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Say what you will about Kristen Stewart, but she’s finally found a role suited for her inability to smile. Snow White might be known as a passive character with an incredibly high-pitched voice, but Stewart attempts to turn this domesticated princess into a queen in need of no man, and she does so in a role that requires very little dialogue (and considering her track record, this is far from a negative).
New director, Rupert Sanders, re-imagines the classic tale of Snow White for a more adult audience, adapting something more akin to Grimm’s Snow White. For fans of all the story-book greats — Pinocchio, Cinderella, Rapunzel — this is something closer to the old days: Dark. Check out the pre-Disney versions of these stories and you’ll find far less romance and much more violence. Here, musical numbers and witty dialogue are replaced by lots of death, prophecy, mythology and plenty of artistic visuals.
As for the particulars of the story, once upon a time there was a just king, the great King Magnus (Noah Huntley), who, like so many before him, fell prey to the incomparable beauty of a captured damsel, Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron). Alas, lust disguised as love became this ruler’s undoing on their wedding night, when death found our mighty king, and his kingdom became the evil queen’s playground. But rather than ensure her rule unquestioned, Revenna imprisoned King Magnus’ daughter, Snow White (Stewart).
But things got a bit sketchy upon Snow’s 18th birthday when Ravenna’s trusty mirror, which looks more like a man under a liquid gold cloth, ceased referring to the evil queen as “the fairest of them all,” instead proclaiming the rightful heir to the throne fairer. But just before the cycle of death finds a new contender, Snow escapes. At the rather aggressive bequest of Queen Ravenna, a Han Solo-esque huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) is ordered to seek out Snow, though he quickly transitions from hunter to protector, helping her reach a nearby castle of those faithful to her father.
Along the way, we come in contact with all the familiar faces: Prince Charming renamed William (Sam Claflin), the seven dwarves and even the two chirping blue birds, though they’re not what you might expect. In fact, there’s a happy twist on every character. Due to the queen’s evil reign, the dwarves no longer mine gold but rob travelers. The evil queen is not a caricature of vanity but a distortion of femininity ––which happens when a woman finds complete strength in beauty and deems all men villains. She’s the temptress gone very, very awry. And then there’s the question of who wins the heart our lovely protagonist, the prince or the huntsman. Don’t ask me.
Stewart’s portrayal of the original damsel in distress completely counters Disney’s classic 1937 film. Remember when she comes upon the dwarves’ house and her first instinct is to begin cleaning? Now we have a modern Snow White for the modern age, where she uses more than domesticated charms to win people over. Her “snow white” skin is more a curse of imprisonment — out of the sun’s reach — than a sign of royal beauty. By the end, she’s more Joan of Arc than “proper” aristocracy (though I must have missed the scene where she learns how to wield a sword).
“Snow White and the Huntsman” doesn’t stand a chance of entering the great hall where Middle Earth or Hogwarts abide, but compared to far less grand fare — like those pathetic Titans, Alice’s latest acid trip and the ladder trips to Narnia — it’s a welcome change of pace. Disjointed at times with action scenes that lack thrills and an underdeveloped mythos, this Snow White still remains entertaining even in its lesser-finessed moments.
Fairies, dwarves, magic, a cursed forest and a rather earthy looking troll: this is what J.R.R. Tolkien would call the perilous realm through and through, and while the mythology behind much of the plotline tends to fall flat, the visual splendor is quite enticing. There’s plenty of potential for sequels here, and Sanders’ directing chops will only get better when he’s got more films than TV commercials under his belt.
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