Through a mirror darkly: Snowhite and the Huntsman

Features enchanting visuals that mesh highly imaginative sequences replete with the macabre and the beautiful.


Noman Ansari June 12, 2012

For a picture that focuses on a main character obsessed by beauty, it is fitting that Snow White and the Huntsman is a film of astounding artistry. Featuring enchanting visuals that mesh highly imaginative sequences replete with the macabre and the beautiful, the film is a grand effort from first time director, Rupert Sanders. But where Sanders excels further is in the film’s visceral action sequences that feature some sweetly choreographed hack and slash action, and coupled with the film’s grim backdrop, make for some fine viewing for fans of dark fantasy.

The film is a reimagining of the classic fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, and while Snow White and the Huntsman ensnares with its production values, it isn’t as abundant in originality in its storytelling. The film starts with Ravenna (Charlize Theron), a witch of spellbinding beauty, who strikes with her ‘Dark Army’ after seducing unwary rulers. One such kingdom she targets is ruled by the good King Magnus (Noah Huntley), a man still grieving over his dead queen. The King, displaying a relationship rebound of majestic proportions, blindly marries Ravenna, only to be killed on their wedding night.

What follows is a fiery melee lead by Ravenna’s brother Finn (Sam Spruell), where the king’s men are either killed, or forced to flee.  Duke Hammond (Vincent Regan) is one knight who escapes alongside his young son William, while the King’s young daughter, the child princess Snow White, is locked away in a dungeon.

The film then flashes through Ravenna’s dark rule as queen, as the kingdom decays under her reign. Here, Ravenna’s beauty secrets are revealed: she ‘absorbs’ the beauty of youthful maidens in the kingdom, which is shown in rather unsettling scenes. Ravenna also regularly consults her Magic Mirror (Christopher Obi Ogugua), who in an eerie voice tells her she is “the fairest of them all.”

After fifteen years pass, Ravenna is told by her Magic Mirror that Snow White is the key to rejuvenating her now declining powers. Snow White, we learn, is the only one who can kill Ravenna, while her heart would grant Ravenna immortality.

With ‘lips red as blood’, ‘skin white as snow’, ‘hair black as a raven’s wing’, and the ‘same spirit and defiance of that red rose blooming in spite of the winter’, Snow White (Kristen Stewart), is the true heir to the kingdom and she escapes Finn’s clutches. To retrieve her stepdaughter, Ravenna hires a huntsman named Eric (Chris Hemsworth), a former warrior depressed over the death of his lady love. But when Eric finds Snow White, he joins her cause after learning it was Ravenna who killed his lover. Later, Snow White is also joined by seven dwarfs, some of whom through the magic of CGI are portrayed by prominent British acting talent, including Bob Hoskins (Muir) and Ian McShane (Beith),

After being chased by Ravenna’s evil henchmen, Snow White and her companions reach a magical forest which is inhabited by whimsical greenery and fantasy creatures. Here, their small army is joined by the master bowman Prince William (Sam Claflin), who still regrets leaving Snow White behind years ago. Eventually Snow White reaches the forces of Duke Hammond, whom she hopes to lead.

Snow White and the Huntsman is mostly well acted, especially by the superb Charlize Theron, who is brilliant in her role as the psychotic sorceress. Others, including upcoming stars Chris Hemsworth (Thor/Avengers), and Kristen Stewart (Twilight), are also quite good in their roles. Interestingly, the film also offers some social commentary on the dangers of fixating on the superficial. Where the film is weakest, is in its characterisation, which for some of the main characters is quite one dimensional.

This picture is a part of a new trend in Hollywood films that reimagines classic fairy tales, giving them a dark twist that would make Walt Disney shudder in his grave. But where other such films have been mostly mediocre, Snow White and the Huntsman towers over its peers, and is a fine piece of dark fantasy cinema that is destined to become a cult classic.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 10th, 2012.

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