Borrowing from virtually every fantasy film of the last thirty years, Rupert Sanders’ debut is the lesser of the Snow White films out this year.
It’s a Hollywood certainty that serendipity comes in twos, from the great Iron Eagle/Top Gun face-off of ’86 through to the Deep Impact/Armageddon explosiveness of 1998. With the current box office caché in the realms of fantasy and swordplay, it was only a matter of time before fairy tales became all the rage again. Following Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror by only a matter of months, and the Walt Disney animated classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by a mere 75 years, commercial director Rupert Sanders attempts to take this simple morality tale and spin it into an action epic.
Grimm’s tales were always fairly dark, but Snow White and the Huntsman takes it up a notch, standing in stark contrast to the brightly lit Mirror Mirror. This Snow White (Kristen Stewart) has been imprisoned in a tower since the beautiful and wicked Ravenna (Charlize Theron) murdered her father and took the crown for herself. The land has become impoverished and decayed, but when Snow White escapes from her prison and into the dark woods, the Queen realises that she is the key to her eternal youth and power. She sends the one man who knows his way around the enchanted forests: Eric (Chris Hemsworth), a drunken Huntsman lamenting his dead wife.
The three screenwriters on Snow White and the Huntsman – Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini – have some decent credentials between them, not least of which is Amini’s Drive for Nicolas Winding Refn. Yet even they can’t seem to come to any agreement on a narrative direction. Cherry-picking from The NeverEnding Story, the Chronicles of Narnia and a bit of Tolkien for good measure, Sanders tries to tack on a mighty battle to what should be a fairly straight story. Sanders inexperience with features is evident in the clumsy shooting of almost every action sequence, a series of close-ups that obscures the bigger picture and anything else that might be happening. This disturbing trend in modern action pervades the film, with Sanders aping style without the corresponding knowledge of how to execute it.
Not helping much are the thinly drawn characters, and Stewart’s limited range can only do so much with such meek food to feed it. The attempt to give a modern twist to the ill-fated heroine, but the emo-friendly Stewart doesn’t have the presence to command an army. Hemsworth and Theron are far more compelling, but both are reduced to shouting matches and mugging the camera in place of real emotion. Some strengths lie in the introduction of the seven dwarfs, who include digitally shrunken versions of Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsden, Ray Winstone and Toby Jones in their number. A feature could have been struck around this goldmine of talent, but instead they are relegated to supporting players at best, and comic relief at worst. It also bears asking: on what planet Stewart is considered “fairer” than Theron?
The film is otherwise beautifully dressed, with the lavish costumes by the multiple Oscar-winning Colleen Atwood. The mirror on the wall is also one of the most innovative to date, and the creature effects are impressive. Yet despite this surface sheen, of all the Snow White films this year, Snow White and the Huntsman is not the fairest of them all, lacking the fun and sparkle of its competitor and in dire need of some direction.
Snow White and the Huntsman is released in Australia on 20 June 2012 from Universal.