I'm starting to think that Hollywood should take a hint from Snow White's villain and employ the counsel of an enchanted mirror -- that way it can avoid the time and money spent on lackluster reinterpretations of classic fairy tales. Had Universal Pictures executives done so sooner, they'd have known that director Rupert Sanders’ Snow White and the Huntsman is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the fairest of them all.
It's as if this latest reimagining of the classic fairy tale was told from the perspective of the evil queen (perhaps it would've managed a little more conviction if this had been the case) -- interested solely in vanity, as opposed to the humanity of its players.
I say this because, if nothing else, the film looks incredible. During the opening scenes, which set up Snow White's birth and childhood, her mother's death and her father's hasty remarriage to a beautiful prisoner of war, I was almost beside myself with shock. I wasn't expecting a quiet, naturalistic, sharp view of this world, with camera shots lingering on hands brushing wheat in a field, flakes of snow, grass growing. As the film trudges on, its hollow core becomes apparent -- but what a shell. Cinematographer Greig Fraser shot the hell out of this movie, even managing to create an atmosphere that melds the substantial CGI elements flawlessly. I could look at the images all day … on mute.
Sadly, the meat of this apple is poison. The prisoner of war who so transfixed Snow White's father is Ravenna (Charlize Theron), a beautiful sorceress who kills him on their wedding night and plunge his kingdom into darkness. She is an inescapably vain woman who hints at having been burned by men in the past, although we're never given more insight than that. She locks Snow White in a tower and proceeds to suck the youth from countless young women, pluck out bird hearts with talon-like metal finger appliqués, don feather- and porcupine quill-encrusted ball gowns and hurl orders at her lowly brother.
For her part, Theron is clearly having a grand time -- she showed up and did her job diligently, and she's pretty damn menacing. But the depth of her character's disdain and evil never quite comes together: While watching townspeople struggle in their thirst to drink her discarded bathwater, she laments that she used to be just like them, and then calls them "pathetic." Aside from a confusing flashback to the moment her mother put a beauty spell on her (only to be slain before Ravenna's eyes shortly thereafter), we're given no insight as to why she grew to be unfeeling and cruel toward those who mirror her earlier situation. We don't even know who killed her mother; there's no definitive enemy that Ravenna is seeking revenge upon. This essentially boils her down to being a mean lady with magical powers who sits around her chambers vacillating between pouting and screaming at the top of her lungs. And, sadly, she's the most fleshed-out character in Snow White and the Huntsman.
It's also tough to swallow that Snow White (Kristen Stewart) could be considered fairer than Charlize Theron, in any context (even when Ravenna's lifeblood wanes and her true elderly core begins to reveal itself, Theron is a goddess). When Snow White escapes, Ravenna learns from her mirror that Snow has come of age, and is officially fairer than her. The only way for the sorceress to reclaim her title (and all the power that entails) is to slay Snow White and eat her heart.
To ensure Snow's return, Ravenna employs the help of widower and town drunk, the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth). After a ridiculously pithy double-cross, however, he decides to join Team Snow, and the two begin their epic journey to a neighboring kingdom to employ the help of the Duke and his son William in defeating the queen and installing Snow White as the rightful leader. They slosh through the dark forest – it’s gorgeous and menacing, filled with desaturated shrubbery that transforms to your every nightmare, and hallucinogenic mushrooms that bend and meld your perspective -- and defeat a bridge troll. But the only takeaway seems to be that the Huntsman teaches Snow White how to stab a person ("Don't remove the knife until you see the soul drain from his eyes," he says, and you just know that's going to come in handy, eventually).
Hemsworth valiantly attempts to impart life into his character; it's even more difficult for him beside Stewart, who's blessedly given very few lines but still manages to saunter about looking half-asleep and disoriented. She perks up for one scene, in which she rallies a group of troops to storm the castle, but it's just not enough. Also poorly cast is William (Sam Claflin), son of the Duke and Snow's childhood friend. He's supposed to be a love interest – he’s boyishly handsome and charming -- but he comes off looking and acting weak. Perhaps that's just because he's in the company of the formidable Hemsworth.
The dwarves include a cast of well-known British actors (Nick Frost, Bob Hoskins and Ian McShane are among them) miniaturized to hyper-believable effect. And the battle scenes are ominously lit and filled with intricately-attired soldiers, clearly attempting a Game of Thrones vibe. All of this eye candy, impressive as it is, feels utterly hollow in the wake of absolutely no development beyond the physical.
Snow White and the Huntsman takes advantage of our knowledge of the original fairy tale, forgoing the fact that audiences still require an understanding of the development behind the plights of these reimagined players. As the evil queen Ravenna learns, no matter how beautiful the package, internal emptiness will defeat you. And, frankly, when you're forced to sit and watch the over-groomed dog and pony show for an excess of two hours, it’ll bore you to tears, as well.
Snow White and the Huntsman opens today nationwide.