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Snow White and the Huntsman Review: The Perils of Vanity

By on June 5, 2012
Chris Hemsworth and Kristen Stewart in Snow White and the Huntsman.  © 2012 - Universal Pictures.

Chris Hemsworth and Kristen Stewart in Snow White and the Huntsman. © 2012 - Universal Pictures.

“You have eyes Huntsman, but you do not see!” Muir (Bob Hoskins), one of the eight – yes eight – dwarves, states a line that could very well summarize a central theme of Snow White and the Huntsman. Initially it may seem mildly amusing to have a mirror capable of judging attractiveness in a film that focuses on internal beauty. However this mirror looks into the soul as well, which is how it decides Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is the ‘fairest of them all’. Thus the conflict begins.

In this retelling of a classic story, the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) who murdered Snow’s father on their wedding night, enslaves Snow in a lonely cell. When Snow comes of age the magical mirror names her as the most innocently beautiful in all the land. Queen Ravenna also learns that in order to keep her looks and power, she must eat Snow’s heart. A bit grim, isn’t it?

Fortunately Snow manages to escape her cell just in time, forcing the Queen to send someone after her – the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth). What the evil ruler did not foresee was the Huntsman switching sides and helping Snow. The two embark on a journey that leads them to a humorous group of dwarves, Snow’s childhood friend and prince (Sam Claflin), and anyone else willing to fight against the cruel Queen Ravenna.

Snow White greeting a new friend. © 2012 - Universal Pictures

Director Rupert Sanders makes an impressive feature film debut with his take on this fairy-tale. Visually mesmerizing, the landscapes and special effects create a world ranging from dangerously mysterious to nearly hallucinatory with charm. The Dark Forest and the Sanctuary offer two wildly different extremes, with the latter seemingly paying homage to the earlier cartoon setting (think magical flowers and singing woodland creatures).

While earlier versions of this story may have been content with the evil Queen simply being an unforgiving antagonist, this film offers a much more interesting and complex character. Yes, she is terrifying and – quite literally – bloodthirsty. She places more importance on her appearance than anything else, despite seeming to hate men for caring about her exterior. But she has been hurt and objectified in the past, twisting her perception of beauty and of how to be a powerful woman. Meanwhile Snow is essentially unaware of her allure and learns to possess a much deeper self-confidence. If that isn’t a lesson in vanity, I don’t know what is.

Charlize Theron as Queen Ravenna. © 2012 - Universal Pictures

Theron has a captivating way about her on-screen, as usual. She takes her character to screeching levels, which is probably unnecessary considering the ominous punch even her quiet voice can pack. In fact her silence alone feels more threatening than the words she screams. Then again, anyone dressed in the elaborate and stunning get-ups that Theron dons would likely feel a strong flair for the dramatic.

Stewart embraces the power of her character while still maintaining a truly feminine presence. ‘Girly’ isn’t exactly an adjective one can use when describing Stewart’s recent characters in The Runaways or Welcome to the Rileys, so this was an opportunity for Stewart to display her versatility. Anyone who has typecast her as Twilight’s ‘Bella Swan’ will have to re-evaluate that opinion as she continues to show off her considerable skill.

While the Huntsman has been a somewhat unexplored role in the past, this movie really creates a unique, authentic character. Hemsworth is very believable as a widower numbing his grief with alcohol and aggression. When he meets Snow, the transformation from disenchanted to hopeful that his character undergoes is very nicely done.

Early in the film, the Huntsman tears off some of Snow’s dress to help her move faster. When Snow looks at him questioningly, he brazenly tells her not to flatter herself. Despite that amusing jab, the two actors do not suffer from a lack of chemistry. Indeed, much of the comic relief comes from Hemsworth’s one-liners (and the frequently grumpy dwarves, of course).

Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman. © 2012 - Universal Pictures

The love triangle between Snow, the Prince and the Huntsman seems to end before it really begins. It was an area of the film that went relatively unexplored, much to any romance-loving moviegoer’s chagrin. This does fit the pattern of the movie, though, seeing as it allows Snow to become her own, independent woman and leave relationship drama for later.

Appropriately considering the spectacular, sweeping scenery shots, there is an emphasis placed on nature. When Snow’s mother sees a blossoming rose in the middle of winter, she wishes for a daughter with the same enduring, appealing qualities. When the unkind Queen takes control of the kingdom, the land withers and dies. The creatures of the land, from fairies to trolls, all seem inexplicably drawn to Snow and her compassionate disposition. Even the death of a certain depraved character is caused by a natural weapon – a rather jagged tree stump.

Snow White and the Huntsman takes some risks and it pays off. It does not rely on romance, one particular character or the striking setting. While remaining generally true to the original story, it delivers an empowering message about beauty and self-worth.

Snow White and the Huntsman is currently playing in theatres nationwide.