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Friday, June 1, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

Kristen Stewart Bites the Poison Apple

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If the estate of the Brothers Grimm could collect royalties from the legacy of those famous siblings, 2012 would be a golden year on their books. Along with a popular NBC series inspired by their work comes the latest version of one of their most popular fairytales, Snow White and the Huntsman. Most of us grew up with the Walt Disney classic, but scary as that animated vision of a beautiful but evil queen, a poison apple and a merry band of dwarves was for small children, the new film wants to cut closer to the dark medieval roots of the Grimm world.

It sometimes succeeds. But Snow White and the Huntsman also wants to be a hero's quest set in a Lord of the Rings landscape of misty mountains and sword-clanging armies. And since it stars Twilight's Kristen Stewart as Snow White, it also wants to suggest that she is torn between two very different men, the suave Prince William (Sam Claffin) and the wooly, uncouth Huntsman (Chris Helmsworth). But since it was developed from a screenplay written by too many hands (and probably with too much meddling from above), it never entirely decides to be anything.


Patchy as it is, Snow White and the Huntsman contains many good elements. Topping the list is the frenzied berserker performance by Charlize Theron as the wicked stepmother, Queen Ravenna. The screenplay gives her a sinister brother and a back-story of childhood abuse and bad experience with men. Beauty is the source of her power; she fears losing it and trembles at those age lines clearly visible in the magic mirror, a large shiny disc of gold that answers her questions—sometimes more truthfully than she'd like. The film's dark sources from the Grimm tale, with its cannibalism, deception and tyranny, are apparent in her character.


Guided by omen-bearing birds, Snow White eventually escapes from the castle and into the Dark Woods, the one place Ravenna fears to follow. She dispatches an unruly Huntsman to find her, played by Thor's Hemsworth as narrow eyed, dumb as a block of wood but with a heart of tarnished gold. The wan Snow White faces many challenges on her flight from captivity and finds herself endowed with gifts of which she was unaware. Along the journey she encounters an irascible band of dwarves, the actors' familiar faces (Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone and others) melded to short, stocky bodies through the magic of the movie's special effects, which generally rise above the usual level of Hollywood productions. At first they are scary, ambiguous figures from the pages of Grimm, but soon enough, they turn into comic relief.


Snow White is a tale that should be simply told, but Snow White and the Huntsman shows and tells too much in its two-hour run.