By Jessica Delfanti | June 1, 2012
Director: Rupert Sanders
Writers: Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Sam Spruell, Ian McShane
Among the fairytales that have endured history to remain fairly intact today, few are as full of dark themes and chilling imagery as that of Snow White. Rupert Sanders’ Snow White and the Huntsman trades dresses for chainmail in a gripping, gorgeous reboot of the original story.
In the darkly imagined kingdom of Snow White, an evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) presides over the populace with a devastatingly firm hand. Her power is rooted in a spell that allows her to extend her life through an extension of beauty and ardor–that is, unless someone else replaces her as the “fairest of them all.” When it comes to her attention that Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is both key to her downfall and salvation, there is little that can come between her and her prize. Except a lone Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and a collection of fantasy-land allies, of course.
While the film maintains all of the original story’s trademarks, the real charm is what it adds to the formula. The scenery is carefully envisioned, so that each frame supports the chill of gloom, the sense of lurking magic. In particular, the “dark forest” where Snow White flees, is filled with unique and daunting flora. The inhabitants of the world–scarred women, dwarves, soldiers–are beautifully rendered in costume, makeup, and affect. Each scene is tailored with a careful eye to detail, no raven feather out of place.
Within the venomously beautiful landscape of the film, however, there is one element that stands out. Theron’s Queen is no gnarled hag, no frigid beauty, no one dimensional villain. Instead, she is a complicated, embittered monster behind a mask of flawless skin and golden hair. The Queen has a scripted motivation for her conquest of Snow White, but Theron manages to instill the character with a sense of boiling self-righteous anger, deep-running insecurity, and coiled fear. The Queen is not just a villain maintaining a kingdom, but a woman that recognizes the way that beauty can be the sharpest sword in a world full of mirrors. It is her desperation that makes her so dangerous, and her precarious perch upon the cusp of downfall that makes her so intriguing.
Beyond Theron’s marvelous performance, the production on the Queen’s character is extraordinary beyond all expectations. Costume designer Colleen Atwood’s wardrobe is gothic fantasy couture, with entire garments constructed of feathers, or trimmed with actual beetle wings. Theron’s makeup is a work of art in itself, transforming her from old woman to youthful beauty seamlessly. The effects used to enact her magic make the Queen’s powers seem hauntingly real, while employing specific connotations of disease and poison.
Not surprisingly, the film’s weakness is its lead. Stewart, whose greatest talent often seems her ability to deliver every line in a monotone and express distress by playing with her hair, is not the perfect choice for a rebellious warrior princess. While her tomboy affect makes her a more attractive heroine for the average viewer, it creates a paradox when she is alleged to be “fairer” than Theron’s ethereal Queen. However, Stewart’s standard painful self-consciousness and forced awkwardness lends itself to a character that has spent most of her life alone in a tower, and her Snow White is a charming if somewhat wooden protagonist.
All in all, Snow White is everything a good gothic fantasy should be: packed with fantastic action scenes, a good villain, a touch of delicious magic, and a pinch of love. While the austere film may at times take itself too seriously, this serves only to remind us of the delight of a good fantasy with high stakes. Who knew fairy tales could be so cool for grownups?
(Also check out Don Simpson’s much more negative review of Snow White and the Huntsman.)