Snow who? Charlize Theron chews hearts and scenery in the feminist epic ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’
Oh, the tragedy of being Kristen Stewart. She’s upstaged by sparkly undead in the Twilight movies, sparklier starlets on TMZ and now the sparkliest one of all, an evil queen with supernatural powers in Snow White and the Huntsman. No wonder she hasn’t smiled in five years — she’s always surrounded by superior beings. Well, and Tara Reid.
That might make Stewart the perfect actress to play the title heroine in this grim adaptation of the Grimm tale, a character so passive in its original conception, she’s most famous for being saved by men obsessed with her beauty.
Only here, that comes with a twist. What sets this Snow job apart is how the filmmakers have feminized the action and the metaphors with a modern sensibility; the evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) is not merely vain, but as body-obsessed as a Cosmo reader, and probably a man-hating lesbian. Snow (Stewart) is an English-speaking Joan of Arc, rallying her troops for righteousness.
There are several missteps in this slightly overlong adventure, an uneasy amalgam of Harry Potter, Twilight (the queens powers are positively vampiric), Robin Hood and Lord of the Rings, but none are unsurmountable. And like the latter two films, the first-time director, Rupert Sanders, treats the material with the epic solemnity of fact-based myths like Gladiator: We are meant to be invested in the Christian mythos (she dies, comes back to life and brings peace to the realm by defeating a practitioner of dark arts).
The plot updates are nothing new; Snow White: A Tale of Terror, an HBO movie from 15 years ago, similarly turned the famous dwarfs from singing bachelors to filthy miners and imbued a Medieval verisimilitude on the action. For the most part, Sanders does the same (at least until Snow reached the Wonkafied fairyland), as the woodland creatures are magical without being cutesy (they never coo or strand ribbons in her hair). And the script has reversed the roles of the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and the de facto Prince Charming.
Stewart, that buck-toothed sourpuss who makes watching the Twilight films a chore, does credible work here, if you can get beyond the fact she’s not really a natural bombshell who has become the fairest of them all. But that might tie in to the feminist slant: Her beauty is inside. Meh.
Ravenna is not a far cry from Theron’s role as Aileen Wuornos in Monster; she plays the queen as a tortured serial killer deeply struck by madness only here, the monstrousness reaches megalomanical levels. How much you enjoy her performance may depend on your tolerance for watching a creditable actress of talent and beauty do things like eat the hearts out of dead birds while shrieking uncontrollably at everyone around her. (It’s what I imagine working for Donald Trump is like.) But they’ve clearly added a layer by making her conversations with her mirror marks of true insanity.
Even for a fantasy, there are a few too many hard-to-believe moments, including a middle-aged albino beating the shit out of Thor … er, the Huntsman, in a one-on-one fight, and Snow being, apparently, a troll whisperer who can calm marauding giants with but a look. And why did the queen keep Snow around all these years anyway?
The producers are clearly trying to fill the void left by the end of Harry Potter with a villain as unrepentant as Voldemort. There’s even a scene where Ravenna writhes on the floor like a basilisk (and the CGI fairies are as pale, bony and sexless as Daniel Radcliffe).
But the visual effects are seamlessly integrated into the storytelling. Normal-sized actors (Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones) are dwarfized better than Hobbits, and the creatures (especially that troll) effectively rendered. And you even get to see Hemsworth with his shirt off in one scene. That’s a special effect worth seeing over and over.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 1, 2012.