Snow White and The Huntsman (2012)
I wouldn’t have thought of myself ever really checking out this movie out of self-ambition. However, I came across a video review of it from a usually trusted source. So, I gave it an honest chance, and to my pleasant surprise, I did indeed enjoy this movie a great deal. There are two main reasons why I write reviews. The first is because I love film in many of its forms, and I enjoy sharing my passions for it. The second is to open up others to films that I feel are worth discovering, and in turn, I enjoy other people opening up my horizons to new, good films. So, it’s great when others do the same for me. With Snow White & The Huntsman, there’s a really solid fantasy picture here worth giving a chance to.
Years ago, the noble King Magnus fell prey to the enchantment of the evil Ravenna (Charlize Theron) who killed him and took reign over his kingdom. Sustained by draining the life from others, Queen Ravenna remains forever young and beautiful, but the King’s daughter, left alive and imprisoned, has now come of age as the fairest of all in the land to threaten this darkness. Snow White (Kristen Stewart) soon escapes the castle, and the Queen sends a rugged Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to track her down. However, the Huntsman soon joins with Snow White on a journey to see her father’s kingdom reclaimed through a land of treacherous enemies.
While watching this, I was really pleased that it kept selling me on it all the way through. I liked the narration by the Huntsman who gracefully sets up the details of this story taking us through Snow White’s youth and the kingdom’s fall. The movie is tightly paced, propelling its story forward in a lean matter, but still with plenty of meat to the characters and their stories. In fact, despite watching the extended edition while writing this review, the film seemed to move along even faster than on my first viewing of the theatrical cut. The extended version has a few good, new scenes that add a little extra depth and detail here and there. There is a scene between the Huntsman and William, Snow White’s childhood friend and archer, in the extended cut that better sets up and pays off another scene with the obligatory poison apple. Of course, we also get some very good action sequences, which are also tight and to the point. They exist long enough to serve their purpose, and are solidly satisfying and exciting. It all feels real and consequential. The battles are never taken lightly, and there are casualties beyond just the obligatory background soldiers.
Now, really looking at this, I feel this is a fantasy film that could’ve hit in the 1980’s next to Highlander or Excalibur. This movie has some stunning imagery and inspired cinematography. Early on, I love how bold the blood reds are. They standout as really symbolic. Overall, this film has grit, murkiness, and dramatic weight. Many scenes are smoky and moody. It creates a tangible, grounded world that still allows for the fantastical to live and breathe. It’s a dark world reflecting the grim bleakness the Queen has cast over it, and that just creates a very engaging look for me. It has a lot of that same texture found in The Lord of the Rings movies, but with more of its own gritty mystical atmosphere and mood. Snow White and the Huntsman is a really beautifully shot film helmed by a director who clearly has vision.
Surely, for some, Kristen Stewart would be an obstacle for them due to her work in the Twilight movies. I have not subjected myself to those films for many reasons, but I believe this film shows that sometimes it’s not the actor but the material that should be questioned. I am very pleased to state that Kristen Stewart does a very wonderful job here. It did not take me long to see that she was a young woman of admirable talent. There is a lot of depth to this character, and there is a strong arc for her that Kristen Stewart conveys remarkably well. The fear is something she sells very realistically early on, but there is a hope and strength that grows out of that fear. As Snow White progresses through this adventure, you see her mature into a stronger, more active character. There is subtlety and beauty to what Stewart accomplishes here. She really shows a lot of heart, warmth, but also a tinge of sorrow along the way. And indeed, she has touching chemistry with Chris Hemsworth which also really drives this film forward on many great levels.
I am really a believer that Chris Hemsworth is on the verge of having an amazing career. While my exposure to him has been very minimal outside of Thor, he continues to demonstrate a powerful presence and great depth of talent in everything he does. Clearly, he handles the physicality here greatly. The Huntsman surely has his humor stemming from his attitude and Hemsworth’s rich charisma. Yet, there is a heartbreak to him stemming from being a widower, and Hemsworth really digs deep inside to evoke those potentially tear-jerking emotions. It’s a very dimensional character backed by a performance that quickly and easily endears himself to an audience. The only off thing comes from his accent, which I couldn’t place, but turns out it was supposed to be Scottish. In the least, he puts forth more effort into his accent than Sean Connery has with any other accent in his entire career.
Charlize Theron is perfectly cast as the evil Queen Ravenna. She plays it as someone on the frayed ends of manic obsession. Ravenna is insanely consumed with her outward beauty, but surely, inside, she is a horrible monster. Theron has more than proven her talent over the years, and this is an absolutely excellent performances. There is a tragic quality to this twisted character, and you see that soaked into every fiber of Theron’s performance. There’s complexity and depth to her that runs very deep. However, what sells it all the most is simply her eyes. The glaring, crazed, unflinching stare is downright scary. You can see just how far off the deep end she is between that and her explosive rants. Theron even tore a stomach muscle because she was screaming so intensely, and I can believe it.
And there are still dwarves in this tale. These roles are filled by great actors such as Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, and Ray Winstone, among others. The same sort of techniques used for similar smaller statured characters in The Lord of the Rings films were used here, and done so with seamless results. Hoskins is essentially their leader, and has the most dialogue. However, while his line deliveries are quite good, I found it odd that he was practically stone-faced throughout. I don’t think he registered a single actual facial expression in his screentime. Regardless, the dwarves tend to add the needed levity to the heavier, dramatic story being told. They never make things silly, just a little fun and light-hearted at times in the latter half of the movie.
I would say that the only segment of the film that didn’t wholly appeal to me was the latter half of the Fairy Sanctuary. This is the land that has been untouched by Ravenna’s darkness, and it is flourishing with a lush landscape and fantastical wonders. However, there’s just a lot of peculiar CGI woodland creatures that simply weren’t to my liking. With so much gritty realism in the film, this just felt pushed too deeply into the vibrant, slightly cartoonish fantastical realm, but it’s not long before it shifts back into the dark, grittiness.
This does bring up the issue of the digital effects. Most are really good, especially in the Dark Forest with all the almost pitch black creatures that slither and crawl out of the darkness, but in the Fairy Sanctuary, it is very obvious CGI that feels like it came out of another film. That’s another reason why that sequence didn’t work too well for me. Also, the withering age make-up on Charlize Theron is especially good, but some of the more elaborate morphing effects shots on her have room for improvement. Generally, the digital effects are fairly good with some really good stuff, but there is some more prominently on display work that doesn’t come off all that well. Thankfully, this film has very practical stunt work, and the realistic locations like the castles were actually built for the film. The filmmakers didn’t rely on digital matte paintings.
This film, while taking a new approach to the material, still hits all the classic beats of the Snow White story, but uses them to propel this story into larger territory. The poison apple from Ravenna to Snow White gives Hemsworth his best scene pouring out his heart over the dead Snow White. When she returns from death, it inspires and motivates herself and everyone else to take up arms and charge into battle. Kristen Stewart delivers a strong, inspirational, rallying speech to these people The fire and passion she projects is great. It is the moment where the character comes into her own, and becomes a leader to take back the kingdom that was stolen from her father. Snow White and The Huntsman still has that fairy tale simplicity, but adds in significant depth to mature the content, which is what makes it work so well. Every character has their sense of realism and dimensionality, and they serve both the gritty realism and the fantastical elements of the movie.
This film’s exciting, entertaining, it has a good, solid story, fine substance, satisfying character arcs, and overall, just has a great look to it. Also, from the opening logos to the end credits, the score is just enveloping and moody. That comes as no surprise from James Newton Howard, one of the best film score composers around today. Directed Rupert Sanders simply does a very solid job with this material, and hones his actors into bringing this darker fantasy take to life. I would say this is a hell of a good feature film directorial debut, and I hope he continues to deliver this kind of tight, cohesive quality. I know a sequel has already been planned, and while there’s not much precedent for further Snow White adventures, I will be eagerly interested to see what story these filmmakers conceive for it. There’s a great set of characters here that were well developed and filled by strong, rich talents. So, there is potential there, but until then, I will be happy to revisit this adventure quite a few times. I highly recommend it!