Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman

(M) Charlise Theron, Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth

Fairy tales have always seemed to me to be a bit grim. Pun most definitely intended.

Scary witches that want to eat children, evil step mothers and bullying step sisters, leprechauns that steal children, wolves that eat grandmothers and let’s not forget the evil queen who wants a young woman’s heart in a box — which brings us to Snow White and the Huntsman.

It seems there has been something of a resurgence of the fairy tale.

Last year there was a bold but flawed reimagining of Red Riding Hood for those who prefer their tales told in the style of Twilight. Only a couple of months ago we had Mirror, Mirror, starring Julia Roberts and Lily Allen.

On the small screen the series Once Upon A Time has finally started.

Now comes the bold reimagining of the Snow White story in Snow White and the Huntsman.

It has all the elements of the familiar Disney version of the story but its dark tone is via the recent film version of the The Lord of the Rings (more fitting, perhaps, since the tale of an evil stepmother so caught up in her own beauty that she must possess and kill her stepdaughter was never heavy on the laughs).

In first-time director Rupert Sander’s version, the evil Queen Raveena (Charlize Theron) hires the Huntsman (Chis Hemsworth) to find and kill Snow White (Kristen Stewart) so she can realise her quest for eternal beauty.

Despite its simplicity, this is a wickedly clever retelling of the story. The eight dwarves are more like hobbits than Disney’s Sleepy and Grumpy and Snow White is a young woman pure of heart who turns into a Joan of Arc-style warrior.

Upon discovering her in the dark forest, the big lug has a change of heart and decides to mentor and fight beside her as Snow White tries to take her rightful place on the throne, ending forever the Queen’s oppressive reign of fear and darkness.

Despite its simplicity, this is a wickedly clever retelling of the story. The eight dwarves are more like hobbits than Disney’s Sleepy and Grumpy and Snow White is a young woman pure of heart who turns into a Joan of Arc-style warrior.

Although Kristen Stewart has been a little overexposed in the Twilight series, here as the virtuous Snow White her characterisation is compelling and watchable. She has left the swooning Bella Swan behind.

Hers is a beauty of heart, something which the Queen can never possess and the potent force in bringing light back into a kingdom plunged into darkness.

Chris Hemsworth capitalises on his newfound leading-man status with his heroic turn as the Huntsman. Like his performance as Thor in the recent Avengers film, his physicality informs the role as much as his acting. His Huntsman, expanded from the original story, makes this retelling feel fresh.

But it is Theron who gets the role du jour as Queen Raveena; a role that could have been all about vanity and hand-wringing has been given some depth and malevolence.

The film takes the time to give the Queen a compelling backstory and a motivation that transcends the vanity of the original. Her character now has a lifelong spell cast by her mother to protect her from those who would exert power over her. She can preserve her eternal beauty by sucking others’ youth from them.

By halting death, the Queen has turned nature in on itself; the forests have turned black and feed off the weaknesses of those who would wander into their twisted darkness. The Queen’s actions have turned the world into a living hell.

The storyline differs markedly from the Brothers Grimm version but its medieval tone might warrant a warning the 19th century German storytellers sometimes applied: parental guidance is necessary.

Snow White and the Huntsman is told with a Lord of the Rings sized budget, so its CGI effects are seamless and a feast for the eyes. Sander’s Enchanted Forest is one of many visual highlights.

The story’s universal themes have been given a makeover that could make this the definitive version. Happy endings anyone?

Adrian Drayton

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