‘I’ ON CULTURE
Occasionally it is fun to watch a change of pace for an old story, and Snow White and the Huntsman pulls it off. Not completely; this is a flawed movie. But, on the other hand, it was also inventive and fun despite the flaws, perhaps because it does provide a new take on the fairy tales, which are, according to some psychologists, a reflection of our group subconscious.
The movie turns the old story away from the Disney version we’ve gotten used to and returns to the Brothers Grimm, with more than a bit of Tolkien added. The wicked queen is the central character, and Charlize Theron makes the most of the part. She is really bad; she not only embodies the old nasty stuff but brings in some Elizabeth Bathory. Bathory, a real-live countess from the 17th century, killed young virgins to drink and bathe in their blood and was so feared that instead of killing her, rebellious gentry walled her up in a room to leave her to die. A lot of our vampire mythology comes from her colorful career.
At any rate, right from the start, Ravenna (Theron) is evil. She marries Snow White’s father, the king, kills him on their wedding night and allows an army to take the kingdom — all in the first couple of minutes. Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is imprisoned for years until the queen is told (by the magic mirror) to take the girl’s beating heart. But the girl escapes into a cursed forest wearing the normal prison costume of long skirts covering tight leather pants and really good high boots.
A drunken huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), suffering because of the death of his wife, is forced to go after her, faces danger for her before discovering who she really is and becomes a devoted follower. Along the way, the two run into eight (yes, eight) grumpy British dwarfs, go through a lot of fighting that is actually improved special effects, and eventually Snow White gets to battle the queen.
The film touches all the Snow White bases, giving a modern twist to them — and in doing so, helps itself work. The evil queen appears, looking like young Duke William (Sam Claflin), her best friend as a child, who had teased her by offering an apple and then taking a bite in an early scene. Snow White grabs the apple, takes a bite, dies. Then the prince kisses her and nothing happens. Later, the grieving huntsman does it, and she awakens. My wife said she would prefer to get a wake-up kiss from the buff Hemsworth rather than the pallid Claflin. After waking, Snow White demands everyone follow her into battle, where many get killed, but she eventually becomes queen, although there is no resolution to the issue of whom she’ll marry.
Theron is terrific, essentially not only stealing the movie but gobbling it whole. She is over the top a lot of the time; there is no subtlety to her grasp for beauty, youth and power; but if the wicked queen can’t be all bad, why even have her in the story? Stewart, compared with her, never comes close to being the fairest of them all. She seems more a modern girl unsure of what she wants until she gets around to fighting, which she somehow does incredibly well with almost no training.
Hemsworth gives a really good performance, overshadowing the prince. His huntsman is complex, sad and all too human. The dwarves are interesting characters, taken from a whole group of top English actors who, through modern technical wizardry, are shrunk down on the screen. I particularly like Bob Hoskins as the blind dwarf.
The film is a pretty good adventure. There are some slow bits and a few plot holes, but essentially, this is a tough look at an old fairy tale. Snow White gets to wear armor and kick some bad-guy butt. The wicked queen has some great special effects up her sleeve and presents a stunning image of a power-hungry woman who lives only for destroying others.
The movie is good; hardly great. But it does work, and it is far better than the film Mirror, Mirror that came out and died at the box office last April. It is visually exceptional, the story is good, and it does overcome its flaws. In a summer that has not been spectacular except for The Avengers, it is above average.