The first Snow White film of the season - Mirror Mirror - was so anodyne and camp, that it will hardly be a surprise to learn that Snow White & The Huntsman (aka SWATH) is a much tougher and darker proposition. It's also a lot better, and is mainly let down by being far too long. Less is more is not a concept that director Rupert Sanders has fully grasped.
The film opens along conventional fairy story lines, with the death of Snow White's mother being followed by the King remarrying. Unfortunately Charlize Theron has been taking honeymoon lessons from Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, and proceeds to dispose of her new husband in bed on the first night. The young Snow White is imprisoned and the kingdom falls under a dark spell.
Years pass, and Snow White turns into Kristen Stewart. The Bad Queen continues to replenish herself with younger women (she is, biting apart, pretty much a vampire), and the rebels are impotently holed up in a castle many leagues away. But then SW escapes, and the action begins. She gets lost in the Dark Forest, has huntsman Chris Hemsworth sent after her, meets the dwarves, then some fairies, gets pursued a lot, finds her childhood sweetheart, and so on and so forth. There is a lot going on.
The trouble is,most of it doesn't lead anywhere. Several minutes of the film are occupied by several scenes that take place in a reed village populated by women and children. This is then raided by the relentless pursuers, before Snow White and The Huntsman escape again. But if we lost those scenes, the film would be shorter, tighter, and we, the audience, no worse off. This happens so often that it's tempting to imagine there was a studio requirement to make a 2 hour film, though that seems unlikely. More probably, the director was unable or unwilling to take a pair of scissors to the thing and cut it down to size.
It should be acknowledged that there is a good deal here that is admirable. Charlize Theron makes an excellent villainess, both stunningly beautiful and sublimely wicked and without compunction. Kristen Stewart who I've always admired, is a much feistier Snow White than Lily Collins, and the 7 dwarves - in a decision that may displease Warwick Davis - are played by the likes of Bob Hoskins, Eddie Marsan and Ray Winstone. A further bonus is the fact that the film is stunningly beautiful to look at. Some of the shots are breathtaking, even if there are too many of them. I feel a bit like Jeffrey Jones' Emperor in Amadeus telling Mozart that there too many notes. Not that SWATH deserves to be compared to Mozart, but there are way too many scenes, characters and storylines. For the second half of the film, Theron's Queen is reduced to writhing around on the floor back at the castle, because the narrative drive of the film has gone elsewhere, though she makes a big comeback before the final whistle.
Quite who this film will appeal to is an important question. It's a 12a and definitely not for the squeamish. There is a lot of death, violence and unpleasantness. It may attract a post-Twilight audience, or even those for whom the next Hunger Games films is too far away, although there is a good deal less girl power on display here. Certainly those who enjoyed Mirror Mirror will find this far too tough; we are much closer to the land of Grimm than of Enid Blyton.
By Phil Raby
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