With an aesthetic that falls somewhere between Game of Thrones and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Huntsman is a grotesque and gorgeous journey from dark to light. The austere imagery of costumes, creatures and landscapes, plus the physical performances, come together to make magic.
A white horse, black oil, a red rose. The snow-covered castle, the dark forest, drops of blood. The brilliant use of color contrast throughout the film is as much of a story as the script. Not only are the colors striking, but so is the breathtaking scenery of coastlines, castle-scapes, and forests.
From the sharp tips of the Evil Queen’s many crowns, down to the dirt in Snow White’s fingernails, the costume design is remarkable. Theron did well enough on her own, but her stunning gowns radiate wicked power and extravagance. Snow White’s tattered revision of the classic Disney costume added a hint of nostalgia while still being something one could flee through the forest in.
This is a fairy tale after all, and overt magic is where Snow White and the Huntsman goes more Wonderland than Westeros. But the overall darkness of the film gives the magical moments that much more of an impact. These moments are welcome bursts of quick pacing. Two hours is a long time to sit through a film where you already know the plot, and you’ve known it since the age of three. While the visual effects lend much to the enjoyment of the film, the performances carry the bulk of that burden.
Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman is as charming as ever in a brutish sort of way. Even covered in filth he is plenty shiny. As the one tasked with hunting Snow White, he begins as the sort of man who has nothing to lose. After their first encounter, the Huntsman evolves from a hunter to a fighter. At first he seems to be fighting for what he believes is right, but eventually he is fighting for the light that is within Snow White. As the Huntsman saves Snow from physical danger, Snow White becomes his savior, too. There is a balance and equality between the characters, a subtle ebb and flow of strength.
While Hemsworth does a fine job as the Huntsman, his role in the film is wholly supportive. Snow White and the Huntsman is firmly led by Kristen Stewart as Snow White and Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen, Ravenna.
Just last week I read an article talking about the need for current leading ladies for the grownups. Looking to the most recent female heroine NOT marketed to teens, a character like Lisbeth Salander is not every woman’s cup of tea. Some of us, perhaps even a lot of us, would like a leading lady who is not brutally raped and propelled through the plot by vengeance. Snow White and the Huntsman provides two interesting, complex leading ladies whose desires and motivations are all their own.
Kristen Stewart as Snow White is a different kind of heroine than what we often see. She is not dripping with sexuality, which makes her much harder to objectify. She is not overwrought with emotion, which makes her harder to stereotype. She is not engulfed by her love for another, which takes the man out of the motivation equation. This Snow White wants to save her country and her people from the darkness of the Evil Queen, and she is willing to die to do it. She uses compassion and bravery to win over her companions instead of beauty and distress. While she was subjected to Queen Ravenna’s cruelty for most of her life, she is not a victim.
Much of Stewart’s performance is theatrically “physical.” When she does finally use her voice, she gives a rousing battle speech that would have made Tyrian Lannister proud. Snow White is described as being “strong as a rose in winter.” As she battles through the Dark Forest fleeing the Queen’s men, and later when facing Ravenna, her physical strength is obvious, but not overblown. Snow White’s true power is in her (traditionally) feminine qualities. Stewart displays contemplative fascination as she explores her surroundings after years of captivity. Her ability to mutely (literally, with very little text) display empathy and awe for the world around her embodies the classic Snow White who is so “pure of heart.” Admittedly, this pantomimic approach to the character may be less engaging for some.
The active engagement is ruled by Charlize Theron. She is a magnificent villain. Her booming voice, her icy stare, her twisted desire for beauty and power, and her insane monologues make for one very Evil Queen. Her journey through the film is one of cruelty and desperation. Ravenna is divine while in power, but watching Theron writhe and spit as she becomes unhinged makes for one hell of a performance. From rise to fall, Theron is captivating.
Snow White and Ravenna are both outwardly beautiful people. Who is the fairest? I suppose it depends on which scene, and your concept of what is beautiful. Snow White and the Huntsman explores beauty in its many incarnations. Sometimes it is overt, as when Ravenna asks the legendary question, “Mirror mirror, on the wall. Who is fairest of them all?” One look at Ravenna, and yes, she is quite “fair.” But there is more than meets the eye to Snow White. She has the beauty of spirit that can save the kingdom. In the classic theme, beauty is not just skin deep.
I invite you to head to the theater for this one. While not perfect, Snow White and the Huntsman is a beautiful film in more ways than the obvious.