Movie review: ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ a gritty take on a famous fairy tale

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, what’s the fairest film of all?”

This past weekend, it was “Snow White and the Huntsman,” which debuted at the top of the box office with a solid $56.3 million and easily beat out “Mirror Mirror,” a competing Snow White film released earlier this year. Though the films have both sought to put a new spin on the classic “Snow White” fairy tale, “Snow White and the Huntsman” is the bolder and more creative take.

“Snow White and the Huntsman” does feature several well-known elements from the Snow White story, but this certainly isn’t a typical Hollywood fairy tale with a charming prince, a princess in a fancy ball gown and a “happily ever after” ending. “Snow White and the Huntsman” is a dark, gritty fantasy film, and it has more in common with Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and Ridley Scott’s 2010 “Robin Hood” than Disney’s classic 1930s animated “Snow White” film.
In “Snow White and the Huntsman,” the young princess Snow White (played by “Twilight” star Kristen Stewart) is locked in a tower by her evil stepmother Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), after Ravenna murders Snow White’s father and takes over the kingdom. When Ravenna learns from her magic mirror she is no longer the fairest in the land, she plans to kill Snow White. However, Snow White escapes from the castle and flees to the dark forest.

Queen Ravenna sends the Huntsman (a rugged Chris Hemsworth) to track down Snow White, but the Huntsman takes pity on her and instead helps her start an uprising against the queen. Snow White leads an army against Queen Ravenna’s castle, seeking to defeat the evil queen once and for all.

The stand-out performance in this film is undoubtedly Charlize Theron as Queen Ravenna. It’s a powerful, chilling performance, and it’s easy to see why the people of the realm are so terrified of Ravenna. Every line she delivers drips with dark, bitter poison, and she certainly commands the audience’s attention.

Although Kristen Stewart gives a less commanding performance as Snow White, I did like her portrayal of Snow White more than I was anticipating. I liked her better here than I did in “Twilight,” but that could have something to do with the fact I’m not a fan of the “Twilight” saga in general. And it is nice to see a more empowered princess who doesn’t simply wait high up in a tower to be rescued.

I enjoyed Chris Hemsworth’s tough, understated performance as the Huntsman, and there are several other strong supporting players, especially the group of actors playing the dwarves (a list that includes Ian McShane, Toby Jones and Nick Frost).

The cinematography in “Snow White and the Huntsman” is grim but gorgeous, with sweeping shots of waves crashing against dark cliffs and massive stone castles towering up to the sky. The creative, rich visuals really set the tone for the film, and the elaborate costumes (especially Queen Ravenna’s) also add to the overall effect. The film takes elements we all know from the Snow White tale — the magic mirror, the dwarves, the poisoned apple and the “true love’s kiss” that breaks the spell the evil queen puts on Snow White — but it uses those elements in unique and unexpected ways.

I personally liked the movie, but it was darker — actually, a lot darker — than I was expecting. The film almost crosses over from fantasy to horror a few times, such as Snow White’s terrifying hallucination in the dark forest and the scenes where the evil queen sucks the life out of young women in order to preserve her own youth.

I almost wish the film makers had included just a little more humor or a few light-hearted touches to balance out the film’s dark, heavy tone. It’s definitely more of a gothic, medieval fantasy than a traditional fairy tale.

Judging by box office results, “Snow White and the Huntsman” has been a more successful experiment than “Mirror Mirror,” and this is a creative, gritty re-imagining of a famous fairy tale I wouldn’t mind seeing again.

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