Snow White: action heroine . . .
STARRING: Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Eddie Izzard, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Stephen Graham, Ray Winstone, Lily Cole, Sam Spruell, Liberty Ross, Noah Huntley
2012, 132 minutes, Directed by: Rupert Sanders
The Queen is simply insecure after being jilted by one man too many . . .
She’s power-hungry after a difficult life that began when her mother cast a spell on her daughter that would cause the girl to retain her strength as long as she remains beautiful. She and her brother have apparently lived the lives of outcasts ever since.
The huntsman is a widower. He spends his days in a drunken stupor, and, when he questions the Queen’s order to find her a young woman who has run away into the woods, he is perfectly content with her resulting threat of death. He has a death wish, if only so that he may see his beloved wife again.
Snow White is still considered the fairest in the kingdom because of her kind spirit, which has been forged after much suffering and death around her. That spirit also apparently has the ability to bring life back to what has become a wasteland after the Queen took control. When it comes time to end the Queen’s reign, she’s the one to rally the troops into battle with a stirring speech.
It’s amazing what little details can do to reinvigorate a story that has been told in some form or another countless times (including one blunder of a cinematic incarnation earlier this year). Snow White and the Huntsman, which imagines the Brothers Grimm story as a combination of something out of history (in a general way) and fairy tale, contains enough such details to help make the familiar elements of the story seem new again. There’s even a certain poetry to the simplicity of the “Once upon a time” opening narration, which includes the line, “Nature turned on itself and people on each other”—suggesting everything while still leaving plenty to the imagination.
It’s a bleak tale, this adaptation, and that prologue sets the tone and atmosphere, which first-time director Rupert Sanders shows a strong hand at maintaining, just right. The first queen of the land envisioned her future daughter’s countenance after pricking her finger on a rose in the castle’s garden and watching three drops of blood fall on the snowy ground (skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, a will as strong as a rose).
Some years after giving birth, the queen dies. The king is inconsolable until he discovers Ravenna (Charlize Theron, creepy early on in the character’s quiet moments but becoming a typical scenery-chewing villain as the film progresses) locked up in a carriage on the battlefield, where a phantom army that shatters like black glass falls a bit too easily. So taken aback by the woman’s beauty is the king that he doesn’t notice.
He only learns of the trick just before Ravenna stabs him in bed on their wedding night (She falls to the other side of the bed afterwards, as one satisfied after ecstasy). Ravenna locks her stepdaughter in the highest tower (The film connects its heroine to Joan of Arc with her prayerful imprisonment and especially when she takes on the role of the leader of an army) and rules throughout the years that follow with cruelty, though she imagines herself to be much kinder than those who have treated her poorly in the past. After all, it’s not any queen who will allow her citizens the privilege of drinking the milk in which she bathes.
The rest of the plot follows through in a relatively customary way. Snow White (Kristen Stewart) escapes the castle after learning that Ravenna wants her heart to solidify the spell that will keep the queen beautiful and ageless (Her mirror is a golden bowl that melts into a haunted, hooded figure). Ravenna hires the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, particularly solid in a soliloquy in which the character lays bare his soul) to seek out Snow White in the Dark Forest, and eventually they come across a group of dwarves—the last of their kind (Through some very effective technical trickery, actors including Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, and Toby Jones become smaller versions of themselves).
All of the familiar parts of the story are colored with impressive production design. The forest is a nightmare, filled with spores that release a noxious, hallucinogenic gas that turns the already frightening place even more so. The trees seem to reach out for any wayward traveler, while winged beasts and figures that form from a black fog come from nowhere.
The rest of this world is no better for the people within it. Along the edge of the wood is a bridge, and anyone vaguely aware of fairy tales knows what lives under one of those (This one is massive with skin that blends in perfectly with its rocky surroundings). A neighboring town is full of villagers wielding scythes and is decorated with skeletons in hanging cages. The only place that provides any solace is a glade where fairies dwell, and screenwriters Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini don’t allow it to stay uncorrupted for long.
There seems to be something grotesque at every turn of Snow White and the Huntsman. Even Ravenna’s transformation from a murder of crows back to her regular self is prompted by the birds flying straight into the floor of her closet, leading Ravenna to emerge from the viscous mess. The film sets a startlingly foreboding stage upon which an old story plays in sometimes-inspired ways.