‘Snow White and the Huntsman’: Dwarfed

May 30, 2012

For a movie based on a fairy tale, “Snow White and the Huntsman” is kind of grim – or is that Grimm?

The year’s second movie based on the tale of Snow White and the Wicked Queen, it’s a much more serious film than “Mirror Mirror,” which tried to keep things light and jokey. This film, by newcomer Rupert Sanders, approaches its material with a tone closer to “The Lord of the Rings.”

With a script by a trio of writers, “Snow White and the Huntsman” positions itself early on as a tale of female empowerment’s dark underside. Ravenna, the evil queen played by Charlize Theron, marries Snow White’s father, a good-hearted widowed king – then straddles him in bed while discoursing about how kings tend to take trophy brides, then discard them when they lose their youth.

So she beats him to the punch, planting a dagger in his heart (after first sucking the life out of him through a magic spell). This should serve as a cautionary tale for Donald Trump, among others.

The spell – cast on her and her brother Finn (Sam Spruell) by their mother – allows her to live forever, as long as she keeps hoovering the life essence out of young girls (and eating bird hearts, which she spears from their tiny chests with her steel fingernail extensions). But Ravenna discovers, thanks to her magic mirror, that she needs to hold the heart of Snow White, her stepdaughter and the fairest in the land, to achieve true immortality.

She hears this only after keeping Snow (Kristen Stewart) locked up in the tower of her castle for a decade. Doh! So she sends her vicious codependent brother to retrieve Snow, who outwits him and escapes, aided by (what else?) birds and a conveniently placed horse.

The angry queen forces the Huntsman (apparently there’s only one in the whole kingdom, because that’s the only name given to Chris Hemsworth’s character) to find and capture Snow White. He follows her into the enchanted forest, which is so dark, murky and gelatinous that it looks like it had British Petroleum as its landscaper.

When the Huntsman finds her, he decides to rescue her instead of kill her, taking her further into the forest, even as Finn and his men follow. The fugitives first are taken in by a village of women (who scar their own faces to avoid being seen as a threat to the queen’s beauty). When Finn’s band tracks and attacks them there, they escape again and, eventually, encounter a band of fearless dwarves, who take them to the land of the fairies.

Before its over, Snow White has been tricked into biting that famous poisoned apple and kissed back to life by a her true love (not Prince Charming – but there are two guys for her to choose from). At which point, she proceeds to go all Joan of Arc on the queen.

The dwarves should provide some comic relief, though they don’t pop up until a hour into the movie. Some happily familiar actors (Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan) have their punk-coiffed heads and rubberized faces digitally sewn onto the bodies of actual little people (when they aren’t simply being shot from deceptive angles to appear short). But their comedic give-and-take isn’t sharply written, and it’s undercut by the sage mysticism of the dwarf elder (Bob Hoskins).

I think Stewart is among the most talented young actors working in film today. But between this film and the “Twilight” series, she’s been stuck for an awfully long time playing characters who look like they’re always an inch from bursting into tears.

Hemsworth has a certain hale brawn and has proved his ability to get laughs by playing it straight as Thor. He does what he can here to make the Huntsman more than a square-chinned square. But, again, the script suffers a humor deficiency, even when it comes to comic relief. Theron is scary and chilly as the queen; but she could do haughty in her sleep.

“Snow White and the Huntsman” is big, slashing and oh so serious. It’s better than you expect – but its length and self-seriousness probably make it too stolid and dark for the fairy-tale demographic.

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