Grimm’s Fairy Tales is perhaps the most borrowed from collection of stories when it comes to creating a plot for a movie other than Shakespeare. Titles like Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin and Goldilocks are just a few examples. However, perhaps one of the most famous of them all is Snow White. Director Rupert Sanders decided to give this film a new face with definitive twists; but, does it really pan out?
Most know the story of Snow White as told by Walt Disney. A pretty young girl is fairer than her step-mother, the evil queen. So the queen, filled with jealousy, decides she is going to kill Snow White and sends a huntsman to do it. He lets her escape, and she is taken under refuge by dwarves. The queen puts her under a spell, and she is awakened by love’s first kiss. Thankfully, Sanders puts a lot more depth into not just the story, but its characters and their motivations to add some much needed substance to what seems like petty jealousy gone horribly awry.
First, in this incarnation, the queen isn’t just some beautiful witch in disguise who was in the right place at the right time. She orchestrated a situation where she would be rescued by the king himself. As soon as he laid eyes on her, he was enamored. And, still reeling from the death of his wife and finally relieved that someone could help alleviate his sadness, takes her in and marries her. She actually kills him the night of their honeymoon, and, using an army already under her command, overthrows and kills everyone in the castle.
What makes this queen so much better than how she is already in our imagination is just how fully developed her character is. Excellently played by the quite fair Charlize Theron, we are shown a woman whose magical capabilities are directly tied to her physical beauty. Thus, given motivation for her pursuit of eternal beauty. Snow White, played adequately by Kristen Stewart, is her benevolent opposite, and it is through the consumption of her beating heart that the queen will gain eternal beauty and life. She is turned evil through events that happened in her childhood; the abduction and killing of her mother before she is given as a token to the leader of another kingdom along with her brother.
Conversely, the co-leads of the movie are also given sufficient backstory to provide a narrative. As Snow White is the only one to kill the queen due to their equal yet opposite nature you have two sides of a very compelling story, they are truly the yin to each other’s yang. The otherwise unnamed Huntsmen, played by Chris Hemsworth, is a drunkard as he attempts to drown the sorrows of his recently widowed beloved and does odd jobs for money, which is inevitably spent on booze.
Perhaps the only weakness in this film is its writing. The dialogue between the characters is either melodramatic, particularly from readings done by the queen, or brusque and completely unnatural. The final inspiring speech from White to rally the troops to rise against the queen feels remarkably uninspired, as does the final battle of good and evil between White and the queen.
The trump card of this movie however is the special effects. The Dark Forest is fully embodied in its name as branches turn to snakes and even the air itself seems to manifest demons resembling death itself. The forest home of the dwarves is something right from the pages of Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, with a vivid and colorful gathering of nymphs and creatures in a beautiful meadow. Even the castle itself undergoes an ominous transition once the rule passes from the king to the queen.
The casting in this film is excellent, as the onscreen chemistry never leaves one dissonant, regardless of the somewhat jarring dialogue. The visuals are remarkable and range across the entire spectrum of dark, dreary and foreboding to lush, beautiful and majestic. The accompanying musical score does a great job of conveying the emotional range on screen while never becoming the focus of the film itself.
The development of the characters leading toward the inevitable climax is both fluent and natural, as a princess is never fully transformed into a mace wielding badass despite no formal training nor is the queen ever belittled to a sniveling wretch, even in her final throes. As this movie has written itself into a classic battle of good versus evil, the ending is already pre-determined, but it is made for a visually pleasing and entertaining ride.