As predictable and clichéd as I make it sound, the fairly commonplace script isn’t really terrible, and the ‘bad guy’ actually gets more than a fair share of good lines (don’t they always?).
Charlize Theron’s portrayal of a tantalizingly wicked and physically ravishing villain is undoubtedly the best thing the movie has going for it. Obsessively self-absorbed, short-tempered, hardened against moral concerns, and determined to have her way, Ravenna almost seems like a more alluring and vicious relative of the Red Queen from Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, but one should mind that Grimm predates Lewis Carroll by around a hundred years. It’s only regrettable that Theron isn’t the main star but only a supporting player in a Kristen Stewart movie; as such, she gets to show up every ten minutes and throw a screaming tantrum that sometimes entails force-choking, but her character is most often sidelined to make room for the lead actress. While I won’t infer that Stewart ruins the movie, per se, her presence in this is one of the biggest casting missteps since Hayden Christiansen, a.k.a. Anakin, in the Star Wars prequels and Lenny Kravitz in The Hunger Games (not to mention Woody Harrelson as Haymitch). Not only does she lack the muscular physique to convincingly play a medieval general but the grand irony of casting her as Snow is that no man, or talking mirror for that matter, in his right mind would ever regard her as a fairer woman than Theron. Some will argue that such a statement is entirely subjective or, worse, indicative of bias towards blondes, but I ask of these people two questions: 1) how many ‘guy movies’ has Stewart produced in comparison to Theron (The Italian Job, Hancock, Prometheus) and 2) whose face was displayed more prominently in the promotion of this movie? A merely cursory study of the DVD cover would seem to indicate that the marketing division went out of its way to mask Stewart’s involvement in the project, but I digress from more important observations, namely Stewart’s acting ability. As if her ever gaping mouth wasn’t distracting enough for 90% of the time she’s on screen, she also feigns this contrived, semi-British accent for half her lines and forgets about it for the other half, lending even more uncertainty to the already dubious geographical location of this fantasy world. The production team only augments the hilarity of her performance by caking her in the most ridiculous and contextually inappropriate makeup, though this fault can’t really be attributed to her. Chris Hemsworth is adequate if totally forgettable as Mr. Huntsman and, being native to Australia, he sounds more or less authentic with his fantasy accent. While his role is minor in the big picture, Sam Spruell admirably imbues the sycophantic servant Finn with an intoxicating mixture of spite and malice.
Overall, though, the actors in the cast pale next to the unseen actors in the post-production department. Snow White and the Huntsman is full of fantastical imagery both haunting, as in the Dark Forest, where the ground crawls like a swarm of insects and trees writhe like serpents, and beautiful, as in the counterpart woods populated by bushy tortoises and flowers that burst into clouds of butterflies. This movie masterfully portrays a fairy land where witches can shape-shift at will to resemble other beings or dissipate into a flock of ravens, where dark soldiers arise out of a million glass shards, shattering at a sword’s blow and reassembling themselves at a moment’s notice. The CG animation isn’t as refined as the creations of, say, Pirates of the Caribbean, Avatar, Lord of the Rings, or King Kong, but looks great nonetheless. Alas, not all the special effects work as well in execution. Rather than using trick photography à la LOTR or hiring real ‘little people’ à la Game of Thrones to create the dwarves, the studio tried to meld both approaches by digitally interposing the heads of regularly sized actors onto the bodies of short people, a trick that’s not only lazy and artificial-looking from a cinematic standpoint but kind of insulting to ‘real dwarves’ who would relish the opportunity to appear in a mainstream, big-budget picture. Rupert Sander’s direction also leaves much to be desired. Prior to working on this feature, he had but one other production to his name, that being a live-action commercial for Halo 3: ODST; Snow White and the Huntsman makes his inexperience glaringly obvious. Most of the fight scenes are edited in quick cuts and close-up shots to the effect that the audience can barely discern the action, which is a damning trait for any film of this genre to possess.