As a rabid Disney-phile, I've been eying both of 2012's adaptiation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. February's Mirror, Mirror was a light, comic affair meant for families, but June has brought us Snow White and the Huntsman, an epic, badass tale for a generations raised on the Lord of the Rings films and currently steeped in HBO's Game of Thrones. Take heart, though, for Snow White and the Huntsman isn't nearly as derivative as the previous sentence implies, and for that reason, perhaps that reason alone, I actually took a liking to it.
Snow White and the Huntsman's narrative is one of much happenstance and small incident. Plot points occur in bits and spurts, and characters are introduced and then dropped with little introduction or explanation. The whole mess of the story boils down to this: the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlieze Theoron) wants Snow White's heart because it will give her immortality. She hires the Huntsman to retrieve Snow White, who has fled into the aptly-named Dark Forest, but the pair soon team up and evade the Queen's guard led by her brother Finn Sam Spruell). Snow White finds her way to a sympathetic Duke's castle with the help of up-to-eight dwarves, and there she learns that she is the only one who can defeat the Queen because, I dunno, she's the chosen one who can bring balance to The Force or something.
It's a bit of a mouthful, but most of it clips by reasonably quickly, with a few odd dips here and there. What strikes me is how Snow White and the Huntsman uses the Brothers Grimm fairy tale as a framework for a new story, rather than a series of self-consciously deliberate "twists" a la nearly every fairy tale rework since Edward Everett Horton started narrating them on Rocky and Bullwinkle. Queen Ravenna was burned before by men because of her beauty, and so she desires to be fairest so that she can stay powerful. The dwarves are a part of a larger race of miners who have long-since gone away, subsisting as thieves and victims of the Queen's rule. The apple, cleverly, is addressed in the film almost right away before being tucked into a place in the narrative where it acts as a surprise, rather than an inevitability.
I saw Snow White and the Huntsman with a friend for matinee price, which diminished my expectations enough to walk away reasonably entertained.
Story isn't a strong reason to see Snow White and the Huntsman, though. The real incentive is the incredible production design by Dominic Watkins. One part huge vistas and jaw-dropping wide shots of impossible moors and enormous mountains, one part drafty castles, muddy villages, and cold, shining steel. It somehow glamorizes the nasty, unpleasant bits of living in a time before central heating while still emphasizing how awesome it is to ride horseback and whack stuff with a sword. Ornate, impractical costume design meets grounded realism and exceptional world-building.
It's for this reason that Snow White and the Huntsman reminds me the most of Tron Legacy. It's a "pretty decent" movie with a suspect story and weak characters all propped up by awesome-looking visuals and kinetic action. Brother, when it connects, which it does more often than not, it's a grand slam.
Feel free to use that one in the advertisements, Universal.
The deliberate alterations made to the Snow White yarn are inspired, for the most part, like the humanoid mirror.
Acting is neatly divided in two. Steward and Hemsworth both play withdrawn, contemporary-ish fantasy types (Hemsworth at time seems to be reprising Thor with a Scottish brogue in lieu of a Mid-Atlantic accent), while Theoron and Spruell chew the scenery with great bulging eyes and foaming mouths. Theoron in particular reaches for great, operatic heights of expression in the most Tim Curry-esque fashion, and though it's embarrassing as it is effective, I can't pretend it doesn't create an impression. The dwarves, played by a game troupe of British heavy-hitters lead by Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, and Ray Winstone, adhere closely to the "dwarves are the comic relief" school of fantasy acting, and don't have much to do for well over half of the runtime, but are pleasant to watch in the usual ways one expects from classically trained English actors asked to pad the ranks with their mere screen presence ("The Hogwarts Faculty Role," I call it in my head).
As a side note, I have seen a few criticisms that Snow White and the Huntsman employs full-sized actors for the dwarves instead of, you know, actual dwarf actors. Regrettable, but I was amused by McShane and crew all the same, and besides, casting Peter Dinklage in a movie with as many bases for comparison to Game of Thrones might have been cutting it a little close.
They do their damndest, but the dwarves don't have much to work with between their truncated screen time and the fact that there are up-to-eight of them.
Snow White and the Huntsman eventually devolves into yet another series epic medieval battles so often on-hand since Peter Jackson showed everyone how it was done ten years ago, but on a pleasantly small scale. Rather than greedily staging the dual between armies of thousands, the ending conflict is comprised of maybe a few hundred soldiers between the two sides, and the lowered stakes actually helped me invest myself further in the proceedings. The unfortunately hectic editing sometimes gets in the way of gawping at the costumes and scenery, but I found myself resistant to the noise and bluster, and actually enjoyed the chaotic spectacle.
This is the best level on which to watch Snow White and the Huntsman: an exhibition in stylistic excess as applied to a fairly tale nearly everyone already knows. The narrative, on the other hand, doesn't offer much, though I did find it gratifying that Snow White drove so much of the plot in her own story. Snow White and the Huntsman is not without its flaws, but its visual appeal is so great that I already want to see it again. We'll see if I can keep the first burning long enough for it to release on Blu-ray.