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When the evil Queen is the only one you care about, you know this Snow White's got problems
on 4 January 2015
Inspired more by the Lord of the Rings films than the Brothers Grimm (it even features a fight with a troll), Snow White and the Huntsman tries to put a modern spin on the familiar tale by reinventing it as a fantasy adventure. For the first half hour or so it works fairly well, director Rupert Sanders bringing a strong enough visual style to bridge traditional epic and dark modern fairytales and managing to create an oppressively slithering and malevolent Dark Forest and a benevolent enchanted one with the CGi tools available to him. But style will only carry a film so far, and this is no exception as you can feel it gradually slipping away from his control as it goes off in too many directions at once without ever making the most of any of them. Yet its biggest failing is that neither of the titular characters are that interesting or even introduced until a surprisingly long way into the film.
While she abandons many of the much-mocked mannerisms she's often been over-reliant on, Kristen Stewart really doesn't make much of an impression as Snow White. While we're told that she's the embodiment of life and beauty who can heal the ravaged land, she gives such a lifeless performance so devoid of grace, either in personality or movement, that we have to take it on trust, and sadly she gets worse once the film recasts her as a particularly uninspiring Joan of Arc figure unconvincingly leading an army into battle. It doesn't help that she seems to be acting in a vacuum, barely connecting with her co-stars even when sharing a scene or a supposedly meaningful look with them. Chris Hemsworth, complete with an ill-advised Scottish accent that seems an unfortunate legacy of when Johnny Depp was being wooed for the part, seems to have lost all the charisma he showed in Thor and Rush and doesn't have a good enough part to make up for it. For all his would-be tragic back story he's a bland and anonymous figure. The dwarfs don't fare much better, though in their case it's more down to a script that reserves its energies for the fantasy elements rather than creating characters you can care for: the CGI that turns Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Toby Jones and a visibly ailing Bob Hoskins in his final role into half the men they were is more impressive than anything they get to say or do.
Luckily for the film it has a particularly vivid turn from Charlize Theron as the wicked stepmother, and it's her film all the way, whether she's draining the life from unfortunate maidens to preserve her own youth and beauty, turning into a flock of crows or taking vengeance on the entire male gender. She's far more interesting and given far more convincing motivation than anyone else in the film, and it's notable that it sags the most when she disappears in the lengthy mid-section. The grab bag of styles and influences doesn't help matters much either: there are some interesting ideas like the women of the kingdom deliberately scarring themselves because without beauty they're useless to the queen, but a scene with a stag in a beautiful fairy-infested forest is such an obvious lift from Ridley Scott's Legend that you expect one of Jerry Goldsmith and John Bettis' songs to pop up on the soundtrack while the final battle is a hybrid of El Cid and middle-earth.
You can see where this could have worked with a better script and more developed characters, but the end result is a bit of a Mulligan's Stew of half-realised good ideas and not always well-suited ones from more interesting films that ends up outstaying its welcome enough for you to wonder if it should have called it a day after Snow bit the apple. Two-and-a-half stars for effort.
The Blu-ray offers both the theatrical cut and a slightly extended version - just four minutes longer, none of them a game-changer - audio commentary, picture-in-picture featurettes and assorted behind the scenes puff pieces.