This long-anticipated version of Snow White couldn’t be more different from the humourless and bland Mirror Mirror with a smug Julia Roberts. Bathed in Gothic shadows and sinister trickery it stars Twilight’s very own vamp princess Kristen Stewart as the snow-white skinned maiden doing battle with her evil stepmother, Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron). But much as debut director Rupert Sanders may have thought some of the Twilight magic may rub off by casting Stewart, the most successful performances come from Theron and the ‘famous’ faces of the dwarves.
It’s a shame that Stewart seems to have little else in her acting arsenal than to continually act like she’s permanent in oral pain. In fact, any empathy we might feel for her Snow White is probably more a throwback response to her equally awkward and gurning Bella character, making us seriously question whether she is literally a one trick pony. Still, with her army of loyal fans, both Sanders and her know their target audience for this film, and she plays the same hand.
In all fairness, this Snow White has a lot to be miffed about, having been locked in a tower all her developing years, alongside other young maidens that evil and bewitching Ravenna uses to suck the soul out of like a stunning, flaxen-haired Dementor, simply as an alternative to Botox to rid her of her wrinkles. As Snow White escapes, the Queen soon learns that one suck on stepdaughter would have rid her of old age for eternity, and so recruits the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), a drunken, grieving widower to track her and bring her live ‘beauty treatment’ back. But to everyone’s surprise, including his, the Huntsman falls for Snow White, and hence decides to help her reclaim her rightful throne, with the help of a small army of supporters.
Colleen Atwood’s stunning design is worth witnessing alone on the big screen, opening up Sanders’ fairy tale to a wider fantasy league, such as those who enjoy LOTR, for example. It even comes complete with an exhilarating horseback charge of attack at the end that is reminiscent of The Return of the King in energy and panoramic glory. Ravenna’s mirror on the wall also oozes lethal golden beauty but is mesmerising too.
Sanders makes sure there is a seductive dichotomy of beauty and brutality throughout, with Theron encompassing this. She plays the role straight laced, being an expert in portraying thorny and unhinged beauty in a number of films. With Stewart cast as her nemesis in the looks stakes, it’s a tad hard to believe Ravenna has anything much to be jealous of. Nevertheless, both actresses are match for match in the final confrontation scene, which showers us with some of the best special effects this film as to offer, but feels short lived.
Hemsworth, still in Thor mode, plays rugged ‘brute’ naturally in his sleep, no doubt, with little else to challenge him in this. There is a nice ‘will they, won’t they’ love triangle going on between Snow White, Huntsman and Snow White’s childhood sweetheart William (Sam Claflin) – echoing the Twilight love saga perhaps? It’s disappointing that the introduction of the fun celebrity dwarves – played by Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan, Nick Frost, Toby Jones, Brian Gleeson and Johnny Harris – is later on in the story, meaning this heady mix of talent has limited screen time, before they are recruited into Snow White’s onslaught on the castle. In fact there are characters for everyone to enjoy in this, as it’s certainly not the narrative that engages the viewer.
Sanders’ outing is a Gothic technical triumph in many ways – minus the Tim Burton quirkiness of yesteryear. His attention to detail is fully commendable as he tries to reinvent the children’s bedtime story into something more substantial and appealing to the grown-up market. His choice of cast is hit and miss, with Stewart actually being the weakest link, regardless of her box office draw. That said there is a lot of visual wonder to bask in and be inspired by, making Sanders’ next project one to watch out for.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie