For nearly the first hour of Snow White and the Huntsman, Rupert Sanders — in his directorial debut — sticks to the dark, gritty, violent, realistic fairy tale template laid down by Terry Gilliam (of the Monthy Python troupe fame) in the excellent, but misunderstood “The Brothers Grimm.”
Then, two bad things happen: He allows the plot to drift off into an incoherent amalgam consisting of elements from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, “The Dark Knight,” “Braveheart,” “The Passion of Joan of Arc” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe;” and, worse, he allows his female co-lead, Kristen Stewart, to actually speak.
Thus, a concept with wonderful potential to relate the twisted origin of these beloved children’s stories to modern audiences veers out of control and, by the end, we just give up and walk out of the theater in total frustration for what could have been.
That’s not to say Snow White and the Huntsman is a total waste. The cinematography framed by Greig Fraser (“The Boys Are Back”) is appropriately dreary for the movie’s medieval timeline. Colleen Atwood’s costumes are wonderful and the special effects (animals, fairies, animated plants and other exotic creatures) are well done. Plus, the early action is driving and often exciting — with battles, sieges, treachery, intrigue, assassinations and dark, foreboding magical forests.
But when things go south, they really go south.
For those familiar with the tale, Snow White (Stewart, “Twilight“) has been imprisoned in a gothic castle since the evil queen, Ravenna (Charlize Theron, “Hancock“), killed her father, King Magnus (Noah Huntley, “Your Highness“), and assumed the throne. As an aging monarch, Ravenna stays young and powerful with a bizarre botox regimen consisting of milk baths, crow feathers and sucking the life out of beautiful young virgins (gathered up by her sycophantic brother, Finn (Sam Spruell, “The Hurt Locker“). But when Ravenna’s magic mirror reveals that pristine Snow White (all grown now, going from a red-headed child to a raven-haired adult) will somehow cause her downfall, she orders her destruction. (Of course, a certain amount of audience suspension of disbelief is required to buy into the theme that Stewart is much “fairer” than Theron, but for the sake of this review, we will just go with that).
Snow White is a wily one, however, and somehow manages to escape her cell, only to be chased through the creepy, monster-filled Dark Forest by several groups intent on getting her back to Ravenna, including a group of dwarves (Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone, Johnny Harris, Eddie Marsan, Brian Gleeson and Toby Jones), who are obviously full-grown actors made into Hobbitt-like CGI creatures, and a widowed huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, “Thor“), who has been promised by the queen to bring his late wife back to life.
As the trailers spell out, Eric (the huntsman has a name), the dwarves and Snow White’s childhood love Duke William (Sam Claffin, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides“), a bland Robin Hood clone who now leads an army, band together to oppose the queen.
At this point, the story (written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini) begins to veer off course and Stewart, who also starred in the bird-heavy horror flick, “The Messengers,” is once again out-acted by a bunch of crows.
To her credit though, when she is mostly silent — looking frightened or horrified or bored or disheveled — Stewart can hold her own; when there is more than one or two lines of dialogue for her to repeat, however, she is way over her head. Especially when she goes up against the Academy Award-winning Theron, who herself is ridiculously over the top, as she goes from ravishing beauty to Granny Clampett and back again in one jump cut.
Hemsworth, it should be mentioned, is an acting black hole too. He swings a mean axe and can fight with the best of them, but when he begins to talk about his dead wife, the heavy melodrama was far too much for him to handle, and drew snickers from the preview audience.
I had high hopes that Snow White and the Huntsman would continue summer entertainment’s one-two punch started by “The Avengers,” but the intriguing revisionist tale can’t overcome the scattergun acting, sequences that seem to never end or the second half devolution that makes the recent Snow White-themed comedic effort, “Mirror, Mirror,” seem far superior by comparison.