So where’s Dopey? That’s the first question that comes to mind for Rupert Sanders’ live-action fantasy rehab, Snow White and the Huntsman. It’s hard to picture Snow White without those lovable little guys nuzzling her in the Walt Disney version. Now that the Seven Dwarfs have been demoted, are we supposed to feel glad they’ve been replaced by Chris Hemsworth (aka the Mighty Thor), a jock-like working stiff in a leather jerkin?
Turns out the dwarfs didn’t exactly fit the new demographic. Snow White is played by Kristen Stewart, the princess of Twilight, and the beloved Disney fairy tale has been torn down and rebuilt around her image from that cash-dispensing, young-female-magnet, gothic-romantic franchise. This Snow White doesn’t need a bunch of tiny nerds hanging on her — she needs a beefy admirer like The Huntsman (Hemsworth), the tough guy with a broken heart, a paid killer who falls in love with his mark. And maybe, just for fun, running a close second, handsome nobleman William (Sam Claflin), a storybook Prince Charming perhaps a tad too delicate for this rough-and-tumble story.
Neither of the boys, however, can go one round in the ring with SW’s stepmother and nemesis, Evil Queen Ravenna, played by Charlize Theron as a heart-stopping, life-sucking, vampire sorceress whose wicked dominion has caused the countryside to wither and putrefy for miles around. The bit with the magic mirror and the milk-bathing Evil Queen’s vanity is maximized for all it’s worth, but it’s not merely jealousy that drives the catfight. Ravenna hates Snow White like mud hates a white shag rug. Stewart is a truly poor actress, but she looks cool and confident next to Theron’s outrageous overacting. The hamming is nonstop. Not since Angelina Jolie’s snake dance in Alexander have we seen anything as monstrously silly as the sight of old, wrinkled Ravenna, covered in gooey tar, slithering across the castle floor. But maybe it’s unfair to pile on. Snow White and the Huntsman is a vehicle for a concept, not a character.
When the Seven Dwarfs finally appear, there are eight of them. But even adjusted for inflation it’s a step backward. Rookie director Sanders tries to compensate for the lack of elfin glee by casting a squad of good British actors — Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, et al. — and giving them Hobbit-style handles like Beith and Quert. Doesn’t work; they’re all Grumpy. Later on, they become useful to SW as a sort of dwarf insurgency against the EQ.
The Evil Queen has a cruel, freakish brother named Finn (Sam Spruell) with pasty white skin and scars. Everyone in the film has at least one scar, especially in the all-female village Snow White visits, where the women have banded together for protection from marauding men — the scars are ostensibly to make them less attractive to potential rapists. That feminist tinge dovetails well with Ravenna and SW’s lethal rivalry, but everything in the movie is overpowered by dumb CGI thrown on top of more dumb CGI. The battle scenes are as inert and lifeless as anything in Red Riding Hood, another dire makeover of a children’s classic. But there are a couple of nice exceptions in the magic forest: toadstools with eyes, moss-covered snakes, and a pair of pale fairies who emerge from inside birds.
In the end, just like the eternally delayed decision in the Twilight series, Snow White can’t make up her mind whether to swing with the stalwart hunk or the poetic stripling with the scraggly beard. We’d bet against there ever being a sequel, so the denouement could well be left dangling for the rest of time. Snow White and the Huntsman was produced by the same company who made Alice in Wonderland with Tim Burton. The comparison ends there.
It’s not so much that the transition from a child’s point of view to that of an adolescent makes the new version more trivial, but in trying to cram the story into another framework, most of its original charm goes missing. This tired exercise borrows freely from Lord of the Rings, Princess Mononoke, and Luc Besson’s The Messenger, in addition to the Twilight movies, and never manages much of a spark of personality from Stewart and Theron’s loud, empty performances. It’s poison-apple filmmaking.