‘Someday my prince will come…’
I can still recall how the syrupy texture of Adriana Caselotti’s fanciful aspirations, surrounded by seven attentive dwarves, filled up the cheerful frames of the Disney classic, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Snow White’s romantic impulses are so deeply imbued in our psyche; you little expect her to be anything else but a frail and fair picture of adorability at its acutest.
Now to be fair, always the operative word in her case, to the Princess, she’s only a child (seven in the original tale and not more than 13 in Disney’s version) and it’s unreasonable to expect her to do anything beyond wishful thinking. Too bad she wasn’t born out of Hayao Miyazaki’s imagination. Her original creators, Germany’s Brothers Grimm, wrote the tale with little subtext but strong undercurrents of darkness, which even in its meticulously translated skin are hard to miss. Even Disney, known to create a child-friendly experience, is unrelenting in presenting the unsightly facet of the beauty-obsessed Queen/Witch.
But, what if, Snow White was held captive till she blossomed into a wilful adult, escaped the clutches of her ruthless step-mother, fashioned an action-packed fellowship that would make Tolkien smile (and Grimms’ squee) and put off the need for any romantic gratification to achieve her mandatory target of a happily ever-after?
The possibility appears to have paid a visit to Writer Evan Daugherty and so he, along with co-writers John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini weaves an old school fairytale with modern-day sensibilities that respects the enchantment of yore yet creates enough room to accommodate a brand new definition of ‘fair.’ The iconic elements remain unchanged — a talking mirror with a final authority on good looks, a tempting apple that kills at first bite and, but of course, the CPR of every fairytale — true love’s first kiss.
There’s something exciting to build upon here and director Rupert Sanders accomplishes quite an impressive bit in his first feature film. There are two ways of reimagining a classic fairytale. Either ridicules its very premise with humour, make light of it (as seen just a few weeks back in Julia Roberts-starrer Mirror, Mirror) or embrace in all seriousness and paint in the severest shades of grim.
Snow White and the Huntsman takes the latter approach but its kineticism isn’t akin to the showy appeal of obvious blockbusters. The pace is unhurried, exchange between characters is meaningful and if you’re paying attention, like the good dwarfs I spoke of above, Snow White’s aggression will not seem abrupt, Huntsman’s concealed tenderness will strike some chord and the Evil Queen’s roots of resentment will open up to you albeit in hushed tones.
Queen Ravenna, played by Charlize Theron, with calculated frostiness and simmering sensuality, is a victim of her own insecurities. At an impressionable age, she was conditioned to believe her good looks are her lifelong weapon. And so she seeks it in permanence with black magic and bloody deeds. Through fleeting flashbacks and telltale dialogues, Sanders makes an appreciable effort to humanise her somewhat. At the same, her pointy claws, murderous eyes, violent tone and creepy interactions with her creepier brother Finn (Sam Spruell) ensure she’s above mercy. Theron’s character, often begs for a little wryness, to lend it a dimension that’s more than one.
Then again, Snow White and the Huntsman, doesn’t really entertain any form of wit in its stern-faced spectacle. The lack of which is, to some extent, made up the glorious visuals it conjures, scene after scene. Whether the setting is a real spot of nature or technology-generated wizardry, magnificent treats welcome one’s eyes. Be it the gloomy isolation of a cursed castle, eerie course of the fierce dark woods or the spellbinding enchantment of spotting a forest filled with trolls, fairies and mystical beasts, there’s not one dull visual in this fantasy. Guess attractive packaging is a given in a subject whose very theme is the supremacy of beauty.
Speaking of which, Kristen Stewart is a pleasant face, whether you deem her gorgeous or otherwise is individual perception. She portrays Snow White with awe and regard and embodies her goodness and spirit as her prime weapons. Survival is her nature; she comes back from the dead, doesn’t she? Having seen her father’s stabbed corpse and faced her Step-Mother/Ravenna’s wrath, locked in a remote tower for years and years, she’s developed the soul of a saint and the will of a shark.
Stewart realises she doesn’t have the physicality of Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft nor the charisma of Charlize Theron. She plays it like a nervous, eager underdog on the offensive. Her show of bravado, unfortunately, comes a little too late in the day in a plot consumed by several twists, some ingenious ones too, and a tempo that should have accelerated in the third act.
As for the men on Snow White’s side, there is no Prince or Charming. Instead you got — the obligatory dwarfs (played by calibre like Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones) deliver the goods but aren’t likely to replace the memory of Happy, Doc, Grumpy or Dopey. The Hunstman (Chris Hemsworth), with a meatier role and some groovy action to do, has a heftier share of the frame whereas the soft spoken Duke’s son (Sam Claflin) has a few moments of his own before he’s relegated to a friendly post. Naturally, Hemsworth wins this round. He throws in a Thor-like presence sans the arrogance, hygiene or hammer. Armed with an axe and gravelly baritone, he’s the proverbial Teddy stuffed with consideration and compassion for Snow White.
But there’s no time for mushy glances and melodious songs (alright, maybe a couple) for a battle has to be fought. Fair and square.
This review was first published on rediff.com.