Audiences are forgiven for thinking they just saw an update of the Brothers Grimm’s account of an innocent ingénue and her evil stepmother on screen, because, well, they did. In the latest instance of Hollywood asserting that two versions of the same story are better than one, Snow White and the Huntsman follows Mirror Mirror into cinemas, with both taking the traditional tale and giving it a new twist. The latter championed comedy and whimsy, under the guidance of helmer Tarsem Singh. Enunciating its difference from its predecessor, the former dwells in dark and dangerous territory, marking the feature debut of commercial director Rupert Sanders.
Given their close proximity in multiplex movie listings, comparisons are inevitable, however the outcome may eclipse expectations. Indeed, Snow White and the Huntsman feels like the film Singh should’ve made, with the shadowy re-imagining of the story more suited to his output. Instead, it is left to Sanders to meddle with the murky and mysterious, based on Evan Daugherty (short Rusty Forkblade), John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) and Hossein Amini’s (Drive) prose. Whilst the underlying narrative of vanity, power and revenge remains familiar, the striking presentation proves a stark departure from custom.
Claiming her crown through treachery and cruelty, Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron, Prometheus) rules the kingdom with malice. Obsessed with maintaining her beauty, she dispels or destroys all that threaten her attractive status, with Snow White (Kristen Stewart, The Twilight Saga) among the intended collateral damage. When the enterprising princess evades a fatal end, Ravenna dispatches her minions to secure her return. Disorderly huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, The Cabin in the Woods) is among those tasked with finding the escapee, however his allegiances are soon swayed from the bidding of his ruler to what’s best for the realm.
Accordingly, the film offers an amalgam of action and fantasy, with both prominent within the premise. The titular damsel in distress is recast as an intrepid leader, inspiring her would-be killer (and the defiant dwarves she undoubtedly befriends) to band together against a common enemy. Other imaginative interpretations are evident, from the morphing magic mirror to the poisoned apple. In fact, Sanders excels in merging the expected and the inventive, even if some elements miss their target.
Indeed, the performances aren’t as convincing as the aesthetics, with the exception of Theron. Obviously relishing her wicked character, she commands attention in every scene, to the detriment of her co-stars. Yet, even an inconsistent Stewart and formulaic Hemsworth (not to mention the underutilised talent miniaturised and saddled with dwarf roles) can’t detract from the immense visual impact. As such, Snow White and the Huntsman becomes a beguiling – albeit varying – adaptation that’s surprisingly successful in combining style and substance.
Snow White and the Huntsman is released in Australia on June 21st.
Directors: Rupert Sanders
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Ray Winston, Eddie Marsan, Bob Hoskins,
Ian McShane, Toby Jones and Nick Frost