Whether it is as close as our television screen or at the box office, fairy-tales are making a triumphant return in a big way – and I love that. Earlier this year, the Snow White legend already was given a fresh spin with this blockbuster being the second take on the Grimm legend. Brought to the big-screen by universal with ambitions to become a trilogy, it may have the big-name stars, beautiful special effects and costumes backing it but I am not sure its blockbuster status is enough to win over the masses.
One walk through the gardens and a wish from a beloved queen sets into motion a powerful destiny that will be the predestined fame of one woman and the undoing of another. Gaining all the power in the land is what the powerful Ravenna (Charlize Theron) wants. Her plans to draw out a grieving king work to her advantage and she has him just where she wants him to be. Marrying the king to get the kind of prestige she so desires is only one part of her evil plan – the second involves murdering him in their wedding bed. Once she wears the crown, she banishes his small daughter – who has as kind a reputation as she does for her beauty – to the dungeon and rules without fear of being overthrown. For many years, Ravenna has everything she wants; beauty, the fear of the people and a kingdom and yet… she is despondent. It is her vanity that manifests into her own worst enemy.
Threats of being the second “fairest of all” to another makes Ravenna furious with rage – and even more so when her strong-minded step-daughter escapes her grasp. For ten years Snow White (Kristen Stewart) has lived with the knowledge that the queen murdered her father. Now fate has offered her escape. Not wanting anything to stand in her way of the crown, Ravenna preys on a grieving mans emotions by sending the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) after the girl. If she possesses Snow’s heart, she will be assured immortality. Unable to murder the innocent girl, the Huntsman instead becomes her protector, helping her reclaim her crown – and quite possibly the battle for it.
Not perhaps how we are used to seeing this legend told, Universal’s take on Snow White was captivating to say the least. It says something to me when the titular heroine has less screen presence than the murderous villainess does. I love to despise villains as most of us do so it only makes sense that scripter’s should write one that is intense and easy to detest, and in this case, their job was made easier by the actress (more on this later). Ironically back when the promotional material for this and Mirror Mirror (the first take on Snow White to appear this year) first emerged, my immediate thought was that I’d see Mirror Mirror and simply rent this one. Well… after seeing that one back in April, I decided it would be way cooler to see them both on the big-screen to compare them. This version has a lot going for it that the first did not… but was it enough?
Instead of the ever-popular Snow White and the “Seven Dwarves,” this tells the story of the friendship that develops between Snow and the man sent to kill her – grim, right? Perhaps but in reality it is more realistic to its original telling. I prefer the way fairy-tales have blossomed into lighter material over the years – I won’t lie – but I can appreciate filmmakers trying to take it back to its origins. The dwarves are still intact and come upon Snow and her companion just when she most needs them but primarily, this is the story of a relationship between the princess and her protector. Not only did I love that twist to the movie but I also didn’t expect that given the presence of Snow’s childhood sweetheart William (Sam Claflin). Mainly the story consists of everything we know but it uses a unique approach to the material and it often yields stunning results.
The score is breathtaking – I noticed it before even the film had begun (opening credits) and the scenery indescribable. Special effects are nothing to sneeze at while the opening snow-covered scene is as beautiful as it is desolate. Many other scenes are back-dropped by gorgeous landscapes and provide a visual story for our imaginations – real or not. Likewise costuming is stunning. Designed by Oscar winner Colleen Atwood, I saw a story on her designs in an article and it made me all the more excited to view this film – the sheer genius of the designs makes the movie more of a visual masterpiece than it already was. Charlize is the one who has the most costume changes and she looks darn regal albeit evil in each ensemble – especially in one rare scene in which she wears a gold gown. Now… onto the question everyone was posing: How was the acting? Naturally, Theron and Hemsworth rocked their roles! Just as I suspected they would. Charlize gives us a villain we can detest while Chris’ natural protectiveness of a young innocent he doesn’t even know is noble to the core. There is really nothing more to be said about their acting because they proved to be the pros they are. The big debate has been Kristen Stewart: Did she pull it off?
I won’t fib – I don’t like Stewart. It isn’t really a fair assessment given that I’ve only seen in a role as a young teen but to her credit, she does a decent “princess-ly” damsel in distress. Her acting relies a lot on expressions and sometimes I wanted her to have more gumption (instead she aimlessly wonders the “dark forest” gasping in fear) but I give her credit for being the one to reclaim her kingdom. Her accent was also much criticized: she actually pulled off one that was not refined but passable. Honestly, I didn’t except her to give as good of a performance as she did; she and Hemsworth had a sweet, genuine if not dynamic chemistry (in particular was the scene in which the Huntsman is pouring out his heart to a lifeless Snow) while the contempt she should have had for Ravenna was just not there. Should producers pursue a sequel, I’d like to see Kristen return and prove that she has what it takes to make a memorable Snow White because this go-round made me think that maybe she could do the role justice. Maybe not perfection (it does lag a time or two) but this film was fantastically beautiful. Its open-ended conclusion is a bit frustrating but that last gaze may say more than we think plus promise of a second movie will have to pacify those of us who uncovered a jewel in this fantasy’s lover’s dream.
(Content concerns: Many sequences are dark and feature creatures who pose a serious threat. There is a terrifying forest scene in which trees and rocks come alive and roots become snakes. Swords and arrows are driven through soldiers, many die; a woman walks through fire and survives and also transforms into many different shapes or beings. Ravenna teases her new husband in her wedding finery on their wedding night before she drives a dagger into his heart; another man fondles a frightened Snow [he caresses her clothed body]. We also see a woman sink into a white liquid naked [a backside shot] and emerge with her hands carefully covering her breasts. This is rated PG13.)