Snow White and the Huntsman is a darker, gothic twist on the fairy tale popularized by the Disney cartoon. It is much more in vein of the stories told by the Brothers Grimm, which were macabre and sinister. Kristen Stewart stars as Snow White, a teenager that has been locked in a tower by her evil stepmother, Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron). Ravenna seduced and killed Snow White's father with dark magic. She then conquered the surrounding lands and turned them black with her powers. Ravenna steals the essence from beautiful maidens to remain young. Using her magic mirror to confirm that she is the fairest one of all...until the mirror tells her that Snow White has eclipsed her beauty. Enraged, Ravenna orders her vile brother (Sam Spruell) to bring Snow White so she may tear her heart out. But Snow White is resilient, escaping from the tower and into the dark forest. Ravenna tricks a drunken Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) into finding Snow White by promising to bring back his deceased wife. He tracks her down, but realizes that she is the lost princess, thought to have been killed with her father, and more importantly, anything around her is rejuvenated. She brings back life where the Queen brought death.
I was pleasantly surprised by this film. It begins somewhat pedantically, but then gradually gets better and more interesting. The plot generally follows the fairy tale, but takes a few different turns that add more depth. Snow White and the Huntsman has a tremendous production design. Director Rupert Sanders is quite skilled in his feature film debut. He succeeds in creating a fantasy world with a striking dichotomy of darkness and light. The visual effects integrate seamlessly. From their journey through the dark forest to their meeting of the seven dwarfs in their sanctuary, it is a fantastic and believable journey. I was totally immersed in the story and the setting.
Charlize Theron is deliciously evil as Ravenna. The film does a great job of giving her back story, so we understand how Ravenna came to be. She is not a cookie-cutter character. There's an awesome scene where she's delightfully plucking and eating the hearts of sparrows. Theron plays her with a kind of sadistic depth. She's terrifying and bewitching at once. The costume design helps as Ravenna looks cold and dazzlingly beautiful, but menacing as well. One of the hardest things to overcome is the idea that Snow White is somehow "fairer" than Ravenna. I don't think there's anyone who would not choose the beauty of Ravenna over Snow White, but I suppose this is where the willing suspension of disbelief comes in.
The other characters work because everything plays off the villainy of Queen Ravenna. Kristen Stewart, who I really dislike in the Twilight series, is decent as Snow White. She has her trademark doe-eyed look with a bit more ferocity here. I can buy her as the wronged daughter destined to vanquish the Queen. Chris Hemsworth, thankfully, is not playing Thor in medieval land. His Huntsman is a wounded soul languishing in bereavement. Physically he's a beast, so when boots comes to asses, Hemsworth delivers. Although this time his weapons are axes and knives, I'm sure the producers went to great lengths to make sure there isn't a hammer seen anywhere in this movie. I especially liked the portrayal of the seven dwarves. The parts are played by a who's who of fine English actors. And the dwarf effect is expertly done. You'll have to see the film, but trust me when I say they are brilliant.
Snow White and the Huntsman does have its weaknesses. There are a few plot issues that are disjointed and too easily resolved. But I don't think it detracts too much from the overall context of the story. Director Rupert Sanders certainly had a great vision for the look of the film and he ably brought that to the screen. Charlize Theron is titanic in her performance of Ravenna, and pretty much props up the entire film. I think audiences will be surprised and entertained by this version of Snow White. I would not bring younger children to see this movie, as it does have disturbing imagery and graphic violence.