June 1, 2012 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: 'Snow White' gets reworked into hard-hitting, murderous myth

Tom Long reviews
Tom Long reviews "Snow White and the Huntsman": Starring Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth.

Don't go looking for Happy, Dopey, Sneezy and the rest in "Snow White and the Huntsman."

Oh, sure, there's dwarves. And fairies and witches and trolls and phantom warriors. Even a mirror on the wall.

But this visually arresting and dramatically straightforward version of the Snow White story doesn't have the light lilt of a Disney fairy tale. From the princess' filthy fingernails to the evil queen's soul-sucking attacks, this Snow White has bite.

Fantasy fans should be ecstatic; small children should stay home. The happy ending here is a long time coming and fairly hard-fought.

In some nameless land, Snow White is born a princess. Her mother dies when she's still a little girl, and then her father falls in love with and marries the mysterious Ravenna (Charlize Theron). This turns out to be short-sighted, and soon Ravenna is the widowed queen of the land.

Snow White (Kristen Stewart) grows up captive in a tower as Ravenna's mere presence causes the countryside to wilt. Ravenna, turns out, feeds off the life force of others, using their spirits to maintain her great beauty and witchy ways.

Just as Ravenna has decided to yank Snow White's heart right out of her chest (which would make for a very short and brutal film), Snow White escapes. As fairy tale luck would have it, she stumbles upon a lovely white horse on a beach and gallops off to get lost in the Dark Forest.

The Dark Forest being a very scary place, none of the queen's men know their way around it. So they recruit a widowed, drunken huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to find Snow White and bring her back for a heart-ectomy.

He finds the girl, but she convinces him to side with her and travel to enlist the help of a nearby duke in overthrowing the queen. This is the beginning of acknowledging that Snow White has sort of a mystical glow to her.

And then the film becomes a mythical road trip as the two meet a contingent of dwarves, walk through a magic fairyland and spend time in a village where all the women have scarred faces so they won't threaten the queen's reign of beauty.

First-time director Rupert Sanders, a veteran of high-end commercials, certainly shows he has visual know-how and imagination. His fairies are adorable, the queen's incarnations are properly terrifying and the overall landscape has just the right "Lord of the Rings" tone of haunting beauty.

The film's most magnificent creation, though, may be the dwarves, who are made up of full-size British thespians (Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan) — somehow shrunk down — who seem to be having the time of their lives.

Hemsworth — Thor to superhero fans — does a fine job as the Huntsman, a big, sweaty fellow fighting off a tragic streak. But the film belongs to its female leads.

Theron lets her demonic freak flag fly, sputtering and shouting and clawing her way through scenes, desperate to retain her beauty and immortality.

Stewart, meanwhile, keeps it low key, letting Snow White slowly emerge as a sort of goddess-leader. But she brings real power to a battle-rousing rant at the end and, let's face it, she looks pretty cool in armor.

Perhaps the best thing about "Snow White and the Huntsman" is it doesn't smirk at itself. It plays out as a story about mortality and greed and oppression in a fantastical world, but it doesn't act as if anything is silly.

It's hard to keep a straight face while looking at a troll, but "Snow White and the Huntsman" does so. And it works.

tlong@detnews.com

twitter.comtoomuchTomLong

(313) 222-8879

Kristen Stewart plays an adventurous princess who embarks on a quest for help overthrowing the evil queen. / Universal Pictures photos
Charlize Theron plays Snow White’s witchy antagonist who’ll stop at ...
More Tom Long