Popular culture has not always been kind to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. From Snow White and the Three Stooges (1961) to TV movie Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997), there has been no end to the indignities suffered by this defenseless fairy tale.
Hollywood keeps returning to this particular well despite signs it dried up long ago. Amazingly, Snow White and the Huntsman is the second attempt this year at a worthy film adaptation of the familiar tale (Mirror, Mirror, starring Julia Roberts, was released in March and quickly forgotten). It tries to beat the long odds by running the gamut of summer-movie formulas and stuffing them all into one relentless two-hour experience. As directed by newcomer Rupert Sanders, Snow White and the Huntsman is a horror movie, a supernatural thriller, a battle epic, a special effects extravaganza, a mud-strewn Medieval fantasy, and — finally — a relentlessly dark fairy tale, though not exactly of the kind favored by the Brothers Grimm. Can't we just leave a modern mythic figure alone?
Veteran producer Joe Roth hired Sanders based on the success of the director's effects-driven TV commercials, which benefited clients like Nike and video game Halo 3. The visuals Sanders crafted for Snow White and the Huntsman are striking and bold if not particularly imaginative, even compared to those of other recent blockbusters. The director has a knack for painterly landscapes, and he paces his action sequences like a pro. But elements like these tend to succeed only as finishing touches to a well-told story. The movie's screenplay is based on a script written almost eight years ago by another first-timer, Evan Daugherty, while he was still in college. It offers minor variations on the tried-and-true but now seems calculated to push the story toward a male audience who may not be looking for a Snow White to call their own.
Kristen Stewart (Snow White) and Charlize Theron (Ravenna, the evil queen) work hard to breathe life into the movie, and they deserve credit for managing some authentic female empowerment. Sparks that fly initially between the two title characters (Thor's Chris Hemsworth plays the Huntsman) are not allowed to burn, presumably to keep the movie from chick-flick tropes. There's an awesomely creepy troll lurking in the Dark Forest, and we do get some dwarves — eight of them, as a matter of fact. How they convinced a great actor like Bob Hoskins to play a grumpy dwarf (though, thankfully, not a dwarf named Grumpy) is anyone's guess. A variety of techniques were used on a shot-by-shot basis to make the normal-size actors appear small, with occasionally uneven results. It's almost as if the diminutive forest-dwellers are raised and lowered like wisecracking Venetian blinds.
It's no surprise when Snow White and Huntsman builds to a final epic battle scene. There isn't enough character development for anything else. It may be a while before anyone in Hollywood offers another first-time director a $175 million budget for a modestly scripted movie like this one. When they do, let's hope Snow White is finally off the table. — KEN KORMAN