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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 1, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 22
Visually resplendent Snow White is Theron's playground
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Visually resplendent Snow White is Theron's playground

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

You know the story. An evil witch bedevils a beloved king, leading him to his doom and usurping his kingdom in the process. Not quite able to bring herself to kill the king's beautiful adolescent daughter, the witch instead keeps her prisoner in the castle, the land withering and dying as the years pass and the child grows into womanhood. There's a magic mirror. There's a portent foreshadowing the queen's eventual doom. There's a huntsman unable to carry out his dastardly royal deed of death. There are seven dwarfs who come to the aid of a beauteous lost soul who mysteriously arrives at their doorstep. Like I said, you know this story.

But unlike Tarsem Singh's almost Bollywood take on the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Mirror, Mirror, commercial wunderkind Rupert Sanders' big-budget, visually resplendent directorial debut, Snow White and the Huntsman, isn't for the little ones. Sure, it boasts a PG-13 rating, and yes, its bits of swordplay and daring-do are no more outlandish or extreme as any of those found in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings epics. But in the end, Walt Disney family-friendly this version is not - the filmmakers pump up the volume and dig deeply into the muck and mire to bring their vision to life.

Yet Sanders' attempt is in many ways more true to the source material than Singh's was. While this evil queen, here named Ravenna and played to the vindictive hilt by a stunning Charlize Theron, isn't above slamming daggers straight into the heart of her target with her own hand, she's still something of a vain harlequin beholden to a mirror that hides her deepest secrets and projects her most loathsome fears. As for Snow White (Kristen Stewart), she's still the fairest of them all, her innate goodness inspiring all who come in contact with her while also making her the main target of her vindictive stepmother's fury.

The main changes come in the form of the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), a lumbering ox of a man who is still reeling from the tragic demise of his wife. He is a central figure in this telling, unable to follow through on the queen's command and becoming Snow White's chief protector. Added to the mix are Ravenna's sniveling, almost reptilian brother Finn (Sam Spruell) and the more stereotypically handsome and heroic William (Sam Claflin), son of Duke Hammond (Vincent Regan), the last remaining royal holdout resisting the queen's rule. As for the dwarves, they're all here, too, but to say more about them would somewhat ruin the surprise in store when they make their appearance about halfway into the picture.

The first thing to note about Snow White and the Huntsman is that it is visually astonishing. Sanders paints in strokes that defy belief, joining forces with cinematographer Greig Fraser (Bright Star, Let Me In) to craft an eye-popping epic that is singularly unique. From the frozen pristine snow of a wonderland at peace, to the fractured, angular extremes of a forest at war with itself and with those who dare to pass through it, to the golden demonic visage of Ravenna's mirror come to life, there is plenty here to feast upon as the film moves from scene to scene. One visual in particular is mind-blowing, but as it involves the dwarves I'm not going to say anything more.

The next thing of merit is hardly a surprise: Charlize Theron, robbed of an Oscar nomination for her work in Young Adult, is simply incredible as Queen Ravenna. She dominates this movie, slinking and sliding her way through it with a seductively sinister malevolence that sent chills up my spine, through my veins and into the nether recesses of my soul. Theron makes this immoral royal a figure of pitiable depravity whose ultimate demise is one I almost didn't want to see transpire.

As for the rest, until the final third of the picture clicks into its unavoidably familiar gear, newcomer Evan Daugherty's screen story, with a script by Daugherty, John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), and Hossein Amini (Drive), is a somewhat surprisingly engaging bit of medieval fun. The movie walks in some pretty surreal worlds, mixing in bits of Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth here, Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke there, and Jackson's Lord of the Rings epics all over the place. There are also faint echoes of John Boorman's Excalibur and Wolfgang Petersen's The NeverEnding Story. The whole thing becomes a superb compendium of fantasy favorites that still manages to dance to its own unique tune.

The movie does run out of steam as it reaches its climactic stretch. Problem is, there just isn't anywhere new or different for the film to go at that point, nothing for it to reveal that we don't expect. It also doesn't help that as good as Stewart is - and she is very good indeed, all you Twilight haters take note - she can't hold her own against Theron's devilishly larger-than-life presence. Stewart gets pushed right off the screen, making her final victory somewhat hollow.

Be that as it may, I liked Snow White and the Huntsman, enjoyed the majority of it far more than I expected to. Sanders shows directorial chops bordering on greatness while Theron catapults herself into villainous lore with a performance for the ages. While not without faults, this feminist take on the Grimm tale is seriously bewitching, and of 2012's dueling adaptations, both of which ended up worthy of my attentions, this is unquestionably the fairest of the duo, and the one I look forward to revisiting in the future.

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