Beauty and the beastly queen
Reviewer's rating: 6/10
- Release date
- 21 June 2012
- Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Drama
- Running time
- 127 min
- Rupert Sanders
- Screen writer
- Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock , Hossein Amini
- Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron
- OFLC rating
The best villains in the movies are those who are certain they are justified in their actions, and in the fantasy epic Snow White and the Huntsman, Charlize Theron gives a juicily malevolent performance as Ravenna, the dictatorial queen who believes her beauty and power are a form of righteous revenge on males everywhere. ''Men use women. They use us,'' snarls the treacherous royal, who acquired her kingdom by tricking the king into marriage and murdering him in their wedding bed.
Theron moves slowly and measures every word. Magically draining the beauty from her rivals gives her immortality and time slows in her presence.
Even the seven dwarfs are daubed with melancholy.
Director Rupert Sanders puts her body at the centre of striking compositions and a single Theron scene in this movie is more fun than her icy, two-dimensional turn as a corporate bully in Ridley Scott's disappointing Prometheus. There's something to be said for an entire movie about Ravenna, whose only weaknesses are her imprisoned stepdaughter, Snow White (Kristen Stewart), and a liking for Cher's disco-era headdresses. Sanders has attempted to restore the blood and fear to the fairytale first transcribed by the brothers Grimm 200 years ago.
Unlike March's theatrical, frivolous Mirror Mirror with Julia Roberts, this version of Snow White has vast landscapes and rich physical textures, and as soon as Snow escapes from Ravenna's chief inquisitor, the Queen's creepy brother Finn (Sam Spruell), the princess is diving into the ocean and then riding a magnificent white stallion. When Snow is deposited into the proverbial Dark Forest, where psychotropic menaces lurk, a weakened Ravenna needs a proxy to kill her nemesis. The answer is the huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), a widower who is introduced via a drunken brawl and is then promised that the queen will bring back his beloved wife if he ventures into the woods and whacks Snow White. The chiselled Hemsworth, the Australian actor best known for playing Thor, invests the part with sturdy watchfulness and a Scottish accent; close your eyes and he could be doing a passable Sean Connery impersonation.
The huntsman, like nearly everyone else who encounters Snow White, is quickly won over. ''She is life itself,'' one onlooker whispers, and the movie suggests the just-freed princess is a mystical figure of deliverance as nature comes alive in her presence.
The part requires great reactive skill, which is Stewart's forte. Her emotions run so close to the surface that her close-ups are fascinatingly detailed, whereas her grand rallying-the-troops speech is merely competent and quickly forgotten. Because Stewart is famous for the love triangle of Twilight, there's a second male admirer - a childhood friend turned dashing rebel - to chastely pad out proceedings but the only relationship that truly matters is the one between Ravenna and Snow. They represent the way women are encouraged to compete and turn on one another, and their scenes together have a charge lacking elsewhere.
Beauty creates a deadly rivalry in Snow White and the Huntsman and the most memorable setting is a small village where all the women have scarred their faces so as not to entice the queen's hunger.
It's one of the few original locales in a film that can sometimes feel like a compilation from the fantasy canon, with helicopter shots of hardy adventurers crossing snow-covered ranges (The Lord of the Rings) sitting in idyllic communion with forest creatures (The Chronicles of Narnia). Taking their cue from Peter Jackson, Sanders and his screenwriters play everything very seriously.
This is a grim fantasy realm and even the seven dwarfs who Snow and the huntsman encounter are daubed with melancholy. Instead of casting little people, the production digitally shrinks a collection of gruff British faces such as Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone and Ian McShane (it's like playing a game of spot the screen cockney).
In certain shots the veteran actors' heads look too big for their bodies and the film has the same misshapen quality.
There are moments of great visual contrast, such as the fluttering of an eyelash giving way to the thundering hooves of a cavalry charge, but apart from Ravenna's literal appetite for Snow White's heart, the story struggles to add a primal desire to what is an expensively and impressively mounted production.
But if it feels forced at points, the spectacle does have some original strengths.
Ask yourself, what was the last big Hollywood production that ended with a showdown between the two main characters where both were played by women?
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone