By RANDY MEYERS
San Jose Mercury News, Calif.
Snow, you’re not in Disneyland anymore.
The Dark Forest you flee to in “Snow White & the Huntsman” slithers and hisses with dangerous treachery, while that evil Queen who killed Daddy and then imprisoned you in a tower is saddled with deep psychological scars. Not only is she shackled to her beauty, but she’s been horribly wronged by the opposite sex.
And then there’s the band of dwarves you stumble upon: They’re not cute, certainly not cuddly and, boy, do they ever need to take a long soak in a hot bath. For that matter, so does everyone else in this atmospheric rehash of the classic Brothers Grimm tale.
Charlize Theron serves up a deliciously over-the-top performance as Queen Ravenna, the madwoman hellbent on ripping out the heart of her stepdaughter, Snow White (“Twilight’s” Kristen Stewart), so she can preserve a beauty that is both blessing and curse.
It’s also a shame that the climactic showdown between Snow and the Queen feels like a rush job. The mostly sturdy script hits a few bumps, taking shortcuts to propel the story.
But such imperfections in first-time director Rupert Sanders’ surreal epic fantasy don’t ruin the overall effect, just tarnish it a little.
Undoubtedly, this tougher “Snow White” will turn off those expecting swoon-worthy romance and a breezy heigh-ho tone.
All I can say to that is, just Grimm and bear it.
Snow’s enchanting tale has been enjoying a lively renaissance, with variations of her plight popping up everywhere from movies (“Mirror Mirror” with Julia Roberts) to TV (ABC’s “Once Upon a Time”).
“Snow White & the Huntsman” turns out to be one of the best of the bunch.
That’s due largely to the obvious toil and trouble taken to build such a darkly imagined fantasy world, one that’s a far cry from the more family-friendly environment Walt Disney envisioned for his 1937 animated classic. The amazing visuals and set pieces are evocative and stunning, from the misty-shrouded Dark Forest and its gnarled limbs to the stark bird-infested chambers of the castle that’s home to the tyrannical queen.
Second to that is Snow does earn top billing, but don’t be fooled: This film belongs to the Oscar-winning Theron, who sinks her talons into the killer part, making every snarl and outburst such wicked, cruel fun to behold. Stewart is fine as Snow, but her sullen demeanor doesn’t exactly inspire the sense of hope the role demands, even if it’s refreshing to see this good actress not playing a drip like Bella.
The production details are splendidly realized, with Theron’s performance bolstered by the high-caliber craft of costume designer Colleen Atwood. I especially love the gown with bird skulls adorning the top of her bodice.
The performances in secondary roles also assist in carrying out this somber tone. In his more expanded role as the huntsman, a scruffy Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”) looks like he stepped right off the cover of a romance novel but needs a day at the spa.
Meanwhile, the seven dwarves — led by “Deadwood’s” Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones and Bob Hoskins — provide the right amount of comic relief and naughtiness, while not ruining the tone by overplaying the humor. They arrive late in the game to chug mead, squabble, dance with Snow and help her out. Also good are Sam Spruell, with his Moe-from-the-Three Stooges haircut, as Ravenna’s creepy brother, and the handsome Sam Claflin as Snow’s childhood friend.