Title: Snow White and the Huntsman
What, No Dwarves? Oh, there are "dwarves" all right.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Two and a half Charlize Theron/Teri Hatcher catfight pics from Two Days in the Valley out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Orphaned princess gets medieval on evil stepmother queen, refrains from dwarf tossing.
Tagline: "From the producer of Alice in Wonderland."
That Doesn't Really Count. And a doughnut with no hole is a Danish.
Better Tagline: "When will Hollywood's war on stepmothers end?"
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Princess Snow White (Kristen Stewart) has been imprisoned in a tower ever since the evil Ravenna (Charlize Theron) bewitched her recently widowed father, married and murdered him, and seized control of the kingdom. When she escapes into the Dark Forest, now-Queen Ravenna hires the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to find her and bring her back. The queen uses blackest sorcery to keep herself unnaturally young, y'see, and can achieve immortality if she eats Snow White's heart. The princess is naturally reluctant, and convinces the grieving-for-his-lost-wife Huntsman to join her in uniting her father's former allies to overthrown Ravenna. Plus, dwarves.
"Critical" Analysis: There's not much new under the sun in Snow White and the Huntsman, which is to be expected when your source material is a 19th century fairy tale that's been adapted half a hundred times already. You know the story, you know the characters, you know there will be dwarves. And even then it's like playing Spot the Influence (Oh, look, The Princess Bride! Hey, there's Excalibur!) However, to first-timers Rupert Sanders (director) and Evan Daugherty's (screenplay) credit, what is new works, turning what could have been an unfortunate reimagining into something...well, not "great" by any stretch of the imagination, but interesting nonetheless.
This being the 21st century, there are a couple prerequisites for our fantasy stories. The first is, no one can simply be an evil person. Just as Darth Vader was retconned into a petulant boy with abandonment issues, so does the evil queen have a tragic past to justify the suffering she inflicts. I sort of miss villains who were villainous simply for the hell of it, and Ravenna -- a mash-up of Countess Báthory and Cersei Lannister -- would've been a perfect candidate.
And then there's the heroine. We've come a long way (baby) from the Disney incarnation of Snow White. And thank God for that. It was all well and good for the porcelain-skinned chick with the terrifyingly high-pitched voice to bite the poison apple and require magical reawakening...wait, that happens in this movie, too. Only in this version, once Snow White is revived she straps on plate mail and a longsword and goes to kick the Queen's ass.
It should also be noted that Snow White and the Huntsman isn't a children's movie. The intense scenes will be old hat to anyone who's ever sat through an entire episode of America's Next Top Model, but might cause a few nightmares among the younger set.
The movie also confirms something I've suspected for a while but never felt like exposing myself to ridicule enough to say: Kristen Stewart isn't a bad actress. I've been as critical of her sleepwalking through the Twilight movies as anyone, but honestly, can you blame her? Reading a Stephenie Meyer-inspired script probably triggers the same emotional withdrawal and detachment brought on by any traumatic event (that's also a pretty apt description of Bella). But through all those, I always remembered her earnest performance in Into the Wild and figured she'd snap out of it eventually.
Of course, not everything clicks. Magic works intermittently (Ravenna complains of her powers being sapped one minute, the next she's teleporting across the kingdom via murder of crows -- and the reason she keeps Snow White alive for ten years is never clear (she doesn't learn about the Atkins all-heart diet until literally moments before Snow White escapes). And then there are the dwarves.
I'm ashamed to admit I didn't realize the dwarf who looked so much like Ian McShane that I actually said, "Man, that guy looks likes Ian McShane," was, in fact, McShane in digitally reduced form. From that point, I felt bad for any actual little people in Hollywood not named Peter Dinklage, because every one of the dwarves is played by a normal-size actor shrunk with the use of computers (others include Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost and Ray Winstone).
But for all that, Sanders does a fairly remarkable job creating a world that, while more than a little familiar, still contains enough wonder and whimsy to keep us engaged. It's not without its flaws (who decided Hemsworth should try a Scottish accent?), and veers occasionally into absurdity (the troll scene), but I must confess. Snow White and the Huntsman was a pleasant surprise.
Snow White and the Huntsman is in theaters today. Bring your own apples.