By Joan Ellis
Whatever your age you will probably watch Snow White and the Huntsman in a contained sense of terror. Branches curl, rocks morph into monsters, armored soldiers attack innocents, and it all happens in sudden, threatening bursts of musical evil and special effects.
If you are one of the rare people still alive who saw Walt Disney’s original Snow White in 1937, the fear will be familiar. In a world without television or digital enhancement, those animated curling branches enveloped us in indelible fear leavened for our emotional well-being by Disney’s wrapping of his princess and her beloved dwarfs in a lovely coating of sugar.
No one will rescue you from your terror this time. You can count on the poisoned apple, the evil queen, and the kiss that awakens; but this retelling is one of unrelenting evil and violence that plants it squarely in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm who never gave a moment’s thought to protecting their readers from fear.
The tortured Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) hurls her rage at us in the opening scene: “Men use women, and when they are finished, they toss us to the dogs.” For this queen, the blood of pure young girls is the elixir. When the beautiful, molten, golden mirror announces that Snow White (Kristen Stewart) has surpassed her, Ravenna screams: “Bring me her heart!” The rest of the movie is the frightening search for Snow White by the queen’s ghastly brother and armored soldiers. Racing ahead by breathtaking inches, the young princess and her new allies – the huntsman and the dwarfs – draw our sympathies until one of them shouts in an unexpected medievalism: “Let’s get the hell out of here!”
Their escape takes them through every imaginable peril of natural and human evil. By the time of the grand awakening, you will be worn out, but Snow White will be ascendant. It is Charlize Theron’s central performance of evil without mercy that makes the movie work. Special effects smooth her face when blood is at hand and restore the wrinkles as she ages; this process is a dagger to the hearts of women in the audience who see their futures in fast-forward. Theron creates a towering narcissist.
Chris Hemsworth is exactly right as the protective huntsman. Sam Sprewell creates a nightmare character in Finn, the queen’s repellent brother. The problem here is Kristen Stewart. Even in this remake, Snow White, the soul of purity, must be both delicate and graceful as preface to her adult leadership. Ms. Stewart, fine as she might be in other roles, is neither. Whenever the camera finds her, the drama dies a little. She seems especially miscast in the final soliloquy that signals her ascendancy. She is neither a princess nor a queen.
That said, the swords, the forest, the flaming catapult balls, and the narrow escapes will probably be enough to hold you in the welcome fear delivered by this summer blockbuster.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.