Not at all like the Disney animated version, and leagues away from Mirror, Mirror (the Julia Roberts vehicle released earlier this year), SWATH is dark, grim, grisly and beautiful -- all at the same time.
Much of the story is similar to the source material: the title character, Snow White (Kristen Stewart), is the most beautiful girl in the land, and evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) is out for her heart, literally. When Ravenna's gold plate mirror (didn't I see that at Pottery Barn?) lets her know that someone in the land is more fair than her -- can we argue that point? -- she sends for an assassin who can get the job done. Enter the bitter, mourning Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), who seems more adept at boozing and brooding than fighting. It's not long before he's under Snow White's spell (she's really that beautiful), and the two venture out to defeat Ravenna, with eventual help from the seven dwarves.
Plot-wise, that's really it in a nutshell, but it's quite the journey. Clocking in at just over two hours, some of my colleagues found the pace plodding, but for me, it was just right. This movie must break some sort of record -- for a film about Snow White, the protagonist hardly has any lines at all. It might have something to do with Stewart's American accent: her co-stars Hemsworth and Theron have the help of their foreign upbringings, so we hear plenty from them. But don't fret, we're treated to Stewart's now-infamous Twilight stare and glower, though this time she has a lot to be upset about.
I think the reason why SWATH works so well is because it addresses all the things that could have gone wrong and makes sure they don't. First off, obviously, is Stewart herself. People who can't like her based on her Twilight character (aside from obviously having some major issues) don't have anything to complain about, since she barely speaks. But when she does speak, especially at the rousing, climactic apex near film's end, it's glorious. Never thought I'd say it, but I enjoyed Stewart in this role. So refreshing to see her step away from Bella.
Next up is Theron, who looks right at home as the evil witch. This could have gone vaudeville, like Roberts in Mirror, Mirror, but it doesn't. Aside from the obvious fun she had swirling around her dark tower and yelling at everyone, Theron embodies the role of Ravenna perfectly. Mark my words, the queen's epic bath in milk will be a) mocked, b) parodied and c) shown in clip reels for decades to come. If you're bored with the rest of the movie, you will at least be entertained by Theron's performance.
Lastly, going into the screening, the dwarves were a big concern. Would they be annoying? Offensive? Ridiculous? I am pleased to announce there are none of the three. Instead, it was quite the contrary: they were endearing, hardly intrusive, and they provided some much-needed comedic lift. Bonus points go to the dwarves because they manage to wrestle some emotional exchanges out of Stewart, too. Plus, Bob Hoskins is a dwarf in SWATH. Yes.
They can't make fairy tales like they used to. There's no room in today's cyber-connected entertainment industry for a sappy, simple story -- it has to connect on multiple levels. SWATH is the epitome of the modern-day fairy tale, with awful truths (might want to reconsider taking your young children), beautiful effects and landscapes, and fairly complex human relationships. I was rapt in the fantasy and absorbed by the tale, no small feat for a first-time director.
The biggest comfort: finally, a remake (of sorts) that didn't butcher the original. No rotten apples here. Well, OK, just one.