"I shall give this wretched world the queen it deserves."
2012 has featured the release of two live-action adaptations of the Grimms fairytale, with Tarsem Singh's Mirror Mirror and Rupert Sanders' Snow White and the Huntsman. I rather hated the hell out of Mirror Mirror due to it's ridiculously cheesy approach to the fairytale. Snow White and the Huntsman is the complete opposite to that film - this is a dark, gritty, and even violent re-imagining of the beloved tale. The verdict is in - Snow White and the Huntsman is far more superior film to Mirror Mirror. This the first feature film from commercials director Rupert Sanders, and he's handled this big budget blockbuster with technique and skill. The most notable change to the original story is the character of the Huntsman - he's given a bigger part in this film. There are many things one could nitpick about, particularly with the screenplay, but Snow White and the Huntsman manages to grab your interest from the get-go, and it is without a doubt, the fairer Snow White adaptation of the year.
Snow White, the young princess of Tabor, is imprisoned in a tower after her father's kingdom is overthrown by the evil Ravenna (Charlize Theron). Years later, Snow White (played by Kristen Stewart) escapes her prison just as Ravenna, who is now queen, learns from her Magic Mirror that Snow White's heart is the source for her immortality. Evading capture from the queen's guards, Snow White escapes into the dark forest, a place where no-one comes out alive. The Evil Queen enlists the help of the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to capture Snow White. However, the Huntsman ends up siding with the fugitive when he comes face to face with her, and the two set out to overthrow Ravenna. Meanwhile, Snow White's childhood friend William (Sam Claflin) sets out to find her after he learns that she is alive.
Written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini, the screenplay is riveting for the most of the film. Like I said earlier, this is a hugely different re-imagining of Snow White than we're used to. The writers really embraced the grit, and threw in all kinds of dark and spooky elements. The queen in particular is beautifully characterised villain. You get the sense that this evil queen was actually a human being at one point, and now she's a complete monster. This is achieved through actual establishment of the character - we see flashbacks from her past, and the relationship with her evil brother (played by Sam Spruell) is also established well. Snow White also has been written well, though this is a totally different Snow White to the one we're used to. In the film, she's a 'chosen one' type character - throughout the land, many believe she is destined to overthrow the queen. What's terrific is you actually get a feel that Snow White and Ravenna were complete opposites - they were true rivals who had to fight at the end no matter what. Last but not least, the Huntsman is a terrific love interest - it's a nice twist on the classic tale.
This brings me to the flaws of the screenplay - the love triangle. The inclusion of the character William was a truly unnecessary decision. He got in the way of the developing the relationship between Snow White and the Huntsman - to be honest, their relationship could've been stretched out a lot more. There also doesn't seem to be any purpose for the love triangle. There's no conflict between William and the Huntsman, and William himself isn't the most interesting of characters - he's actually the most insipid of the film. Another qualm I had with Snow White and the Huntsman is the pacing, particularly around the middle act of the film as Snow White and her companion are evading capture from the Queen's men. It felt tedious around this part in the film - nothing seems to happen, and the plot doesn't go anywhere. The queen is also off-screen for far too long. Still, the story kicks right in once we see a surprisingly effective twist on the poisonous apple and the spell-breaking kiss. The introduction of the dwarves also livens up the mood of the film, as they're pretty much the only source of humour. These characters are simply hilarious, and again, the writers added a nice gritty attitude to the characterisation of them - they're not the most pleasant of dwarves.
I think it's a no-brainer when I say this - Charlize Theron stole the show. She was hot as always, but she really brought the villainy to this role. Theron has so much range, and I'm still waiting for the day where she delivers a bad performance. Like all good actors, Theron works with the script to make sure her character has depth and is convincing, and through her, we can see the humanity Ravenna once had. This is the first time in a while where she's played a truly evil villain, but she pulls it off with so much skill. If there's one thing that can carry a film, it's a good villain, and she definitely delivered on her part. While all the other actors are almost always upstaged by Theron, they still bring solid performances to the film. Kristen Stewart gets a lot of hate for her role in the Twilight films. I personally am a fan, and while she struggles with her accent from time to time, Stewart delivered the vulnerability and fierceness of her character beautifully. Chris Hemsworth is also good value as the Huntsman, showing that he can deliver great performances outside the Marvel films. His Scottish accent was also perfect, and suited the gritty tone of his character. The dwarves were all sensational, played by well-known British performers such as Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Toby Jones, and Nick Frost. All deliver a solid performances of their mischievous characters. Sam Claflin did get on my nerves from time to time as William - he just doesn't seem to be trying. Maybe it was his character, but so far, nothing he's done has been that amazing. Remember Pirates 4?)
On the technical side, Snow White and the Huntsman is a masterpiece. This film is absolutely riveting when it comes to the visuals. With superb creature design, the visual effects used to create all the mythical creatures is amazing. There are trolls, trees that turn snakes, and at one point in the film, the characters stumble upon a beautiful garden called Sanctuary - the visuals alone in this location make it a joyous watch. With luscious cinematography by Greig Fraser, this is definitely one of the most visually stunning films of the year so far. Sanders also uses his visual effects creatively when it comes to the Evil Queen. She transforms into a flock of ravens, engulfs herself in flames, bathes herself in a white liquid - all the effects done with the Queen always have a great combination of spooky and exhilarating. What's also mind-blowing is the make-up done on Theron - throughout the film, the Queen actually grows older, and it's a really cool effect. The production design is top rate, and again, all is shot beautifully by Fraser. Sanders shows that he has an eye for beauty - Snow White and the Huntsman always manages to impress on this aspect. What really surprised me is how much action there is in the film. There are a lot of action sequences here, and although some are quite short, the spectacle of them is magnificent. Sanders stages some really exciting set-pieces, particularly the climatic raid on the evil Queen's castle, and all this is assisted by James Newton Howard's epic score. The costumes by Colleen Atwood are worthy of an Oscar, with Snow White's armour she wears at the climax being huge favourite of mine - Stewart looks like a total badass when she dons it.
Snow White and the Huntsman is a must-see in my opinion, and it's a promising debut from Sanders. With a standout performance from Charlize Theron, who may prove to be the best villain of year, and a beautiful visual style, this re-imagining delivers, and you're better off seeing this than Mirror Mirror. What I find extremely strange is a sequel is already being planned - what could they continue on with? Something tells me the love triangle will have more of a place in the sequel, but if it ends up like Twilight... oh dear.