NB: these are my notes on the film, not a review – so you might not want to read them if you’ve not seen it yet.
The second Snowwhitesploitation movie of 2012, following Tarsem’s Princess Bride-ish Mirror Mirror, reconceives the Grimm fairy tale in terms of gothic horror – as if that hadn’t already been done by the Signourney Weaver vehicle Snow White A Tale of Terror. Influenced (blatantly) by The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and (less obviously) Hammer’s Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter, this makes witch queen/wicked stepmother Ravenna (Charlize Theron) a species of youth-sucking vampire who has traipsed through the centuries accompanied by her devoted leather-clad albino brother (Sam Spruell, with a vile haircut) bringing eternal winter to one kingdom after another. She even gets an origin flashback that reveals she was once an abuse victim who has overcompensated by devotion to diva-like evil, though this doesn’t make her more complicated or interesting. Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is kept a prisoner after her father’s death on his wedding night because the Queen will eventually need to take her life essence to retain her ‘fairest of them all’ status as conferred by an amorphous globular mirror. In a rewrite of the story that sets up the title relationship, Snow escapes from the castle to the woods and the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) is hired by Ravenna to bring her back alive – as opposed to being ordered to take the Princess away and kill her.
Though debut director Rupert Sanders – a commercials veteran best known for shilling the Halo computer games, working from a script by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini – stages large-scale spectacular vistas of gothic gloom and the occasional monster fight, this is a bit of a humourless plod. The three leads all look fine in gowns, armour and leathers but give icily flat performances as they concentrate on doing cod-British accents to mesh with the supporting cast of solid hams. The dwarves are Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Johnny Harris and Brian Gleeson and Ian McShane, digitally reduced in a manner much more convincing than the trickery used to make a single Gary Oldman a little person in Tiptoes. Working very hard with poor material, this character crew are panto-level henchpeople who might have strayed in from Krull or Hawk the Slayer, but adjust to their newfound non-co-title billing place in an epic which tries vainly to get heat going in a triangle between Snow, the Huntsman and the handsome prince (Sam Clafin, already forgotten from Pirates 4). The unresolved romantic element doesn’t take fire, though it is the Huntsman (a hard-drinking widower) who wakes the girl from the sleep of death with a magic kiss. There’s a lot of questing and clashing, with excellent creatures (brittle knights, a troll) and environments (swamp, castle, battlefield), but it’s plodding rather than soaring, stuck with stubbornly dull dialogue, a lack of spark between the leads and a general sense that much of the fun (and meaning) has been leached out of the tale in this telling. To underline the seriousness of the endeavour, we lose a dwarf early on and have to go through a Viking funeral, complete with songs, to emphasise the tragedy.
It’s not a disaster, by any means – it certainly plays better than last year’s Red Riding Hood werewolf movie – but is only fitfully entertaining and strands its magic moments amid acres of gloom. Lily Cole, wasted as an incidental victim, might have made a more interesting princess.