Who’s the fairest of them all?

On Saturday, 2 June 2012, I met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. for lunch at Mulan, a decent Taiwanese restaurant in downtown Waltham, Massachusetts. We also screened Snow White and the Huntsman at the Landmark Embassy Cinema. The fantasy film was enjoyable, despite some flaws.

Snow White, wicked queen, and the huntsman
Snow White and the Huntsman

I’ve been following only some of the recent wave of movies and television shows based on fairy tales, so I can’t compare Snow White and the Huntsman to Red Riding Hood, Once Upon a Time, or Mirror, Mirror. I do like NBC’s Grimm, but that’s more of a modern supernatural police procedural.

Snow White and the Huntsman only loosely follows the story recounted by the Brothers Grimm and Walt Disney. There’s still a princess, a wicked stepmother, a magic mirror, and seven dwarves, but this Snow White reminded me more of the wave of high-minded but inconsistent fantasy flicks from the 1980s, such as Dragonslayer or Labyrinth.

Twilight‘s Kristen Stewart acquits herself well as the eponymous princess, who is more like Joan of Arc than Disney’s cheerful heroine. Charlize Theron (soon also to be seen in Prometheus) happily chews the scenery as Queen Ravenna and needs to be “uglied up” with computer-generated effects for her younger rival to be the fairest in the land.

Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth is appropriately gruff as the drunken widower hired by Ravenna to find Snow White. Sam Clafin (from Pillars of the Earth and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) is a swashbuckling nobleman and potential live interest similar to Robin Hood, and Sam Spruell is Ravenna’s cruel brother Finn.

Snow White and the Huntsman‘s dwarves have less of a role than you might expect, even with clever casting — including the heads of veteran British character actors Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, and Brian Gleeson put onto little people’s bodies. The effect was seamless, but it only serves to whet the appetite for Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in December.

Speaking of Jackson’s example, the production values of Snow White and the Huntsman are very good, with nicely unified sets, costumes, and armor. James Newton Howard’s orchestral soundtrack is a bit heavy-handed during the set-piece battles. I think the direction could have been better, since the movie starts slowly and the ending feels rushed. There are also few memorable lines in the script, which felt like a middling Dungeons & Dragons game (and I’ve participated in many of these).

In addition to the dwarves and Ravenna’s sorcery, the brief scene where Snow White and her companions enter a faerie glade is a hint of how this movie could have used visual effects for a more fantastic setting (see The Dark Crystal or Legend for examples). Instead, the movie focuses on more mundane matters like raising an army and the princess realizing her birthright, closer in style to Ladyhawke but without the simple but strong plot magical device of that movie.

Overall, I’d give Snow White and the Huntsman, which has finally dethroned The Avengers at the box office, a 7 out of 10, a B, or two and a half out of five stars. It’s rated PG-13 for violence.