Or at least, two halves of two films as the scary makeover of Snow White shifts unevenly from mud, filth and magic to medieval warfare, so overladen with character back story and motivations that the CGI has to fight for its’ screen time.
Charlize Theron’s evil Queen takes over the kingdom and imprisons the fair princess Snow White (Kristen Stewart). After her escape, the Queen despatches a broken-down huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to recapture her. Guess what? In the drawn-out chase that follows, we get trolls, dwarfs, mercenaries, fairies, some fluffy CGI forest creatures and of course, a poisoned apple. After the obligatory resurrection, Snow goes all Joan of Arc to lead the armed insurrection and reclaim the kingdom.
There’s no problem with actors going “what’s my motivation, darling?” as the script lays out everyone’s past misery from Snow and Queen Ravenna’s orphan childhoods, to the Huntsman’s widowhood, Prince William’s need for redemption and the dwarfs’ survivor guilt. As a result, nobody messes about, there’s lots of explicit threat and quite a bit of graphic (but bloodless) violence.
This is not a cutesy cartoon Snow White, it’s full of spite and revenge and bitterness. Theron makes a believably damaged witch, even if she hits eleven on the shout-o-meter early on and has nowhere to go from there. Stewart’s Snow White is no sickly goody-goody, remaining the moral centre, although her transformation into Joan of Arc is a little sudden; I suppose death and resurrection can do that to a girl. The turnaround from scared child to ferocious amazon in armour is dramatic, nonetheless.
The boys get all the thankless jobs – mainly providing the unresolved and ultimately forgotten love triangle. Prince William (Sam Claflin) is reduced to second fiddle to Hemsworth and in William’s best scene, it’s not even him… you’ll have to see it to understand it. Hemsworth’s nameless Huntsman is straight out of the rough diamond school of leading men. Bizarrely, Hemsworth seems to be channelling the young Sean Connery for most of his performance, sporting a man-eating Scottish (Scot-tosh?) accent. Otherwise Theron and Stewart hold their British accents well, even if Stewart decides a breathy mumble is good enough.
The dwarfs do a good cabaret turn; seven sympathetic, if short, hard men; Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Bob Hoskins, Johnny Harris and Brian Gleeson are a top quality ensemble. Sam Spruell makes a creepy villain as the Queen’s brother and enforcer.
Also worth a mention, the immaculate CGI, laid on by eight or nine effects houses by the truckload, all of it full of texture and life; hundreds of creatures – birds, bunnies, a magnificent White Hart and some cute animé-style faeries. The spirit of the Mirror is a sinister liquid metal ghost of the Terminator T-1000.
You may not like the rushed ending, but the movie is packed with incident and never drags. There are some spectacular set-pieces and although the dialog may not be up to much – Stewart’s ‘once more unto the breach moment’ is totally thrown away and Theron’s compulsory ‘mirror, mirror’ incantation remains laughable – it is saved by some larger than life performances from Theron and the dwarfs to fill the mythic scope.
The ragged edges may be down to studio jitters and the five credited writers Evan Daugherty, Hossein Amini and John Lee Hancock, plus Jez Butterworth and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Whether it can recoup the $170m budget remains to be seen, as the Avengers has soaked up most of the money on the planet and Batman will take what’s left. Unlike Mirror, Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman is a fairy tale worth seeing. RC
Snow White and the Huntsman
Director: Rupert Sanders
Writers Evan Daugherty, Hossein Amini, John Lee Hancock, Jez Butterworth, Evan Spiliotopoulos
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running Time: 127 minutes
Genre: Adventure, Action, Fairy Tale
Cast: Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Bob Hoskins, Johnny Harris, Brian Gleeson, Lily Cole, Sam Spruell