Minute by minute, I kept inner-texting myself, “this is so not Disney nor ‘Twilight’-y.” An hour later, I got it. Take in “Snow White and the Huntsman” as an almost Euro-art film rather than another vehicle for that Kristen Stewart from “Twilight” saga. Yes, it too is set on an overcast coast near moody woods. And Stewart’s intrepid Snow White has both a huntsman and a bowman as companions, instead of a vampire and a werewolf. But her kisses are limited to one from each, bestowed in benedictory fashion when she is as good as dead under a spell. And unlike the recent “Mirror Mirror,” with its splendor of courtly dances, this Snow White dances only once, by a campfire, with a dwarf. Producer Joe Roth (“Alice in Wonderland”), first-time director Rupert Sanders and screenwriters Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini treat the classic fairy tale with commendable seriousness. Instead of any choreographers, the credits list a Medieval Advisor (an Oxford historian who researches Angevin kings and “acts, deeds, charters and seals” between 1000 and 1300) and a Mythic and Folklore Advisor (the director of the Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy center at the University of Chichester). The worldmaking is a wonder. Thunderous surf beneath a towering castle, writhing serpentine branches in a Dark Forest, and a metamorphosing bestiary in an Enchanted Forest, where one-eyed fungi dwell. Beings transubstantiate into obsidian shards and white butterflies, thanks to masterfully designed special effects. Magic empowers evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) to suck the life-beauty-essence out of fair maidens. Harvesting youth lets her live twenty lifetimes, to date. Her backstory is her mother arming her from childhood to retaliate against all men who “ruin” women. Beauty is a bad power. Innocence is its nemesis. Wise birds guide Snow White to escape her cell and mount a white steed. The Queen dispatches a mercenary Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, “Thor”). He switches allegiance to his quarry. They come upon a village of fisherwomen who scar their faces to spoil their beauty for the Queen’s rejuvenation regimen. A bowman (Sam Claflin), a childhood pal of Snow White before the murderous Queen usurped and tainted her father’s kingdom, joins the Queen’s hunting party, lying about his true intent. Although Snow White recites the Lord’s Prayer when in bondage, and later dons armor that makes her resemble Joan of Arc, “Snow White and the Huntsman” is set in a largely pre-Christian landscape of fairies and trolls, with a trace of bio-spirituality from “Avatar.” A seer sayeth: “She is life itself. She will heal the land. She is the one.” This story of a savior is really a political drama, not a romance of fancy. No finer apologetics for tyrannicide may come to the multiplex this summer. With Sam Spruell, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan, Nick Frost, Toby Jones, Brian Gleeson, Johnny Harris, Noah Huntley, Vincent Regan. 127m. Widescreen. (Bill Stamets)
“Snow White and the Huntsman” is now playing.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.