DVD Drop: Modern myths
The reimagined Snow White and the Huntsmen hits video shelves this week
Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth in Snow White and the Huntsman (Universal Pictures)
Snow White and the Huntsman
doesn't really deserve much that much of your attention. It's another of those really expensive, visually elaborate re-interpretations of a beloved fairy tale that have become so very popular among studios looking to launch the next Twilight.
And it stars Kristen Stewart, the artist occasionally known as Bella Swan, as the fairest of them all, so you can immediately understand why Universal Pictures would want to make it; Stewart plus a fantasy setting plus Charlize Theron as the wicked queen sounds like a great idea even before you throw Chris Hemsworth, the artist occasionally known as Thor, into the mix.
This is what the development people call a good package. A-list stars with strong fantasy followings; a story everyone already knows, so you don't have to spend time selling it; some romance for the female audience and some action for their dates. And whatever happens, it couldn't possibly suck as badly as Catherine Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood movie.
They were right. Directed by first-time filmmaker Rupert Sanders, Snow White and the Huntsman doesn't suck at all. It's not something I'd call great, but it moves pretty well, does a few things you might not expect and has a visual splendour that borders on the obsessive.
Ridley Scott's Prometheus got all the praise for its gorgeous imagery earlier this summer, but Sanders pulls off more than a few moments of genuine dazzle - usually when Theron's soul-gobbling Queen Raveena is on screen. But since Sanders' aesthetic is awfully close to the worlds of Game of Thrones and Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies, people didn't give him the credit he deserves.
The movie puts a nifty spin on the Snow White story, recasting the heroine as an unlikely freedom fighter joined in battle by the man sent to kill her. In the fable, the huntsman shows mercy by letting Snow White live, but abandons her to the forest; in this version, he not only stays with her but trains her in the ways of battle, which also serves to spark some potential kissy stuff that distracts Snow from the guy who's supposed to be her true love, Prince William (Sam Claflin).
Sanders also takes the rather gargantuan risk of reinventing the Seven Dwarves as a cadre of digitally scaled-down warriors played by proper heavyweight actors Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone and Eddie Marsan. (Toby Jones and Nick Frost are in there too, in somewhat softer roles.) You simply don't expect to see those faces peeking out of dwarf armour, and the performances never quite tilt all the way into camp; that alone makes Snow White and the Huntsman an intriguing addition to the subversive fairy-tale canon.
Of course, Snow White and the Huntsman now arrives on disc under a cloak of scandal; the news of star Stewart and director Sanders' affair having broken over the summer, apparently severing the relationship between Stewart and her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson. I've gone on record as saying that this is none of my business - and none of yours, either - but I'm not going to pretend people aren't going to be picking up the Snow White disc in the hopes that it'll plug them into the gossip. (Yes, Sanders recorded a commentary track; no, of course he doesn't say anything juicy about Stewart.)
The exploitative angle is regrettable. But if the controversy leads more people to bring home Snow White and the Huntsman, I'm kind of okay with that; the movie stands on its own, and eventually people will get past their snickery, schaudenfreudey reaction and appreciate the film on its own terms. It's better than you think.
E-mail Norman Wilner at firstname.lastname@example.org