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'Snow White and the Huntsman' shows fairy tale's 'Grimm' side

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Reel Mama: 'Snow White and the Huntsman' shows fairy tale's 'Grimm' side

Saturday, June 2, 2012

'Snow White and the Huntsman' shows fairy tale's 'Grimm' side

Snow White takes a few fashion hints from Joan of Arc
in "Snow White and the Huntsman"
Photo credit: Universal

“Snow White and the Huntsman” has something for everyone: a touch of romance for its core audience of ‘tween girls; plenty of action sequences that will please the boys; several Oscar-winning or nominated actors in featured roles for the adults, and cool special effects, sets, and costumes for everyone.  It’s an epic fairy tale, and it could not be further from the charming, beloved Disney animated version of the tale or the fun, slapstick “Mirror Mirror” released earlier this spring.
This telling of “Snow White” is grim, as the first recognized authors of the fairy tale -- the Brothers Grimm -- would wish it to be.  First-time director Rupert Sanders maintains the dark tone without ever having it veer into pure horror, or, with one tiny exception, camp.  While quite violent, there isn’t an over abundance of gore, as is required for its PG-13 rating.   This “Snow White” is also gritty and at times visually is like Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator,” which possibly served as inspiration for the numerous battle scenes.

Photo credit: Universal

We’ve seen many empowered princesses over the last decade, but Kristen Stewart’s “Snow White” is the most empowered of all.  She ultimately becomes a Joan of Arc figure in armor leading an army of soldiers.  Unlike the Disney version, she never once picks up a broom, and she doesn’t wear heels in the woods.  Smart choice.  
Stewart’s performance is quiet and perhaps at times too subdued, but this isn’t out of character for Snow White of the fairy tale.  Stewart’s restraint is an understandable choice for this performance: she’s been a prisoner of her stepmother, the evil queen Ravenna, her entire life.  
While Stewart's Snow White possesses none of the familiar cheer of the Disney Snow White (this is one Snow White who won’t be whistling while she works), she does possess a mystical gift for communicating with nature.  Stewart manages nuanced ripples of astonishment when entering a magical forest known as the Sanctuary, and an impassioned performance when she is urging the villagers to join her cause.  The nature of her role as ingenue, even though it’s one with military skills, doesn’t provide many powerhouse moments.  
Charlize Theron as the evil queen Ravenna is one of the best villains to grace the screen in years.  Unlike Julia Roberts’ gleefully wicked cougar in “Mirror Mirror,” she’s an anguished soul.  Yes, Ravenna rips out bird hearts and munches on them at snack time, tears out several human hearts with her bare hands, and has turned the kingdom into a desolate wasteland.  She’s a bloodthirsty serial killer starving for power, and yet remarkably there are several moments where her suffering is quite pitiable.  
Theron’s role took guts.  Certainly Theron is one of the fairest in the land, and at 37 is one of the youngest to portray the role of the evil queen, but her youth is quite appropriate since it’s part of the queen’s power.  Theron is never afraid of playing down her beauty, and here she is remarkably courageous in showing Ravenna’s true colors as monstrous killer, wretched old crone, and raving lunatic terrified of losing her beauty.  She is scary to watch, and that is as it should be.
Her presence, similar to Roberts, makes quite an impact through special effects and Oscar-winner Colleen Atwood’s costumes.  Watch for the swarm of crows flying around Ravenna, and the cloak of crow feathers, as she performs a black magic spell.  The makeup that ages her is similarly impressive.  The special effects are flawless, especially the magic mirror, which melts into a mysterious liquid gold figure when delivering its verdict on the queen’s beauty.  
Veteran actors like Bob Hoskins and Ray Winstone portray the dwarves, and in this case their diminutive status is achieved digitally.  They offer a dose of welcomed humor without detracting from the tone.
The movie feels a tad on the long side. It’s always challenging for a film in the fairy tale genre to achieve emotional resonance, since it’s a fable comprised of archetypal characters.  “Snow White and the Huntsman” isn’t an exception, and its minimizing the romance in favor of Snow White’s story of survival may be the reason why.  
Reel Mama’s rating:  The film is rated PG-13 for intense battle scenes, mild language, violence, implied incest, the queen’s aforementioned eating of the bird’s heart and committing mass murder (including a brutal stabbing), and a sexual situation (Ravenna removes her clothes, seen from behind).  Teens fourteen and up should be able to handle the movie.

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At June 8, 2012 at 12:42 PM , Anonymous Dan O. said...

Good review Lauren. It was stylized in a more dark and gritty way, than we usually see from fairy-tale movies, but I still liked that about it even when the story started to get weaker. Also, just couldn't take my eyes off of Theron.

At June 15, 2012 at 3:50 PM , Blogger Lauren Ivy Chiong said...

Hi Dan: Thanks for reading! I couldn't agree more--even though this movie is gritty, it is eye candy. That is its greatest strength. Have a cinema-tastic weekend!


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