I am a sucker for fairy tales done right. Since they were never originally intended for children, the stories were often serious, dark and violent, but when Hollywood attempts this, things can get cheesy. There was a decent TV movie version of Snow White with Sigourney Weaver as the evil queen, called, unfortunately, Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997). Weaver was great as the queen, but the whole thing was still a bit over the top, so I was curious to see how Rupert Sanders’ Snow White and The Huntsman would work.
Fairy tale movies tend to lean towards either the fanciful or the gritty, but Snow White and The Huntsman manages to blend the two convincingly. It starts out more bleakly than any version of the story that I’ve heard, with the king murdered and Snow White spending her entire childhood locked inside a filthy cell. Yet later there is a forest where actual fairies and magical animals appear, thankfully realistically rendered. Meanwhile, Charlize Theron’s fantastic evil queen is truly scary, writhing on the floor and eating bird’s hearts raw. The ‘dark forest’ into which Snow White escapes is also intense and frightening. Although it’s unexpected, the combination of the scary and the enchanting works very well.
It’s a relief to see Kristen Stewart with a sweet expression, with eyes that cause even a giant trolls’ heart to melt. The trailer, as well as the poster of her dressed up like Joan of Arc, had me worried that this would be an angsty, warrior Snow White, in an unsubtle Hollywood attempt at feminism. Happily, the armor only comes on at the end, and there is no sudden development of fighting ability despite being tiny and having grown up in a cell. Snow White spends most of the movie just being a survivor, brave and kind, with no sarcasm and no lip-biting or hair-flipping. It was nice to be reminded of just how lovely Kristen Stewart actually is.
Chris Hemsworth also does a good job as a widowed drunkard hired to kill Snow White, only to become her protector. Having only seen him in The Avengers, I wasn’t sure what else he could do aside from look strong. He is less beefy here and more handsome; medieval gear suits him better than the Thor costume so maybe they should get him onto Game of Thrones. The love story is refreshingly played down, almost non-existent, and much more is made of the practical fact that Snow White is heir to the throne, and can save them all from the evil queen.
The film has a great look to it, with beautiful scenery and effective CGI. The costumes, especially Charlize Theron’s, are rich in detail and look authentic; the fighting is gripping and convincing without being as violent as most medeival warfare scenes. The only thing odd is the casting of some decidedly non-dwarf actors as Snow White’s ubiquitous friends, who consist of Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins and Toby Jones, among others! They are made small by some impressive CGI, and it works, but it certainly cheated some dwarf actors out of high-profile roles.
Image via the film’s Facebook