The second version this season of the old-age and popular fairytale, “Snow White and the Huntsman” is a visually inventive, darkly-toned, thematically revisionist film, as the producers have led us to believe, but not as dramatically or emotionally involving as we had hoped for.
That said, it’s easy to see by this visionary adaptation what has made the tale so durable for over a century, so legendary in universal appeal, but also so open to various interpretations, including this one, which is imbued with a post-modernist perspective.
You may say that each generation gets the specific rendition of the iconoclastic fables it deserves, and so, “Snow White and the Huntsman” unfolds as an epic spectacle, strong on technical design, dazzling visual style, and state-of-the-art special effects, but weaker on narrative and characterization. While offering a treat to the eyes and to the ears, with striking visual and aural pleasures, ultimately, the movie is a tad too heartless and soulless (Perhaps we deserve this kind of moody and stolid treatment, too).
The reason for the film’s shortcomings may be simple enough: This “Snow White” is helmed by Rupert Sanders, a debutant director who comes from the field of ads and commercials, some of which quite visionary. A respected commercial director, Sanders has achieved fame with a visual style that distinctly branded ad campaigns for the juggernaut video game “Halo 3,” among others.
The screenplay is credited to Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock, with additional (but crucial) polishing work by Hossein Amini (who has penned the Ryan Golsing’s noir “Drive”). Daugherty’s story offers an innovative take on the Brothers Grimm tale, originally published in 1812 in the text “Kinder und Hausmärchen” (“Children’s and Household Tales”).
The casting, it must be said right away, is better than that of “Mirror, Mirror,” and more importantly, it fits into Sanders’ overall conception of the tale.
This is an important year for both of the film’s female stars. Wishing to go beyond what she has done in the “Twilight” series, Kristen Stewart can be seen this season in two different roles, the other being “On the Road,” Walter Salles’ version of Jack Kerouc’s 1957 iconic novel (which premiered in Cannes Film Fest last week to mixed results, though it is not the actors fault). In this version, Stewart plays the titular role as a tougher, more brooding, and rebellious young femme.
Ditto for Charlize Theron, who after years of disappointing roles, experiences something close to a comeback with two parts in high-profile pictures, as the evil Queen Ravena in this picture, and in a secondary role in Ridley Scott’s eagerly anticipated prequel to “Alien,” “Prometheus.” It may or may not be a coincidence that the two movies open theatrically back to back, a week apart (June 1 and June 8, respectively).
As is known, the wicked ruler Ravena’s single-minded goal is to destroy Snow White, failing to realize that the girl, who has escaped her and now threatens her reign, has been training in the art of war with a brutal outdoors Huntsman named Eric, who initially had been dispatched to capture her. This rugged He-man is well played by Chris Hemsworth, who’s very hot right now, on the heels of the huge international success of “Thor and especially “The Avengers.”
Sanders and his writers have shifted the focus of the tale from the more conventionally female-dominated to one with a stronger “masculine” (and slightly feminist) perspective. To that extent, they have enhanced considerably the role of the Huntsman in a story whose scale is bigger, the stakes are higher (if not always credible), and the battles more brutal and fiercer than are the norms for such fairytales.
Assisted by the great production designer, Dominic Watkins (responsible for creating such distinct and authentic milieus as “The Bourne Supremacy” and “United 93”), Sanders has constructed a universe, defined by both familiar iconic metaphors and new imagery, in which every element is slightly skewed and off-center. You will find the expected mirrors and the red apples, but added to them are massively-scaled battles and even a rebellion. That these additions call too much attention to themselves might be a result of the producers’ wish to distinguish their film as much as possible from the eralier “Mirror, Mirror.”
On the plus side, the film’s ensemble is well cast down the line. Sam Claflin plays William, the young duke enchanted by Snow White’s two seemingly contradictory traits, outright defiance and innate purity, and Stewart is adequate in coveying both sides of her persona.
The secondary parts of the dwarfs are portrayed by distinguished British character actors: Ian McShane is Beith, the embittered leader of the clan. Bob Hoskins is Muir, their blind senior statesman. Ray Winstone is Gort, the ill-tempered drunkard. Nick Frost is Nion, Beith’s right-hand man. Toby Jones is Coll, the tough soldier. Eddie Marsden is Duir, the shadow to Coll. Johnny Harris is Quert, Muir’s musical son, and Brian Gleeson is Gus, the youngest of the dwarfs, who stands for the kingdom’s love for Snow White.
But, alas, in its current shape, “Snow Whie and the Huntsman” is overlong by at least 20 minutes or so, too stolid and deliberate in pacing, and too self-conscious in execution. Who knows: Sanders may develop into a more solid and fluent narrative director; this is after all his first picture. There are other filmmakers who have come from the field of ads and commercials, Ridley Scott and David Fincher, to mention just two examples, and went on to become brilliant directors.