“No one has ever seen this before,” the dwarf Beith – yes, there are dwarfs, but with a twist – says to the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) as Snow White (Kristen Stewart) reaches out to touch a mythical white deer with giant antlers who bows before her. We are in the Enchanted Forest and the dwarf’s words ring very true. Director Rupert Sanders executes his unique visual style with such confidence in this, his feature-film debut, that we are indeed seeing things we have never seen before in a Hollywood blockbuster. The serene, enchanting images that Sanders and cinematographer Greig Fraser present in glorious widescreen at times seem to stand on their own, without a function in pushing the story forward. And we don’t mind the languid pace of the first half of this film one bit, enchanted as we are by a directorial vision which at times evokes auteurs such as Lars von Trier. It is towards the end that the spell is broken when Kristen Stewart is asked to carry the climactic scenes in her role of warrior princess and the limits to her acting become apparent. But by then you are willing to forgive this movie its flaws.
When debuting screenwriter Evan Daugherty‘s spec script for Snow White and the Huntsman hit the market in the fall of 2010, it sparked somewhat of a bidding war between the studios. Understandable, since this revisionist take on the classic tale contains all the well-known ingredients – mirror, apple, dwarfs, kiss by a prince – but has fun playing with our expectations about when and how these pieces will fall into place. Daughtery (assisted by John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini) has also made this a parable about fear, beauty, loss and compensation. But these themes are not forced upon us. Rather, it is up to the viewer to decide how deep he or she wishes to dive into the Jungian and Freudian metaphors that can be read into some of the sequences.
Besides the visuals and the script, the main attraction here is Charlize Theron as the evil Queen Ravenna. Dressed in Colleen Atwood‘s costumes, she is a vision of overpowering beauty. But the backstory that Daugherty has provided in this version makes her someone you might even sympathize with. Theron can make you feel Ravenna’s loneliness, her vulnerability as well as her ruthlessness and inner ugliness. Kristen Stewart is fine as her adversary, the tender, innocent Snow White who nevertheless projects an inner force. Her faint smile is the perfect complement to the spectacular visuals of the Dark and Enchanted Forests (the latter evoking exactly the oohs and aahs in the audience that Sanders must have been aiming for). But when she comes face to face with Theron in the final confrontation – as a female Luke Skywalker facing the Emperor – it turns out she is no match. But who would be, really.