By Edward Gambichler
Snow White and the Huntsman
“…I am going to give this wretched world the Queen that it deserves……”
Queen Ravenna ( Snow White and the Huntsman )
For those of us growing up, our first exposure to the children’s story of Snow White was through Walt Disney’s 1937 animated film classic, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” . Based upon a German fairytale collected by the Grimm Brothers, it tells the tale of a young Princess whos kind mother ,the Queen, has passed away when she is but a baby. The Princess’ father, the King, takes a new woman to be his wife and Queen. This woman is cruel, but most of all, vain. On the predictions of a magical Mirror, she comes to see Snow White as a threat to her beauty. This evil Queen, charges a Huntsman to take Snow White into the woods and dispose of her. However, the Huntsman takes pity on her at the last minute and releases her into the forest. She comes upon an empty cottage and falls asleep inside. Snow White is awoken by the inhabitants, a group of seven dwarves and she is invited to live with them ( provided she keeps house for them and never lets anyone in the cottage while they are away ). Meanwhile, the evil Queen is horrified to learn that Snow White has survived and she makes her way to the dwarves’ cottage disguised as an old farmer’s wife. She offers Snow White an apple, which she has secretly poisoned, and Snow White succumbs to it……drifting into a dark slumber. Thinking she is dead, the grief-stricken dwarves prepare to bury her in a glass coffin. However, a young Prince ( riding on horseback through the forest ) comes across this tragic scene. Taken with the young Princess’ beauty, he bends over to give her a kiss. To everyones delight, this seems to be what is needed to break the evil Queen’s spell and the Prince takes her for his bride. Snow White soon becomes the new Queen and the evil Queen eventually meets her end. There have been many versions of this story told through the years, but none have done justice to it in the way that Walt Disney had. That is until I went to see the 2012 version, “Snow White and the Huntsman”.
Directed by Rupert Sanders, the film opens with the death of Snow White’s mother, the Queen. Her father, the King, is inconsolable but nonetheless rides out with his knights to meet a dark army that is threatening his country. When the last of this force is defeated, the King comes across a wagon holding one of their captives, the beautiful Ravenna ( played by Academy Award winning actress Charlize Theron ). Mesmerized by her beauty, he takes her back to his castle and proceeds to make her his new Queen. Unfortunately, Ravenna turns out to be a trojan horse and she stabs the King in their bridal bed. She then gives entry to the dark army and they descend upon the castle. With the aid of her brother Finn ( played by actor Sam Spruell ), she takes control of the kingdom and imprisons Snow White ( played by Kristen Stewart ) in the Tower. Years and years pass, with the Queen preserving her beauty by taking many of the young girls in the land prisoner and draining them of their youth. Unfortunately, she is soon informed by her confidant, a magic mirror, that her title of “fairest in the land” is threatened by her now full matured step-daughter Snow White. The mirror also reveals, tho, that by taking Snow’s heart, Ravenna can attain everlasting immortality. The Queen dispatches her brother Finn to retrieve Snow so that the dark deed can be performed, but Finn ( infatuated with Snow ) allows himself to be distracted and the Princess makes good her escape ( fleeing into the dark forest ). The Queen, eager to reclaim her prize, enlists the aid of Eric the Huntsman ( played by actor Chris Hemsworth, hot off the success of this summer’s The Avengers ) to retrieve her, by promising to reunite the hunter with his recently deceased wife. The Huntsman has a change of heart upon encountering Snow, tho, and reneges on his deal with the Queen and overpowers her brother and his henchman. With the Queen’s forces in hot pursuit, the unlikely pair make their way deeper into the forest, encountering its various inhabitants ( among them the seven dwarves ) and enlisting their aid to eventually overthrow the dark Queen.
First off, the acting. Luckily for the cast, the script ( written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini ) does not saddle them with the one dimensional trappings of their traditionally written characters. A lot has been said about Kristen Stewart in the title role, and mostly by critics of the franchise Twilight. Many people felt that she had been miscast, but truth be told I thought she was a good fit for the overall tone of the movie. Chris Hemsworth, again, fills out his Hollywood resume with another strong performance filled with a vigor that reminds me of a young Brian Blessed. With this movie, along with his role in The Avengers, his star is rapidly on the rise. And the dwarves are fully fleshed out by genre actors Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Nick Frost, Johnny Harris, and Brian Gleeson. These are not the Disney dwarves who go about their work “Heigh Ho-ing” every step they take and are not as well known as their Disney counterparts, but each stand out as their own character. Plus the film-makers do a phenomenal job, making them largely convincing and unrecognizable through the miracle of CGI and make-up effects.
However, a movie like this is only as good as its villain, and this movie belongs to Charlize Theron. Theron’s Queen Ravenna is a woman who has been living with the strain of holding off the ravages of age and it shows in her eyes. Her long life and great beauty comes with a price and Theron portrays brilliantly the tiring desperation of her character’s efforts to stave off payment and her resentment of having to live in a world that would judge a woman solely on her looks. When she utters the line that I have included above, ” I am going to give this wretched world the Queen that it deserves”, the rage in her eyes is bordering on the primal. It’s also a stroke of brilliance that the writers chose to effectively underscore this by making the character of Snow White largely sympathetic to the Queen. The result at times can be described as riveting.
Last, but certainly not the least, a special mention must be made of the film’s final and most unexpected character: the Dark Forest itself. When the movie Avatar came out, a lot of people marveled at the world of Pandora that James Cameron and the other film-makers created. Although the effects were impressive, after a while my mind began dismissing it and the elements in the environment started to drift away in the background. I attribute this to years of watching movies and having my mind assaulted by every form of CGI there is known to the industry. It takes a special quality of effects to make an environment stand out for me. However, owing to the brilliant visuals of first time full length film director Rupert Sanders, this movie held me all the way through to the end. It reminded me of the early work of director Ridley Scott and I can’t remember a more seamless blend of environment and characters in recent years. When Snow White first enters the forest, it hits her like an LSD induced nightmare. And when she starts to expose herself more and more to her surroundings, her character’s grace brings out all its long dormant vibrance. Wildlife mixes in with the green grass, insects are inseparable from the branches of a tree and the effect is astonishing. Sanders handles all of these lush visuals with the same assured hand as old pros like Scott and Zack Snyder. The movie, overall, reminds of all those solid fantasy films from the 80’s ( including Excalibur, Legend, Willow, and Never Ending Story….just to name a few ). So far, it’s my favorite film of the summer.
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