After the less-than-enthusiastic reception Tarsem Singh’s Mirror, Mirror received earlier this year, first-time director Rupert Sanders delivers what can be confidently said is the more anticipated update of the Grimms’ faerie tale, Snow White and the Huntsman, a roving, drifting medieval fantasy.
Kristen Stewart may be the nominal star but the real draw is the understated talent of Charlize Theron as Queen Ravenna. She anchors the film admirably and does her best to give depth to a traditionally superficial character. Unfortunately, Sanders gives her little to do other than lower her head, raise her gaze and look menacing. Even worse, he often has her screaming like a shrew. Her best moments are those that show Ravenna’s true terror of growing old and being discarded, before she fades back into glowering.
Even so, Theron fares better than co-star Stewart who, for her part, manages to wash the stink of Twilight off of her (at least until the mercifully-final episode of that series opens later this year) with a competent but inconsequential performance as the titular Snow White. She does a serviceable job conveying strength without swagger and her rally-cry speech to her subjects is a far sight more believable and inspiring than Viggo Mortensen’s flat mousiness in The Return of the King, or Keira Knightley’s intolerable screeching in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Yet she remains a cipher, her character often as blank as the look on her face.
Screenwriters Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini deliver Snow White as a faerie-tale Dr. Dolittle, seemingly able to talk to the animals for no other discernible reason than as a nod to the Disney cartoon tradition. Yet it’s far too integral to the character here to be an homage and far too underdeveloped to have any real relevance. The same can be said for the story at large. Snow White plays out as a protracted first act to a larger tale with too many loose threads that never quite tie together. A love triangle is introduced that doesn’t so much resolve as it does dissolve and one is left wondering what is the final outcome.
As for Sanders, the director’s conspicuous inexperience reveals itself in his tiresome choices: the dwarves are rendered through digital and optical effects, á la The Lord of the Rings; the dark forest is a sinister version of The Princess Bride‘s playful Fire Swamp; and the sweeping aerials evince latter-day Ridley Scott. Snow White is proficiently photographed until the action kicks in, then it devolves into incomprehensible shaky-cam that is well past its use-by date. There is nothing here that Sanders can call his own and there is none of the urgency or cogency of the films he wishes to emulate.
See instead: Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998). Certainly not as action oriented as Snow White but a much better sum of its parts. Anjelica Houston’s deliciously agonized wicked stepmother is played with a subdued menace and grief, and Drew Barrymore’s Danielle is a lovely feminist heroine who need not lead her people into battle to show her mettle.
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