Snow White & The Huntsman
Starring Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron & Chris Hemsworth
Directed by Rupert Sanders
127 min., PG-13
Release date June 1, 2012
“Once up a time…” begins the narrator in the opening scene of this familiar tale of a beautiful young maiden with skin as fair as snow, seven dwarfs, a wretched stepmother and a poisoned apple.
The story of Snow White has been around for centuries. The Brothers Grimm published it as a German folktale in the early 19th century. But it really didn’t enter the mainstream until 1937, when Walt Disney further distanced it from its dark, often disturbing Euro roots and made it into a colorful, movie-length musical cartoon.
British TV commercial and video game director Rupert Sanders makes a solid feature-film debut at the helm of this rip-snorting new version, which restores some of the fable’s pre-Disney grit and gristle and strips decades of candy coating off its grown-up edge. It’s a far better stab at the story than the canned ham and soft cheese of “Mirror, Mirror,” this year’s earlier version starring Julia Roberts.
Charlize Theron is monstrously effective this time around as the wicked stepmother, who dispatches Snow’s father, the widower king, on their wedding night and immediately reveals her true, blood-curdling colors, staging a toxic takeover of the kingdom and imprisoning young Snow. When the young princess becomes a teenager, she escapes into the Dark Forest before she can have her beating heart served up for one of her stepmom’s black-arts beauty treatments.
As the now “of age” Snow White, Kristen Stewart shows more spunk than she ever did in the “Twilight” movies that made her famous. Tricked by the evil queen to bring her back, a drunken huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, Thor in this summer’s “The Avengers”) becomes Snow’s ally and teaches her how to fight.
The dwarf woodsmen they later come across (played partly by several recognizably “full-size” actors, including Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone and Eddie Marsan, shrunken down by digital movie hocus-pocus) are no little darlings. They ensnare Snow White and the huntsman, string them up and are about to kill them before realizing she’s actually the daughter of the late, widely beloved king.
Together, their grassroots coalition sparks a revolution among the kingdom’s displaced rebels and refugees, with Snow White leading the charge against a torrent of arrows, streams of boiling oil and a battery of trebuchet-hurled fireballs.
There’s mud, blood, muck and mire, a monstrous troll, and a realistic-feeling sense that the Middle Ages weren’t a whole lot of fun to traipse around in—unless, of course, you happen be traipsing with someone like Snow White. Pixie dust and fairies swirl around her, birds are her friends, aches and pains disappear in her presence, and glowing elk deities emerge from trees to feel her caress on their snouts.
“She is life itself,” says one of the dwarfs, watching her in awe.
Snow has a pretty close call toward the end, but it all works out. And when she finally gets the crown she always deserved, it’s not just a reclaiming of the throne that was rightfully hers—it’s also a return of this “grim” fairytale legend to its own deliciously dark, magically malevolent roots.