Riding on the coattails of the Twilight Saga, Kristin Stewart is both a familiar and fitting, if somewhat tepid, star of the first big box-office showing of the 21st-century fairy tale. Snow White and the Huntsman is a stylistic revision of the titular fairy tale, embracing a gothic style that is visually interesting but has some vanity issues. While I enjoyed the first Twilight movie, seeing Kristin Stewart in a role unfettered by vampires and werewolves is refreshing. Indeed, her lines of dialogue are few yet she fits a perfect mold in the forefront of this fantasy tale.
The first act showcases a lot of setting that is interesting in its context and wondrous in its style. We learn of the evil Queen Ravenna’s (Charlize Theron) usurpation of the kingdom through seduction and betrayal of the King (Snow White’s father). Ravennah is obsessed with beauty and her thirst for it drains all the rest of the kingdom (and its maidens) of any life. The kingdom is most like the Dark Forest in this regard. Herein lies the first flaw. When the imprisoned Snow White escapes the succubus queen to the Dark Forest, there is so little in its atmosphere that differs from the gothic kingdom.
The second act becomes tired and uninteresting, and it would have benefited greatly from a some editing toward a shorter length. Thankfully, the huntsman Eric (Chris Hemsworth) is a robust companion to Snow White throughout this dreary act. He is a sympathetic character, motivated first by the Queen’s promise to resurrect his deceased wife in exchange for capturing Snow White and then becoming a valuable ally to her. His heroism is apparent; realizing there is no return for his wife, he yet finds the strength to aid Snow White in her perilous quest. There is indeed something for him to hope for.
The worst scenes are without him. The dwarves are necessary to the cast of this tale and attempt some comic relief. However, the somber tone finds them unfit for the world with which we are presented; I daresay there is no solution to their mismatch. There is one good scene in the second act: the heart of the forest from which life runs in abundance and finally gives contrast to the drear of the outer forest and kingdom.
There is also a subplot woven through of the Duke William’s (Sam Clafin) rogue kingdom that forms an alliance with Snow White. It is rather an unnecessary bunch for Snow White to battle the Queen with, but the brief acknowledgement of a more sprightly kingdom is a sight for sore eyes.
I won’t spoil too much of the third act, but suffice it to say that it made me a believer by the end. Snow White and the Huntsman is the debut film for director Sam Mercer, also a director of commercials. According to the official website, he is also a ‘state-of-the-art visualist’. This should be an important film for him, who seems poised to effectively direct more visionary films of the genre. The film also undoubtedly benefited from its producer Joe Roth (Alice in Wonderland).
The storming of the castle gates in particular is a sight to behold not only because of the comparative dullness of the second act. Kristin Stewart radiates gallantry and is given the focus she really deserves towards the conclusion. The setting improves with the ensemble cast crashing with Ravennah’s magic, and there is a fine chemistry in the culmination of action that sees Stewart fulfilling her destiny as the heroine so previously stifled.
For all the hype of Twilight and The Hunger Games, it seems an odd choice for a star like Kristin Stewart and a gamble for the production staff to be released in between such widely known teen paranormal romance fiction stories flying off the shelves and into the theater. But then again, maybe not. The tale of Snow White has been around for a long time, although not with such adventurous revision. And while I haven’t seen Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, that movie also embraces the gothic and paranormal, though I’d never seen the history bit coming. With the Twilight Saga coming to an end, the genre is benefiting from new twists and surprising returns to original sources.