'Snow White and the Huntsman' is a tale darkly told, critics say
"Snow White and the Huntsman," starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron, takes the opposite tack of this year's earlier adaptation of the Grimm fairy tale, "Mirror Mirror." That film's bubbly fun has been traded for a spooky shroud of dread, and the resulting film is polarizing critics. Many reviewers praise the film's special effects and production design, but a significant portion also find the narrative uneven and overstuffed.
The Times' Betsy Shakey gives a positive review, calling the film "a baroque enchantment filled with dazzling darkness" and "an absolute wonder to watch [that] creates a warrior princess for the ages." Director Rupert Sanders makes a "brilliantly inventive debut," and "the film's Alexander McQueen-esque illusions of grandeur do a very good job of masking its flaws." Perhaps the biggest shortcoming is the anemic love story; as Sharkey says, "what this revisionist fairy tale does not give us is a passionate love." But Hemsworth "has a great screen presence" as the Huntsman, Theron's turn as the evil Queen Ravenna is "chilling," and "none of it would work without Stewart's steely Snow White."
The New York Times' A.O. Scott appreciates the film's serious tone. "There is nothing cute about this movie," Scott says. "And that feels right." After an "overwrought" opening, "the movie comes down to earth and springs to life when Mr. Hemsworth shows up." Theron displays a "remarkable ability to mix coldness and sorrow," and Stewart "understands [her] job perfectly and undertakes it in good faith." Points are also awarded to cinematographer Greig Fraser and production designer Dominic Watkins.
The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern declares Sanders, who made his name directing commercials, "a whiz at visual storytelling," and says that at times the film "approaches pure enchantment." On the other hand, the characters tend to "serve more as symbols than individuals," an issue that Hemsworth and Theron manage to compensate for with nuanced acting but Stewart stumbles over: "Stewart's skills haven't caught up with her celebrity," Morgenstern writes, "so it's almost painful to watch and listen as she struggles with an English accent and intones her dialogue lifelessly."
Michael O'Sullivan of the Washington Post pans the film, describing it as "overlong, overcrowded, overstimulating ... a virtual orchard of toxic excess." The cast of characters is "unnecessarily sprawling"; "the special effects are quite impressive, but there are too many of them"; and "both of Snow White's suitors are tepid washouts." It all adds up to "a deadly cocktail of movie cliches."
Slate's Dana Stevens joins O'Sullivan in shredding the film, writing that it manages "to be a truly dull piece of junk." Casting is an issue: Although Theron "isn't a terrible choice to play the evil queen," Stewart is "ill-suited to play a deposed princess whose irresistible charisma enables her to lead a peasant revolt." But more damningly, Stevens says, "This over-crammed, disjointed, and lugubrious film is misconceived from the ground up."
The Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert disagrees, writing that "Snow White and the Huntsman" is "a film of astonishing beauty and imagination." He concedes that "it falters in its storytelling" because "there's no room for nuance," but adds, "oh, what a ride." The whole is far from perfect, but "there is a great film here somewhere, perhaps one that allowed greater complexity for the characters."
If that's the case, locating the great film in "Snow White and the Huntsman" may be up to the viewer. Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.
-- Oliver Gettell
Photo: Chris Hemsworth and Kristen Stewart in "Snow White and the Huntsman." Credit: Alex Bailey / Universal Pictures