(Rupert Sanders, 2012)
Considering the whole thing is based on the faulty premise that Kristin Stewart is more beautiful than Charlize Theron, Snow White And The Huntsman isn't half bad.
Oh, it tries to do far too much, turning the Snow White story into a Lord of the Rings-style mini-Epic, full of battles, trolls, witches and rugged landscapes, but its exceptional visual beauty is almost enough to make it worthwhile. Debutant feature director Rupert Sanders has done some stunning work in advertising, and he has the visual chops that suggest he may someday be capable of a great movie. But this isn't it.
His sure, occasionally inspired direction, together with the brilliant, beautiful production design, elevate some scenes to another level. These scenes are generally centred around the quieter moments of discovery, and new worlds revealed; a lakeside village glimpsed through mist, the dark forest aggressively attacking an interloper, and the fairies retreat coming alive at Snow White's approach.
The story is familiar, even if a few details have been altered the better to suit a teen audience. Mainly that means beefing up the role of the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, easily charming and at home with all the action) while making Snow White (Kristin Stewart, slightly miscast but making do) a more assertively heroic figure. Charlize Theron plainly enjoys the chance to chew some scenery as a wicked Queen, and the gallery of Brits playing the dwarves (Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones etc) bring some welcome humour to what is largely a grim, angst-ridden experience.
That is partly tonal and partly down to the exuberantly gothic design and the over-abundance of sword battles. Sanders handles the action well - this is a vividly textured and visceral experience throughout - but it all feels a bit predictable and focus-grouped, right down to the climactic rousing speech and final showdown. And there is something missing here where a romance should be - an attraction between hero and heroine is repeatedly suggested but never made explicit, and never quite goes anywhere.
The whole thing feels a little pointless and underwhelming, in fact, for all the time and money that have obviously gone into it. Perhaps it's most interesting aspect is how odd the mix of elements and target markets have made this: it's a battle film, a fairytale, a dark and scary fantasy film aimed squarely at teenaged girls without any romance and with action thrown in for teenaged boys. In short, it's a bit of a mess. Yet consequently, it's never really dull, and is occasionally even quite good.