Sunday, June 10, 2012
Hollywood has been cranking out cinematic adaptations of Snow White since the silent 1916 version. In 1933, vampy cartoon heroine Betty Boop played the raven-haired princess in a 7-minute, surrealistic, black & white cartoon from Max Fleischer's Studios before Disney immortalized our fair maiden. Recently, “Immortals” director Tarsem Singh helmed an adaptation of the Snow White fairy tale called “Mirror, Mirror” with Julia Roberts as the sinful stepmom. Now, rookie British director Rupert Sanders and freshman scenarist Evan Daugherty, along with “The Blind Side” scribe John Lee Hancock and “Drive’s” Hossein Amini, have reimagined this melodrama as a much darker chick flick. They’ve made it palatable not only for girls but also guys. Imagine “Joan of Arc” crossed with “The Lord of the Rings,” and you’ve got a good idea about what to expect. As the second take on the venerable Brothers Grimm fairy tale this year, “Snow White and the Huntsman” (*** out of ****) departs considerably the 1937 Walt Disney classic. The protagonist here isn’t the clueless maiden who cooks and cleans for a clan of cuddly dwarves. After escaping from her depraved stepmom and stumbling through a supernatural forest with all kinds of creepy critters, “Twilight’s” Kristen Stewart makes herself over into an armor-clad, sword-wielding Amazon who saddles up with an army of troops to ride back to her father’s castle and reclaim the kingdom. Good adventure movies require stalwart heroines who don’t necessarily play second fiddle to the heroes. A bearded Chris Hemsworth, whose character shares little in common with his Marvel Comics alter-ego “Thor,” brandishes both a hatchet as the eponymous “Huntsman,” but he doesn’t push our heroine around for long before she whistles a different tune. Mind you, good adventures must also boast diabolical villains. Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron steals the show as the malicious stepmother and qualifies as the most fascist femme that you’ll ever see. She is a succubus rolled up into a sorceress. Aside from her brother, this despicable villainess abhors men with a passion and loves literally to stick it to them—right in the gizzard with a sharp blade.
“Snow White and the Huntsman” follows the Brothers Grimm story when Queen Eleanor (newcomer Liberty Ross) pricks her finger on a blooming rose in the dead of winter and watches three drops of blood splatter in the snow. Eleanor bears a child but then not long afterward dies. Snow White’s grieving father King Magnus (Noah Huntley of “Your Highness”) rides into battle against a mysterious enemy that his army hacks into heaps of obsidian shards. Afterward, they discover a poor damsel-in-distress chained up like a slave in a wagon on the battlefield. This unfortunate woman, Ravenna (Charlize Theron of “Monster”), seduces the monarch and later they marry. During their wedding night, Ravenna stabs the unsuspecting king to death with a large knife thrust into his chest. “Snow White and the Huntsman” skirts blood and gore as much as possible. Nevertheless, the inventive Sanders shows some flair by having a pitcher of wine spill at least a quart of its dark red contents on the floor as a metaphor for the king’s loss of blood. Ravenna wastes no time with the king’s daughter and locks young Snow White up in a tower. No sooner has this incident transpired than Ravenna has her servants hang a mirror so she can admire her beauty. Of course, this mirror is no ordinary mirror. Everybody knows that the wicked stepmother-turned-queen has conversations with it. The difference is that before the mirror replies to her, it behaves like the Robert Patrick terminator in “Terminator 2.” The mirror oozes out onto the floor into a pool and then assumes the shape of a figure in a cloak. This ingenious touch and the many others that ensue make “Snow White and the Huntsman” into an imaginative, above-average yarn with surprises galore.
After Snow White has grown up, Ravenna realizes that she has a problem. She is beginning to age. She sends her equally wicked brother her Finn (Sam Spruell of “Defiance”) off to fetch fresh flesh. Finn brings her a young maiden, and Ravenna literally sucks the beauty of her mouth without touching her lips. Indeed, Ravenna imitates the infamous Countess Báthory who slashed up young women and bathed in their blood. Eventually, Ravenna learns that she must dine on Snow White’s heart and sends Finn off to get her. A couple of birds fly up to Snow White’s window in the tower and she finds a loose nail. Later, when Finn tries to dally with our heroine, she cuts him up and escapes from the castle. The furious Ravenna enlists the aid of a drunken lout, the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth of “The Cabin in the Woods”) and he sets out to find Snow White. Sensing something amiss, the Huntsman alters his allegiance and helps Snow White elude Finn and his henchmen. About an hour into the action, our hero and heroine encounter eight dwarves who are thieves.
Future filmmakers will have to struggle to surpass what Sanders and his scribes have done both with the nefarious stepmother and the other elements. If some of those dwarves that associate with Snow White look familiar, they are. Sanders and company haven’t cast genuine dwarves. Instead, they have pasted the heads of notable real-life actors, including Nick Frost of “Shaun of the Dead,” Ian McShane of HBO’s “Deadwood,” and Ray Winstone of “The Departed,” onto the bodies of these little people. You’ve got to see these gritty little guys to believe them. The scenery, the sets, the wardrobe, and the computer-generated-special effects are all fantastic. Unfortunately, the chemistry between Kristen Stewart and her two suitors, Chris Hemsworth as the eponymous Huntsman and her childhood friend Sam Claflin, frizzle rather than sizzle. Meanwhile, “Snow White and the Huntsman” has coined almost $100-million domestically and another $83-million overseas so Universal Studios is talking about a sequel. Ironically, the studio was counting on “Battleship” to deliver, but it sank and “Snow White” has replaced it. “Snow White and the Huntsman” qualifies as an unforgettable fairy tale with an edge.