“Snow White and the Huntsman” hops on the oh-so-en-vogue bandwagon of darkly reimagining a previously established subject. This one does it by offering a chic fantasy setting reminiscent of “Game of Thrones,” making its characters miserable instead of jolly. Its ominous ambience harkens back to the original Brothers Grimm tales from the early 19th century instead of the popular Disney imagery of the 1937 animated feature.
But what starts off as a masterfully sub-Gothic spin on a famous tale eventually derails into familiar teen-lit territory of very evil versus very good. That this “Snow White” is smeared in glum aesthetics means little in the end.
Director Rupert Sanders and writers Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini command immediate attention with a superbly promising start that focuses on Ravenna, a woman whose enchanting beauty hides sinister secrets and a vengeful heart.
Actress Charlize Theron portrays Ravenna beautifully and it takes no effort on the audience’s part to fall for her blackened ways as she wins the king’s heart only to swiftly tear apart his kingdom from within.
When Ravenna speaks with a baleful hush of men disposing of women after their beauty runs dry, it is given with an underlying promise that the film plans on digging to the depths of its characters’ souls. Alas, that never comes; soon enough Ravenna becomes nothing more than this modern “Snow White’s” big bad boss; just another evil witch waiting to be beaten.
As the title character, “Twilight” superstar Kristen Stewart tries to inject as much sorrow into her character as possible. After her father, the king, is murdered by Ravenna — a severe case of the evil stepmother if there ever was one — Snow White has to endure years of captivity in the castle. But the story gives Stewart little more than a pseudo-feminist take on her damsel-in-distress.
Though she grows to be a symbolic savior of sorts for a world ravaged by despair under Ravenna’s headship, this Snow White is written with frustrating lability, as if the producers want it both ways: for their protagonist to evoke commanding leadership but still shriek for Prince Charming’s aid under the lightest duress. Snow White’s captivity itself is an example of the film’s many illogical plot holes. Why doesn’t Ravenna kill her as a child along with everyone else?
It is the actors who manage to sustain the story’s intended mature take on “Snow White.” Along with Theron’s believably psychotic take on the role and Stewart’s visible eagerness to break her “Twilight” teen-queen image, the actors who play the eight dwarfs (Toby Jones, Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane and Eddie Marsan, among others) offer an immensely engaging take on the popular characters; each is memorable, despite having limited time on screen.
Chris Hemsworth (of “Thor” and “The Avengers” fame) plays the cliched, brusquely reluctant hero, the Huntsman, with what appears to be a genuine reluctance to fully engage with the character. The actor’s visible discomfort playing one of the film’s Prince Charmings (there are actually two, but the other, a dullard named William, is a forgettable mess) is representative of how the characters’ depth eventually takes a back seat as the film swirls on autopilot toward an inevitably humdrum conclusion.
“Snow White and the Huntsman” offers plenty of glorious darkness, but its beauty masks a dull rehash of a classic tale that only wants to look different without the courage to be so. As it is, this retelling is just another fairy tale with a happy ending.
Snow White and The Huntsman
Directed by Rupert Sanders
Starring Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth
English with Indonesian subtitles