Thursday, 31 May 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

Darker, more adventurous takes on famous fairy tales from The Brothers Grimm to Lewis Carroll have been slowly but surely the trend in our multiplexes in recent years, with more of the same threatening to come. Unsurprisingly it's been something of a mixed bag, sometimes losing the magical quality which made us fall in love with these stories when we were children. Or simply, they're not a patch on the Disney equivalent. Snow White and the Huntsman is the début feature from British director Rupert Sanders, already risking ridicule for being the second film based on the famous fairytale to grace our cinemas in so many months, after Tarsem Singh's Mirror Mirror gave a luke-warm showing at best.

Whereas Singh opted for a more playful take, with painfully vivid visuals and self aware humour, Sanders' retelling is far more in keeping with the darkness associated with the Grimm Brothers' original fairy-tales even if he does take some extreme liberties with the plot. However much to my surprise, and regardless of my now infamous dislike for its star, the final product strangely works.

Snow White and the Huntsman's prelude pretty much mirrors the original story's own with a much more wicked and fantastical twist on the step-mother's rise to power. When Snow White (Kristen Stewart) escapes the clutches of the Queen (Charlize Theron) she's swept into a beautifully realised world of enchantment and terror featuring all manners of creatures and settings from haunted forests, to angry trolls, to fairies and pixies and yes, even dwarves - we'll get to them in a moment.

Lord knows I haven't been kind to the uncharismatic ball of anti-banter known as Kristen Stewart, since she showed up on our screens in the first Twilight film a few years back. And every interview since I've found her utterly charmless and lacking any kind of endearment. However maybe it was the decent British accent, maybe it was a more commanding, independent role, hell maybe it was just the fact she cracked a genuine smile for once but she was surprisingly likeable in the title role. It was the first time I've seen Stewart come across as quite innocent, selfless and at times even quite charming. This child-like aura she adopted just seemed to work for her. Having said that, through no fault of her own, the film didn't belong to her...

Charlize Theron's wicked Queen Ravenna gave a much more rounded and psychological deconstruction of the character's motives and inner-workings - because villains can't be villains just because they're evil these days. Sure, she's not very nice but there's an underlying sadness and conflict which Theron pulls off in a majestic manner even if there's an element of Christmas panto with the more shouty moments. One can only imagine Angelina Jolie watching and taking a few notes when she gives her Wicked-like telling of Sleeping Beauty's villain Maleficent next year.

Chris Hemsworth was slightly frustrating for me, he's a clearly capable actor but in this he just looked a bit lost, slowly descending into the realms of type casting as his Huntsman was much like his now iconic take of Marvel's Thor. Except with a Scottish accent. Nevertheless his chemistry with Stewart worked without being too cringe worthy and his moments of action were as good as they'd be with a red cape and a hammer fighting alongside Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. Just next time, stretch your talent a bit more mate like you did with Cabin in the Woods.

And then we come to the dwarves. Sanders defies tradition with an unprecedented eight dwarves as oppose to the conventional seven with know and love. Even more curious however was the decision to opt for larger than life and notably un-dwarf like actors to fill the roles. The casting choices however were tremendous and a real highlight of the film featuring Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Ian McShane, Brian Gleeson and Johnny Harris respectively.

Visually it was delightful for fans of films like Lord of the Rings, Willow, Stardust and The Princess Bride. To some degree the plot wasn't a million miles removed from Tim Burton's re-telling of Alice in Wonderland. However with a much more focused script and slightly better, but not entirely perfect pacing. I also must commend Sanders for how he handled the love story element, not forcing it upon the two title characters together for the sake of it which personally speaking would have cheapened the solid foundations of which the story had already laid.

Final Thoughts
Snow White and The Huntsman was a surprise in a few ways. The dark imagery was striking, the shots had a grand vision and the more intimate moments were creepy enough to do the Grimm Brothers proud. It had dwarves played by guys who aren't really dwarves but bloody brilliant British actors. It even had Kristen Stewart in probably her most likeable leading role to date. All this and a captivating performance from Charlize Theron as the wicked queen. Suspend your cynicism and trepidation and you'll find a perfectly enjoyable fantasy adventure full of suspense, imagination and wonder. You're surprised by this review? How you think I feel?


Snow White and the Huntsman is in cinemas everywhere now.

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