Friday, June 01, 2012

Not Quite the Fairest: Snow White and the Huntsman

These dwarves do not whistle while they work.  They are not so hot when it comes to comic relief in general, but they are still devoted to a certain princess, as is most of their fairy tale realm.  That is why she is such a threat to the despotic Queen Ravenna, her wicked stepmother. Straying from familiar Disney territory, the latest live action adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale takes on overtones of Joan of Arc as the protagonist rallies the troops in Rupert Sanders’ Snow White and the Huntsman (trailer here), which opens today nationwide.

King Magnus, Snow White’s widower father chose the wrong second wife.  He does not even make it to the honeymoon.  The narcissistic Ravenna’s reign is harsh, even depressing the natural environment around her imposingly cinematic castle.  However, she gets a rather unwelcomed surprise from her magic mirror when Snow White comes of age.  She is no longer the fairest of them all.  The prisoner of the North Tower is.  Thanks to the help of sundry beasts and birds, Snow White escapes her captivity, only to find herself in the supernaturally ominous Dark Forest.

Wanting Snow White’s purity for uncanny purposes, the Queen sends in Eric, a drunkard huntsman who happens to be one of the few mortals to venture through the forest and live to tell the tale.  Fortunately, the Huntsman does not take direction well.  As a result, he will have to contend with her loyal Game of Thrones-ish brother, his armored forces, and a fair number of monsters.  A small band of short eccentrics might be able to help them.  There is also some business with an apple.

This is Snow White, done kind of-sort of faithfully.  However, it spends far too much time aimlessly trudging about the Dark Forest.  Frankly, the film really starts to take off when it diverges from Grimm, becoming an old fashioned fight-for-freedom epic.  Indeed, it is refreshing to see a less passive Snow White, leading the resistance into battle like its St. Crispin’s Day.

In fact, Kristen Stewart rather exceeds expectations balancing vulnerability and a suitably regal presence as Snow White.  Chris “Thor” Hemsworth might not be venturing too far out of his comfort zone here, but he swings the battle axe as well as the war hammer.  Though played by great (full sized) actors like Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins, and Eddie Marsan, the dwarves just look weird.  They are not funny, but they are still rather shticky.  However, it is Charlize Theron who really puts a stamp on the picture, vamping it up and chewing the scenery with sheer evil delight as Ravenna, while her apparent age yo-yo’s up and down (getting a crucial assist from the crack team of make-up artists).

Graduating from commercials to big special effect-laden features, Sanders creates a richly detailed fantasy world, particularly the striking castle, in both interior and exterior shots.  However, one has to wonder just who is the intended audience for a dark brooding version of Snow White, served with a reasonable helping of hack and slash action.  In fact, those looking for happily-ever-after romance might find the film leaves them cold, while the laughably clunky dialogue is not likely to do much for anyone.

Snow White and the Huntsman is an odd assortment mismatched parts, but some of those pieces are admittedly entertaining.  Ironically, it would not be a good date movie because those who are reluctantly dragged into it might find it more enjoyable than expected, whereas their dates will likely be disappointed by it.  A mixed bag best saved for post-theatrical viewing options, it opens nationwide today (6/1), including the AMC 34th Street and AMC Kips Bay in New York.