Fractured fairy tale lacks heart

The most interesting character in Snow White and the Huntsman is neither of the title characters. It’s Ravenna, the diabolical diva formerly known as the Evil Queen.

Snow White and the Huntsman

2 stars (out of 4)

Rated: PG

The most interesting character in Snow White and the Huntsman is neither of the title characters. It’s Ravenna, the diabolical diva formerly known as the Evil Queen.

Charlize Theron, with a scenery-chewing performance that seems to shout “I’m an Oscar winner and don’t you forget it!” gives us some interesting insight into where the queen got her evil side — cherchez l’homme.

First-time director Rupert Sanders makes all the mistakes of a neophyte filmmaker, but doing it with such a massive budget leads to a cinematic hodgepodge of fractured fairy-tale imagery, computer-generated menacing forests and gamboling, turtle-riding fairies.

He balances the medieval storybook view with ear-splitting battles that stop just short of being bloody to keep the movie in teen-friendly PG territory, while piling on explosions, mayhem and plenty of charging steeds.

You know the story. The murdered king’s daughter, raven-haired beauty Snow White (Twilight’s Kristen Stewart), escapes from the tower where her youth-obsessed stepmother has kept her imprisoned since she knocked off her new husband.

Ravenna doesn’t like the competition for fairest in the land status, with updates provided by a burnished golden mirror, mirror on the wall that morphs into a menacing cowled being.

Ravenna sends the unnamed Huntsman (Thor’s Chris Hemsworth trading his hammer for an axe) into the menacing Dark Forest to dispatch Princess Snow, but he’s enchanted by her gentle sweetness and ends up helping her raise an army to regain her throne.

As for the seven dwarves — eight in this version — we get the cream of British cinema (Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Johnny Harris, Sam Spruell and Dublin-born Brian Gleeson) with their heads CGI-fused onto small bodies. It’s an ingenious trick, but one that won’t sit well with the small actors’ union.

Hemsworth is engaging as the likeable drunken lout who swings an axe for a living, but he suffers from the same problems everyone else does. There is no sense of this being an ensemble effort; every actor does his or her own thing as a solo in a series of fantasy vignettes. Devoid of flow, it’s just a jumble of standalone scenes, not all of them successful. Never has a takedown of a massive forest troll been so dull.

In fact, for all the heart that’s talked about in Snow White and the Huntsman — especially from Ravenna, who is often heard bellowing: “Bring me her heaaaaaart!” — there’s very little of it in this picture. No one could accuse this of the other 2012 Snow White entry, the daffy yet forgettable comedy Mirror, Mirror, where Julia Roberts played the crowsfeet-hating queen for laughs.

As for the title princess here, much time is spent hammering home the idea that Snow White’s beauty is of the spiritual variety. The feminist fairy tale that has given rise to the post-Spice Girls norm sees a princess who has no need of husbandly rescue. So step aside, Prince William (Sam Claflin).

Stewart does what’s required of her but spends much of the movie looking pained, like she has indigestion, her hair nicely raked to one side making her look more like a suburban mall-prowler than a battling princess who befriends birds. She squeezes out many tears, none of which look real or born of emotion.

The most satisfying scenes come when writer Evan Daugherty sends Snow White and her Huntsman into the dwarves’ enchanted forest, a place filled with curious creatures and rich with fantasy. It’s a colourful immersion in Disney’s 1937 animated Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a respectful nod to the creation of the cinematic mythology surrounding an enduring character. Snow will go back into mothballs for a few years, but she’ll be back. She never leaves us for long.

Linda Barnard is a syndicated movie critic for the Toronto Star.