But there is of course the proverbial elephant in the room: Kristen Stewart.
Potential audience members not caught in the grip of Twilight fever are no doubt worried about the actress’ inclusion, wondering if no amount of cinematic wizardry could make up for placing Bella Swan in the middle of such a beloved tale. Aside from her very early work and some independent features, there isn’t much I could think of to assuage those doubts. Thankfully, it appears the director and screenwriters felt the same way and aside from one key speech (which is so corny it evokes Braveheart, Independence Day and Street Fighter), Stewart’s dialogue is largely limited to a few sentences at a time.
Her character is imbued with an accent of sorts, not quite British, not quite Old English. This helps reduce the normally whiny quality and neurotic delivery of her voice; and when Stewart isn’t suffering from Ben Affleck disease (close your mouth if you’re not talking), she possesses the right kind of beauty for the role. Giving her such a prominent role in the final battle, decked in chain mail no less, it’s a wonder they didn’t call the film Joan of Arc and the Huntsman, but that’s probably the cynic in me more than anything else.
Really, the biggest problems stem from the score and trying to tackle so many plot points. Composed by James Newton Howard, the music is completely overdramatic and loud for the sake of being loud. The middle section of the film is less plagued by these distractions but it’s too bad the approach wasn’t far more subtle as some of the themes were lovely in concept but too boisterous in execution. As for the plot points, you have the evil Queen’s back story, Snow White’s back story, the Huntsman’s back story, a quasi love-triangle, the Queen’s brother, the dwarves, fairies, the dark forest, and the fairy tale itself. Sure, at a touch over two hours there is some time to address these points, but eliminating any one, or more, of these elements would have allowed for better development of everything else (I vote to lose the childhood friend/love interest of Snow and the community of women who scar themselves so as not to offend the Queen).
On the bright side, the amount of work that went into creating the illusion that the full size actors were dwarves was well spent. While it deprives excellent little people from grabbing those roles, seeing the likes of Nick Frost, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone and Toby Jones as dwarves was a delight. They pick up the energy level of the production as it heads into the last quarter of the film. It would have been nice to see more done with them but going back to my major complaint, there were just too many story arcs being attempted to allow this to happen.
Chris Hemsworth does a decent enough job of finding a middle ground between the tough jock from The Cabin in the Woods and Thor. The little girl playing a young Kristen Stewart was engaging and Charlize Theron dove headfirst into her role. There are a few shades of gray to her wickedness and she was able to capture them without eliciting disbelief. The effects done to age her and illustrate the magic of the film were all handled quite well, and the production design team should also be commended for top notch work. A number of elements seem culled from other works (my favorite/most baffling being the likeness of the fairies to the little creatures in Galaxy Quest that aren’t so cute when they show their teeth) but it wasn’t until analyzing and discussing the film afterwards that most of these homages/references/imitations came to light.
While tightening up the script (and recasting Snow White) probably could have catapulted this to real critical acclaim, the bottom line is that Snow White and the Huntsman is an entertaining film. It’s too dark and deals with themes not appropriate for little kids (show them the Disney cartoon, not Mirror Mirror) but for teenagers on up, this is the first summer movie since The Avengers that actually could qualify as worth the price of admission if the subject material looks interesting to you. Not since Sigourney Weaver’s darker take on the tale has anything interesting enough been done to deserve mentioning and maybe, just maybe, it’s a sign Kristen Stewart won’t just be Bella Swan for the rest of her career. Maybe.
Snow White and the Huntsman hits theaters on June 1, 2012 and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality.