Judging a film using multiple grading scales is a silly, roundabout way of getting a point across, but if I were to use such a format to determine a movie’s worth, “Snow White And The Huntsman” would receive a four star rating in regard to its magnificent visual effects, accomplished cinematography, boundless imagination and artistic direction. Just about everything looks impressive on a visual standpoint: the magic mirror that leaks liquid metal across the floor and manifests as a human-sized being, the makeup effects when the Snow White’s wicked stepmother loses the essence of her youth, the height perspective tricks used to make English actors like Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins and Ray Winstone appear as dwarves (yes, the seven dwarves make an appearance). That stuff is first-rate.
But taking the whole thing into account, “Snow White And The Huntsman” doesn’t offer much new in the way of storytelling or originality. Sure, the more mature features, including the Queen’s ability to inhale the vitality right out of her victims a la the Dementors in “Harry Potter,” the castle siege resembling “Lord Of The Rings,” and the pseudo love-triangle borrowed straight from “The Hunger Games” (and “Twilight” for that matter), might not have been present in other Snow White adaptations, but such touches and story elements feel lifted straight from other popular films. Perhaps such constituents would have been pleasant additions if there were any individualistic novelty or depth to them.
Of course, the film tells a fairytale as old as the early 19th century, and most people know the drill thanks to Disney’s groundbreaking animated film from 1937, “Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.” Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is a young woman with the fairest of skin and the blackest of hair, but is sheltered from the outside world and is being held captive by her beauty-obsessed stepmother Ravenna (Charlize Theron). Ravenna has driven the once peaceful kingdom into poverty and destitution after stealing the throne from Snow’s royal father Magnus (Noah Huntley), who met his demise at the evil woman’s hands the night of their marriage.
For years, Ravenna has maintained her gorgeousness by eliminating the competition, draining her prisoners of their youthfulness. Unfortunately for her, the magic mirror prophesies that Snow White is destined to become the fairest lady of them all. The only way to prevent this divination from becoming a reality is by consuming the girl’s heart, imparting to the wicked stepmother the gift of immortality. But Snow escapes from her chamber, and by the time she returns, she’ll be leading a rebellion against the self-obsessed queen.
Those in Snow White’s army will include the dwarves (McShane, Hoskins, Winstone, Johnny Harris, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Brian Gleeson and Nick Frost), Prince William (Sam Claflin), the axe-wielding huntsman Eric (Chris Hemsworth), and countless other adversaries who storm the castle on horseback. Prince William is the son of the deceased king’s loyal assistant and a childhood friend of Snow White. The huntsman, on the other hand, is a local drunk who is commissioned by the queen to capture the girl, but pulls a Benedict Arnold and joins the fair lady’s side.
In between the escape and the uprising, the story starts to meander, despite how great it might look while doing it. That seems to be a recurring problem whenever this fable is brought to the screen. Even looking at the 1937 Disney feature, which was a succinct 84 minutes long, lots of time had to be filled with stuff that didn’t aid in the story’s progression, like the numerous delightful musical numbers.
At a running time of just over two hours, “Snow White And The Huntsman” is naturally not as graceful at ironing out the wrinkles in the narrative. Sometimes the padding is tame, as when Snow and Eric take a sojourn at an all-female village, but other times, it is sufficiently breathtaking, as with a gorgeous trek through a fruitful safe haven untouched by the queen’s toxic reign. Colorful animals, sentient fungi, and humanoid fairies inhabit the glorious sanctuary, and a great white elk with antlers like roadmaps stands in the center of the forest.
The actors and actresses are respectable performers elsewhere, but most of them are grievously under-utilized, or their characters feel oddly diminished. Theron, who I believe to be an actress of both exquisite beauty and enormous talent, is shortchanged in her role as the fuming Ravenna, who has surprisingly little screen time and mostly appears veiled under old-age makeup. Chris Hemsworth, making quite a career for himself after “Thor,” is also hardly noteworthy. In fact, “The Huntsman” part of the film’s title could have just as easily been substituted with any of the other major supporting characters.
“Snow White And The Huntsman” is the second mainstream movie released this year to retell the classic fairytale by the Brothers Grimm, the other one being the “Mirror Mirror” starring Julia Roberts and directed by Tarsem Singh (“Immortals”). While it is painstakingly clear that these two films take an entirely different approach to the Snow White legend (“Mirror Mirror” is a broad comedy aimed at families, while “Huntsman” is a grittier, darker and more action-oriented revision), they aren’t all that different from one another. Both are middling adventure pictures with workable casts and stunning VFX, but which ultimately suffer from too many inconsequential digressions.