Snow White and the Huntsman (dir: Rupert Sanders, 2012) Cert: 12A
Remember that horribly misguided, limp and agonisingly stagy mess of a film earlier this year? Yeah Mirror Mirror, that's the one, well now it's older, uglier and gritty twin has finally arrived on the scene to hopefully wash away those blues and get rid of that ghastly poison apple taste from your gums. Helmed by début director and master video-game commercial tycoon Rupert Sanders, Snow White and the Huntsman or SWATH as it's affectionately known on Twitter is a modern retelling of the famous Grimm fairytale but this time it's 'darker, more repressed and unhinged'; - I'm sure these words remind you of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland which was a lead balloon for many, but fear not, this is not history repeating itself. Admittedly there is no Michael Sheen as a CGI rabbit muttering "SPOOOOOON" here but heck, we'll get over that.
Evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) brings fear and destruction to the kingdom she unlawfully rules; obsessed with staying young and beautiful, she feeds her gift and curse by consuming those who are deemed 'fairer' than herself. Her stepdaughter and permanent prisoner Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is indeed the 'fairest of them all' and the single entity than can free her from her spell. After Snow White escapes the kingdom, Ravenna summons a Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to capture her and bring her to the untimely demise she awaits but he soon winds up being her protector and battle mentor as she prepares for a final showdown with evil itself.
Burton, listen up - although Sanders is the new kid on the block and you're the old dog, he could certainly teach you a few tricks. This is how you adapt and re-imagine a beloved folk tale, a classic fairy story, a fable passed from generation to generation. SWATH doesn't hang around and weigh itself down with irrelevant details and characterisations that everyone is already aware of, it doesn't drag it's heels and highlight every stereotypical convention of it's genre, instead it has bite, energy and will - a voice and a theme that demands to be heard and recognised. This is not woodland animals helping a young woman wash up and tidy a house, this is blood, sweat and tears. Forget lullabies and harmonies, Sanders' picture is a bruising, uncompromising battle-cry.
Pretty much right from the off, the mood is set, the stages are established and the tone is slap-painted in black. Within 10 minutes, there is blood, murder and mayhem with characters being stabbed, sliced and trampled to death; if you are thinking this is suitable entertainment for your young children then think again. SWATH is a brooding, menacing and bleak portrait that harvests it's sinister lust from positivity and honesty; it's a searing and intense alternative thrill-ride through a world and narrative you thought you knew so well.
Sanders' first feature is a master-class in scale, imagery and technology - the film constantly staggers and breath-takes with it's visceral, unapologetic visuals; sequences in the Dark Forest are perhaps the true cinematic highlight. A fairly early scene showcases Snow White terrified, exhausted and perplexed in her new environment and soon she suffers a haunting and distressing hallucination. Here Sanders and the sublime effect team thrive, parading the silver screen with sharp, gripping digital demons. The colour pallet fades darker and darker, the ambient lighting soon wallows in the filth Snow White is traipsing through, James Newton Howard's score clashes and swoops through the scene, filling the air with intoxicating dread. It's the whole package - a cinematic treat tied with a blood-stained bow, and this is only one 2-odd minute sequence. SWATH is simply littered with moments of this magnitude, artistry and detail - it's a show-stopping picture that has to be experienced on the big screen.
|Still from Snow White and the Huntsman (dir: Rupert Sanders, 2012)|
The film is neatly balanced and structured around it's 127 minute running time. The action scenes come in heavy and frequent whilst the narrative focus points evolve throughout each act making SWATH constantly engaging viewing. It handles a handsome amount of characters but only the three leads and a merry band of dwarves really matter and are rendered in such fashion. Sam Claflin floats in during the second act as William, a childhood friend of Snow White and a rightful prince but his character provides nothing to the narrative progression and feels ultimately redundant, however his presence takes nothing away either so it feels wrong to make a quibble. Apart from that though, one has no further issues with the film at all.
The performances are stellar - Hemsworth was a perfect casting choice for the Huntsman; he brings a great sorrow and emptiness to the drunkard who patrols Snow White. Hemsworth straddles both the action and emotive scenes with ease and provides a layered, detailed screen presence. Theron simply oozes with evil as Queen Ravenna - she truly embodies the black, nihilistic qualities of the character as well as opening up some comfortably constructed back-story. She is not evil in the comedy, over-the-top sense; this is a eerie, bitter and burning performance laced with razor-sharp dialogue, jagged body language and complimenting horrific CGI effects to completely emphasis her demonic rule.
The dwarves thankfully offer some much needed comic relief and offer a whole host of well known faces included Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Toby Jones and Ian McShane, all of which give great and carefully-pitched performances. The star of the show for me however is Stewart.
This year alone, Stewart has given two sensational performances with this film and the upcoming On The Road and it's clear that those who are narrow-minded and feel she is one-dimensional need to catch up. Her Snow White is a fully fleshed, emotionally complex and creatively rich character that absorbs energy and information from each scene and scenario, and it's obvious how much work Stewart has put into this role. Sporting a convincing British accent, she develops and gains further construction throughout making Snow White a constantly reassuring and interesting heroine/protagonist. Stewart gives a simply spellbinding screen turn and she deserves much more praise and credit than she receives.
SWATH manages to take the classic source material and dramatically build on it and alter it's dynamic without losing any of it's richness, historical attributes and themes which is some challenge. This is a fresh, unbelievably bleak and visually mesmerising blockbuster affair which sports brains and brawn, greatly realised performances and offers a simply sublime cinema-going experience. With a film this accomplished, it's almost impossible to believe it's a début feature. SWATH is a total knock-out.
A tense, thrilling and equally chilling fairy tale that's immaculately crafted and wonderfully presented. It's one of the year's highlights.
By Chris Haydon