Riding into town less than two months after Tarsem Singh’s gaudy Mirror Mirror, Rupert Sanders’ Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) has been heavily marketed as a darker, grittier re-imagining of the same classic fairy tale. Starring Twilight heroine Kristen Stewart as Snow, Avengers Assemble’s (2012) Chris Hemsworth as the eponymous Huntsman and Charlize Theron (also to be seen this week in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus) as the villainous Queen Ravenna, SWATH certainly delivers in terms of talent but, like its narcissistic antagonist, appears tired and brittle underneath its glossy exterior.
For those unversed in the age-old Brothers Grimm tale, Sanders’ fantasy follows the plight of the virginal Snow White (Stewart), a young princess unrivalled throughout the land in terms of purity and beauty. In the aftermath of a bloody coup against her father, instigated by her treacherous stepmother Ravenna (Theron), Snow is kept under lock and key until it transpires only she can end the evil Queen’s tyrannical reign. After a fortunate escape, Snow sets about uniting the kingdom with the aid of Eric the Huntsman (Hemsworth), childhood sweetheart William (Sam Claflin) and eight plucky dwarves.
As a central triumvirate, Stewart, Hemsworth and Theron do a perfectly adequate job of both encapsulating their characters and holding up SWATH’s flimsy screenplay. Stewart in particular proves herself a worthy screen heroine, her Snow White likeable enough to break hearts (including that of an angry forest troll and a Princess Mononoke-style forest spirit), walk on water or even command armies. After settling into his somewhat baffling Scottish accent (“Snow Hwhite”), Hemsworth also draws the attention in a role slightly more demanding than that of the straight-faced Thor. However, though consistently watchable, Theron is scandalously under-used as the vain, vampiric Ravenna, her flaxen-haired brother Finn (Sam Spruell) commanding almost as much screen-time.
Sanders attempts to juggle far too many redundant bit-part roles, with Claflin’s William brought in as a potential, if puny love rival for Snow’s fair heart. This hastily erected love triangle swiftly collapses, with seemingly no animosity between the two male leads and only one recognisable line between the two. Far from the operatic threesome of The Twilight Saga, this complete non-starter of a subplot seems a cynical addition to wrangle in the teen market, already present to see Stewart and Hemsworth frolic in the deep, dark forests.
Sanders’ commercial director past looms large over SWATH, which at times resembles a multi-million dollar perfume ad set in a fantastical, medieval-inflected world. Yet the central performances shine through and there is just enough humour (almost all of it from the well-drawn, well-designed and often comical dwarves who count Eddie Marsan, Ray Winstone and Nick Frost in their ranks) in Snow White and the Huntsman to avoid too many accusations of adolescent grumpiness.