When Universal was first greenlit a revisionist take of Brothers Grimm's classic fairy tale of Snow White, I was particularly interested how first-time director Rupert Sanders (formerly an award-winning commercial director who did Halo 3: ODST) would twist this oft-told story into a dark and gritty approach. Then came the trailer and the subsequent marketing campaigns, which I must say, something interesting to look forward to. But upon finally watching SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN in full, it was entirely different story altogether. To sum it all up, the supposedly interesting take of SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN turns out to be a complete disaster in an epic proportion.
However, the movie does establishes its tone quite promisingly during the first 20 minutes or so, where we first learn how little Snow White (Raffey Cassidy) lived in peace and harmony with his royal parents, King Magnus (Noah Huntley) and Queen Eleanor (Liberty Ross). Tragedy struck in no time when Snow's beloved mother grew ill and passed away. Then, after a while, love at the first sight stumbled upon the King when he rescued the beautiful, blonde-haired Ravenna (Charlize Theron) from capture. They soon married, but it didn't take long before Ravenna finally shown her murderous intent. She first poisoned the King and stabbed him in the heart while they were sleeping together, subsequently entrapping Snow in a dungeon, and finally stealing the throne for herself. With the help of her phantom army and her brother, Finn (Sam Spruell), she used whatever black magic she possessed inside her to watch the world die around her while feeding the soul of any youthful victims she could find of to keep her from growing old.
So far, so good but what follows next is a series of disaster that never recovers at all: Some decade later, Ravenna grows mad when her mirror tells her that someone is fairer than her, which is none others than the now-grown Snow White (Kristen Stewart) herself. She can't stands someone is better than her, and thus she wants her dead at all cost. But at the same time, the mirror tells her that Snow White is her life savior as well as she's the only one can break her aging spell by consuming her heart in order to become immortal and ageless forever. However, Snow manages to escape from the dungeon and running out of the castle before ending up in the Dark Forest. Because Ravenna's black magic is unworkable in the Dark Forest, she instructs her brother to seek an experienced hunter to track her down. That hunter turns out to be, is a Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), who at first reluctant to help Ravenna to do the job but gradually accepted when she promises him she'll resurrect his recently-deceased wife back to life if he locates and brings Snow back from the Dark Forest.
Naturally the Huntsman manages to find her quickly, but after he learns the ugly truth about what Ravenna will do to her, he refuses to turn her over to the authorities, subsequently fights his way out and both he and Snow flees off as far as possible. Along the way, they encounter a band of dwarves consisting of Muir (Bob Hoskins), Beith (Ian McShane), Gorth (Ray Winstone), Coll (Toby Jones), Duir (Eddie Marsan), Quert (Johnny Harris), Nion (Nick Frost) and Gus (Brian Gleeson). Muir has the power of premonition that Snow White is the one to save the decaying land from the evil clutches of Queen Ravenna. Yawn.
On paper, all the groundwork are here that shaped this movie -- the title character herself, the evil queen, the mirror, the dwarves, the bad apple, the charming prince -- but on screen, it's a complete train wreck of a movie. The biggest blame here is director Rupert Sanders, who doesn't seems to have a single clue what makes a compelling or entertaining movie to watch for. Sure, he may have won a number of awards during his successful stint in shooting commercials but in directing his first feature movie, he's completely lost in translation here. First of all, he shows no sense for pacing. Despite all the fantastical elements, everything here feels lifeless and sitting though this 127-minute movie is a serious test of patience (yeah, it's a butt-numbing experience for me). All the "best" action you've seen in the numerous trailers are just there, and nothing more.
Speaking of action, there's some short moments of slow-motion but overall he fancies more on those annoying jittery camerawork that really hard to appreciate whatever fast movement presented in the screen. What's even worse here is that he has little sense of style as well. For example, the Huntsman is good with his axe but rarely we seen how he use his axe to a possibly maximum potential to show off his skill. Here, all the action scenes here are as brief as they goes it's almost like an afterthought.
Further disappointment is the hugely-wasted cast that are all underused by Sanders himself. He doesn't knows how to direct his actors good enough to give their best. They are either overplays or underplays their performances. As the titular Snow White, Kristen Stewart is fatally miscast because it's hard to believe she's the "fairer" kind who can bring hope or whatever greater good she has inside her. This is especially true as her moped-up acting style she has moulded in that awful TWILIGHT series continues to envelop her acting skill here. All the while she can't shake off her Bella Swan-like character here and no doubt, her Snow White character is terribly wooden. She spends most of the movie either whispering a lot, or emoting to the max without making us feel pity for her. For Chris Hemsworth, he is basically repeating the same devil-may-care attitude and rugged charm he portrayed better as Thor in THOR (2011) and this summer's mega-hit blockbuster, THE AVENGERS, than as the Huntsman here. But the most wasted talent here is Charlize Theron. She may have that bitchy look to play the evil queen, and earlier in the movie, she does shows some acting credibility but her role becomes increasingly annoying when she spends most of her time screaming a lot until it borderlines to a near parody. Lastly, as for the dwarves, which played by some of today's finest British actors, are all reduced to tired comic reliefs.
Last but not least, if you are expecting some huge payoff in the climactic finale, you might as well forget about it as well. Sanders may have that technical ability to orchestrate all those sweeping camera angle but none of them matters at all when the supposedly all-hell-breaks-loose finale is terribly lackluster.
All the visuals here are impeccable, and especially so for Colleen Atwood's elaborate costume design (particularly for Charlize Theron's lavish dress). James Newton Howard's score is typically majestic and exciting that translates well during the dramatic moments.
But SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN is simply too damaged I can go on and on to criticize how terribly bad this movie is. As one of this year's tentpole summer movies, it's a huge embarrassment that I'm surprised how Universal is willing to invest a hefty $170 million budget in this movie at the first place.
Avoid this like a plague.