a movie that is heavy with gravitas; visually reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and grounded in a strangely convincing world of mysticism, fairies, magic, and faith.
This is the first feature film for tv director Rupert Sanders and there’s a sure-handedness and feel for story, pacing, and visual spectacle that is often thrilling. The film makes clever references to Disney’s Snow White at moments, such as the way birds and woodland creatures come to Snow White’s aid. But the similarities end at those references. This is very much a teen and grown-up film. It’s rated PG-13 and while the battle scenes are similar to any action/adventure film’s battles, there are a few moments of emotional violence that may be a bit much for some kids, such as the scene young Snow White is abducted after Ravenna has seduced, quickly married, then just as quickly murdered her father the king.
Snow White isn’t kept as a maid in The Huntsman. She’s a real prisoner here, locked in a fetid tower cell, sadly alone. Snow White really suffers in this film and Kristen Stewart (the Twilight saga) does a fine job, kind-hearted from beginning to end. In this film, we meet her mother who tells her that she has a beautiful heart. There’s a lovely scene at the beginning of the film where the original Grimm’s story comes to life. The beloved queen sees a rose bloom in the snow and this inspires her to pray for a beautiful daughter with skin as white as snow and lips like a red rose. Did you know that in the original Grimm story, it was Snow White’s mother who gradually grew more and more jealous of her daughter’s beauty? The Grimm Brothers yielded to consumer criticism and re-released the story replacing the mother with a stepmother and the iconic Wicked Stepmother was born.
I can’t help but imagine being on the set with Charlize Theron (or Julia Roberts) taking on the role of the Wicked Queen/Stepmother, working with their respective directors, “Now here’s your motivation: you’re a celebrated beauty who has to face the waning of your power because of your fading looks. You have to imagine that you live in a world where youth and beauty are worshipped and a middle-aged woman whose looks have faded is nothing.” Gee—that one’s a stretch. The Huntsman script works that into this Queen’s motivation with great success. As a teen, she took the place of an older queen; and she knew one day she would be cast aside for a younger woman, so she took deadly steps. A villain with a purpose, a baddie with a cause beats a villain with no particular purpose hands down.
And in this story, the Queen has a creepily trusted ally in Sam Spruell as Finn, brother and closest “friend” to the Queen, the creepiest brother/sister duo since Angelina and Michael Jolie. The excellent cast features Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Avengers) as a brash, at times tormented Huntsman with his own sad backstory. The dwarves featuring Ian McShane and Ray Winstone are amazing with an almost distractingly seamless digital effect that makes the actors seem like small people. I especially liked Bob Hoskins as a blind dwarf. It created a lovely metaphor when he was able to “see” how beautiful (inside) Snow White really was.
I don’t want to spoil anything, because I think a great many of you would love this film. This is a grown-up Snow White. It doesn’t flinch in the face of truly grim (and Grimm) circumstances. It’s visually stunning. It makes a thought-provoking statement about virtually everyone’s obsession with physical appearance. But it does more than make you think. It does what great cinema is supposed to do: it makes you feel.
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