Having proven yesterday how little I know about all things vampire with my review of Abraham Lincoln : Vampire Hunter, I figured I’d take a crack at another mythic genre, namely the fairy tale — or “folklore,” if you prefer — today. Why stop when you’re on a roll, right?
To be honest, though, I guess what we’re here to talk about isn’t even “folklore” per se so much as the modern interpretation of a very popular piece of folklore indeed, since the film under our microscope this evening is first-time director Rupert Sanders’ Snow White And The Huntsman, the second “reimagining” of the Snow White legend to hit the screens this year following hot on the heels of Mirror, Mirror, and definitely the decidedly more “mature” of the two.
There were, frankly, a lot of reasons to be skeptical about this movie going in — Kristen Stewart sure isn’t my idea of perfect casting in the lead, for one thing — but on the whole, I actually walked out of this one pleasantly surprised. Not blown away, by any means — hell, not even bowled over — but it visually arresting enough and well-paced enough to sustain my interest throughout, even though the idea of Snow White as some kind of bad-ass warrior queen seems absurd to a guy like me who basically only knows the Disney version, and remembers it very faintly at that.
Sanders, who I understand got his start in music videos, definitely brings the kind of “these folks have a short attention span, so let’s not let up on the gas” attitude you’d expect from somebody fresh out of that milieu, and while he doesn’t really seem to be much of an actor’s director — Charlize Theron in given free reign to ham it up to the hilt with her interpretation of the evil Queen Ravenna, Chris Hemsworth is essentially just reprising his Thor role as the co-titular Hunstman, and Stewart does what she does “best,” namely look completely lost but somehow project an attitude that we’re supposed to think that’s “sexy,” and that we’re damn lucky she even inhabits the same planet as us mere mortals, as Snow White herself — but when he’s laying out a visual feast this scrumptious, I can live with a few of the ingredients being a bit sour and/or stale.
And what a feast it is! Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of liberal borrowing from the Tim Burton playbook going on here, particularly with little tricks like superimposing the heads of the likes of Bob Hoskins and Ian McShane onto CGI dwarves’ bodies, but Sanders’ overall vision of the fantastic is considerably less color-saturated and joyful than Burton’s, and frankly a little edgier. When Burton goes “dark” or “morbid” he does so with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, while Sanders really seems to mean it — this shit is supposed be more than just a little bit intimidating.
In that sense, he’s probably closer to the original intent of the Brothers Grimm and their contemporaries than he may even have consciously been aiming for, since “fairy tales” weren’t just designed to keep the young’uns of years gone by entertained, but to scare the shit out of them by illustrating the consequences of what would happen if they didn’t do as they were told, as well. There’s irony, I suppose, in the fact that this film, clearly billed as an “adult” take on the Snow White legend, actually ends up being closer, in tone and spirit, to the original than the decidedly more “family-friendly” Mirror, Mirror, but it’s the kind of irony I can certainly get behind, especially when the end result, while ultimately as disposable as most any other summer blockbuster fare (notice how pretty much all my praise here is aimed solely at the film’s visual sensibility and nothing else — there’s good reason for that, as the story is essentially exactly the kind of hollow, by-the-numbers modern Hollywood take on the proceedings that you’d expect), is this downright fascinating to look at. Beneath the surface, there’s not much of anything going on in Snow White And The Huntsman, to put things as kindly as possible —but the surface is so damn lush, cryptic, and enthralling that you won’t realize, or even care, that you’ve pretty much been had until well after you leave the theater.