- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
or all the commotion surrounding Universal and Relativity Media’s dueling Snow White movies, and the race by both studios to get their version into theaters first, it seems to have been all for naught, because the two films couldn’t be more different. Whereas Tarsem Singh’s “Mirror Mirror” was a light and comical take on the classic fairy tale, first-time director Rupert Sanders’ movie is a dark and Grimm adaptation with a few revisionist twists. Curiously enough, it’s pretty much a toss-up as to which one is the better of the two, because while “Mirror Mirror” managed to exceed its low expectations, “Snow White and the Huntsman” fails to capitalize on its more promising setup.
The story begins like most variations of the Snow White tale. After the titular princess’ mother dies and her kingly father remarries a beautiful woman named Ravenna (Charlize Theron), he’s consequently betrayed and murdered by his new wife, with Ravenna seizing control of the throne and Snow White (Kristen Stewart) locked away in the castle tower. When she manages to escape her prison many years later, the evil queen sends the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) into the Dark Forest with orders to bring back Snow White's heart. This is where the film deviates from the original story, as the Huntsman not only spares Snow White’s life, but takes her under his wing as they lead a rebellion against Ravenna to restore peace to the kingdom. Also on protection duty is Snow's childhood friend William (Sam Claflin in the reimagined role of the Prince) and an octet of dwarfs (yes, eight of them) who have resorted to thieving in order to survive.
Unfortunately, none of it works quite as well as you’d hope. The script is so hell-bent on giving its three lead characters fully developed back stories that there isn’t enough time to adequately explore each one. Theron is fantastic as the Evil Queen, playing the iconic villain as a raging psychopath, but the half-hearted attempts at making her sympathetic are futile, and she goes missing for large portions of the film. Hemsworth’s Huntsman doesn't fare much better, because although his part in the story has been beefed up considerably, he isn't given enough to do to warrant his character's top billing in the title. Additionally, while the dwarfs (played by some of Britain’s finest actors, including Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan and Nick Frost) inject some much-needed humor and energy into the proceedings, they're introduced so late on that many of the actors are lucky just to have more than a few lines of dialogue each.
If there’s a weak link in the cast, it’s Kristen Stewart, who's not only a terrible choice to play Snow White (she's far too gloomy to be considered the "fairest of them all"), but fails to demonstrate that she’s improved as an actor since the “Twilight” series. In fact, the character as a whole is really poorly drawn, to the point that when she dons her armor in the film’s climactic battle sequence à la Joan of Arc, you don’t believe for a minute that she could actually lead an army, let alone a kingdom. Casting Stewart was probably Rupert Sanders’ biggest mistake, apart from the fact that, although the movie has a lot of good ideas, they're assembled in such a disjointed fashion that the sum is never equal to its parts. "Snow White and the Huntsman" is at least great to look at thanks to some visually stunning imagery (though at times, it feels like Sanders is showing off), but if the movie teaches us anything at all, it's that beauty isn't everything.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Universal has put together a nice collection of bonus material for the Blu-ray release of “Snow White and the Huntsman,” highlighted by an audio commentary with director Rupert Sanders, visual effects supervisor Cedric Nicholas-Troyan and co-editor Neil Smith. The studio's flagship U-Control feature also provides behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, while the making-of featurette ("A New Legend is Born") spends a good deal of time dedicated to Colleen Atwood's fantastic costumes. Also included is a series of character featurettes, footage from the test video shot by Sanders to show studio execs the intended look and tone of the film, a DVD and digital copy, and more.