Film Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

Latest version of the popular fairytale has stunning imagery and an impressive cast, but fails to bring its well-known plot to life.

The latest iteration of Snow White's story—after the campy Mirror, Mirror and TV's "Once Upon a Time"—may be the strangest. The heroine of Snow White and the Huntsman is more Joan of Arc than fairy princess, and she's thrust into a plot that borrows a lot from The Lord of the Rings. Kristen Stewart's fan base will turn out in full force, but may not be able to salvage a medieval epic that feels both bloated and empty.

Boasting sumptuous visuals, the film gets off to a strong start, as a doomed queen gives birth to Snow White before succumbing to an illness. Her grieving spouse is bewitched by Ravenna (Charlize Theron in full diva mode), who kills the king, takes control of his land, and imprisons Snow White (played as a child by Raffey Cassidy) in a castle tower.
Many years later, the kingdom has fallen into decline. Aided by her evil brother Finn (Sam Spruell), Ravenna maintains her looks by sucking souls from innocent girls. Warned by her magic mirror that her spells may be broken by Snow White's ascending beauty, Ravenna orders Finn to kill her.

But Snow White (now played by Kristen Stewart) escapes from the castle into the deadly Dark Forest. To capture her, Ravenna hires Eric (Chris Hemsworth), a huntsman mourning his dead wife. The huntsman penetrates the forest, but rather than return Snow to the castle, embarks with her on a quest to regain her father's kingdom.

They are aided by dwarves, performed in a bit of stunt casting by the actors Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Johnny Harris and Brian Gleeson. Also showing up: Snow's childhood sweetheart William (Sam Claflin), now an accomplished archer. Snow and her friends learn they must fight for their beliefs. Snow leads an attack on her father's castle before confronting Ravenna face-to-face.

First-time director Rupert Sanders, an advertising veteran, crams a lot of incident into Snow White and the Huntsman, but stints on character development and narrative logic. The film seems to change direction every ten minutes, with interludes for a couple of ill-advised songs. Sanders knows how to create striking landscapes (some evoking Brueghel's portraits of the seasons), and how to isolate arresting details. (According to an L.A. Times article, he also donated ten teaspoons of his own blood for a close-up.)

But finding a narrative rhythm and flow eludes him. The film never builds momentum and rarely establishes believable tension. Action scenes, a welter of quick cuts, are too hurried to follow, and the special effects are surprisingly variable. The evil queen's spells are imaginative, but a troll and a white hart look threadbare.

The film's focus shifts among several characters, each sketched in with broad strokes. With her wounded eyes and clenched teeth, Stewart makes a convincing martyr, although she is much less persuasive as a warrior. Theron delivers an unbridled performance, bellowing lines like "Immortality...immortality...forever" in an accent that, like the rest of the cast's, is constantly changing.

By the time Snow, outfitted in armor, delivers an exhortation to battle, the Brothers Grimm have been left far behind, their story tinged by elements of Stewart's Twilight saga and even Avatar's Pandora landscape. Grim, mostly humorless, and exhausting, Snow White and the Huntsman faces an uphill climb at the box office.