Since the successes of fantasy films like The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series Hollywood has been making many other films of the genre to bring in the audiences. Some have been pretty good like The Golden Compass; and some not so good like Red Riding Hood. The latter was a fairy tale film about a werewolf, but it had no edge. Snow White and the Huntsman is also based on a fairy tale. But this one has so much of an edge that parents need to be warned that it’s not for small children. Mature fantasy film fans should really love this one. I believe this film will be seen by many as worthy of being held up with the best of fantasy/fairy tale cinema.
The story does stick to some of the beats of the fairy tale. Snow White’s grieving father, King Magnus (Noah Huntley, Your Highness) rescues Ravenna (Charlize Theron) from an army that is easily defeated in battle. Too easy as we later learn. He falls instantly in love and marries her quickly. But it turns out that Ravenna is a witch that conjured up a phantom army for Magnus’ forces to fight. It is nothing but a trick to usurp his kingdom. On their wedding night Ravenna kills Magnus and with her real army takes the castle. In the confusion the still very young Snow White isn’t able to escape with the others that flee and is left behind. Ravenna puts her in a cell in one of the castle’s towers.
In the meantime, Ravenna sucks the youth out of young maidens in the kingdom while the lands that surround the castle became dark and infertile. Her magic power comes from her beauty and she must maintain it always, even by drawing the life that surrounds the castle. It’s not only to remain beautiful, but to sustain her command of those around her. She’s not only vain, she’s power hungry a well. And she’s been driven to madness due to it.
When Snow White (Kristen Steward), comes of age, Ravenna is informed by her mirror that she is no longer the fairest of the land; Snow White now holds that title. But Ravenna is also informed that Snow White’s heart can be used to not only maintain her beauty for all-time; but, also, to make Ravenna immortal. But Snow White escapes before the Queen can kill her. After which, a grieving widower huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, Thor) is sent after her with a promise that cannot be fulfilled. The huntsman later realizes this and decides to help Snow White on her journey to the castle of a Duke, friendly to her family.
First time director, Rupert Sanders and his crew have made a wonderful film here. And dare I say, it turned out to be a masterpiece. The adaption of the fairy tale to the screen is surprising straight-faced and mature. It never becomes goofy with a wink and nudge at the audience. It’s handled with great respect for the material and the audience. It is also so well-conceived that it never feels like it was made with a bunch of nifty set-pieces patched together by chewing gum or some such flimsy substance. It feels like a nice solid work of art. This is a film that should please the hardcore fans of such entertainment as well as mainstream audiences.
As I stated above, this film is not for children. It gets pretty dark and frightening. Theron’s Ravenna is rather mad and she alone would give the kiddies nightmares. At one point she takes the heart of a bird and eats it. Another time she’s giving a psychotic rant while standing in a pillar of flame with her skin burning then healing itself all the while. Also, there’s an evil forest where the spores of the native fungi causes the most horrifying hallucinations. Horror fans would love this film. I know I did.
I know there are many that have a problem with Kristen Steward’s acting. I’ve never seen any of the Twilight films, but I’ve never had an issue any of the times I’ve seen something she’s appeared in. And she’s just fine here as well. In fact, she holds her own up against Theron and the British acting heavyweights that perform as the dwarves (Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, and Eddie Marsan). And Hemsworth does as well, by the way. Actually, Steward has to give a Braveheart-like speech to some troops before storming the castle to reclaim it and she does not embarrass herself in the slightest.
You may have noticed that the list of actors portraying the dwarves is filled only with regular-sized men. The effect that makes them small enough to pull their duties off is by far the best effect in the movie. And with a movie that’s chock-full of amazing effects that’s saying something. The only effect that didn’t life up with the rest is that of the fairies. They looked bit too cartoony for my taste. Luck would have it, their appearance is short-lived.
First time directors rarely make films this good. With hopes that he can maintain this quality in the future, Rupert Sanders is a talent to watch.–Charles T. Cochran
Rating: 5 stars