Snow White and the Huntsman

Once upon a time -- because really, how else can you start a review of a fairy tale? -- there was a girl named Kristen Stewart who beat out half the up and coming young actresses in Hollywood to play Snow White. She was Bella in Twilight but I tried not to hold that against her. It wasn't any easier to cast the Huntsman, apparently. Tom Hardy was one of the candidates, and Viggo Mortensen of Lord of the Rings considered it for months before dropping out. Hugh Jackman was asked, but didn't want it. They even considered -- wait for it -- Johnny Depp. Ugh.

But of course it was Chris Hemsworth, aka Thor, who got the role, and thank goodness. I mean, if they were already considering Johnny Depp, they must have been desperate. Can you seriously imagine him as a rough and tumble woodsman? You need someone who looks good unshaven and a little dirty, after all. Charlize Theron of Hancock plays the evil stepmother and Queen Ravenna, a part for which they considered Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder. Winona would have done pretty well, I think, but thank goodness it wasn't Angelina, since I can never forget she's acting. Charlize was wonderful, icy, ruthless, and unbelievably evil, but with this look of panicked desperation in her eyes at times that made you feel sorry for her, at least when she wasn't actively devouring the life-force of everyone around her.

Let me summarize a little better, though. It starts out as the same basic plot just about everyone knows, with Snow White at the mercy of her jealous, evil stepmother. In this case the king is killed by said wicked stepmother, just to make things even worse, since this is somewhat darker than the Disney version, or even the Grimm Brothers' version, really. There the queen asks the huntsman to bring her Snow White's liver and lungs, which she promptly eats, but this queen eats all sorts of disgusting things, and wants to eat Snow White's heart. On the other hand, there's the longish part in the middle where they wander through fairy land for a while and everything looks all technicolor and happy, which is easily as sappy as any Disney flick. Thankfully the dwarves -- yes, they're here, too, seven of them -- also think it's sappy.

These days, thanks to forced perspective and other tricks as used in Lord of the Rings, anyone can play a Hobbit or a dwarf regardless of height. In this case, their ranks include Ian McShane from the last Pirates of the Caribbean flick, Ray Winstone of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, Nick Frost (sans Simon Pegg) from Paul, Toby Jones of Captain America, Eddie Marsan, also from Hancock and Sherlock Holmes, poor guy, plus Bob Hoskins of Hollywoodland. They don't give them silly names, thank heavens. Muir, Quert, and Gus aren't the greatest monikers, but they're better than Sneezy, Grumpy, and Dopey.

Anyway, further complications that aren't in the traditional fairy tale include William, played by Sam Claflin who was also in the last Pirates of the Caribbean flick. He's the son of Duke Hammond (Vincent Regan, Lockout) and Snow White's childhood friend. He and his father are the last bastion of hope against the Queen, who seems set to conquer the whole world. She doesn't like them. The Queen is also unhappy with her brother Finn (Sam Spruell), who let Snow White escape and run into the Dark Forest to hide. Nobody likes the Dark Forest, especially Ravenna, who has no power there for some reason. The rules of magic are a little vague, which is fine, though sometimes it does seem like magic only works the way it does because it needs to for the script.

So no one wants to go into the Dark Forest because almost no one who does ever comes back, but Finn has to, to try to redeem his mistake. Enter the Huntsman, one of the few people who's been there and come back. I think his name is Eric, but I can't absolutely confirm that. The official website isn't much help. But when threats fail, Ravenna offers to bring Eric's wife back from the dead, and he reluctantly agrees to go.

It hits all the main elements of the fairy tale, but aside from a few things like the Technicolor Dream Forest, it gives more emphasis to the older, darker versions, thankfully. I mean, Snow White rides into battle at the head of an army, for one thing. She also frets about her ability to lead, the sort of problem that rarely comes up in Disney version. At one point, she gives a speech to rally the troops that doesn't make a great deal of sense, but at least she isn't standing around waiting for someone to help her out.

Three and three-quarters out of five. The fairy forest part bothered me, in case you couldn't tell, but I admit that I'm probably overly touchy about things like that. I think it may also have reminded me a little too much of Avatar. And I've only got three more years to recover before the first sequel hits. Yikes. But luckily, Twilight girl turned out to be able to act, and despite my panic when the dwarves showed up, they turned out all right, too. Chris Hemsworth gets to flex his acting muscles more in one scene than in all of the last three movies I've seen him in, and also does pretty well. So while it does waffle a bit over whether or not it wants to be a dark fairy tale or not, it was certainly worth watching. Now I'm hoping we can hit three good movies in a row with Prometheus next week.

Image: 
I wanted a shot of Ravenna turning into a cloud of ravens, but no such luck.

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