by Gautaman Bhaskaran
Hollywood seems to have grown weary of Harry Potter and the Lord of Rings, and has now turned to fairy tales, albeit in versions that are barely recognisable as the ones we read as children. This summer has seen two celluloid editions of Brothers Grimm’s famous 19th century fairy tale – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But neither Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror, which failed at the box office some weeks ago, nor the latest interpretation, Rupert Sanders’ Snow White and the Huntsman, appear entirely suitable for young boys and girls.
Mirror Mirror with Julia Roberts as the evil queen was softer than debutant director Sanders’ work. This is harsher, darker and, in a way, of epic proportions, particularly the final battle scene where Snow White on horseback and in full battle gear leads a huge army to regain her father’s kingdom from her stepmother. What a contrast to the image of Snow White we have always carried, that of a gentle little girl keeping home for seven little dwarfs.
Snow White’s army — which includes her childhood sweetheard and a huntsman, first sent by the wicked Queen Ravenna to murder her — is determined to end the bloody reign of a woman obsessed with her beauty and vile enough to destroy anyone her mirror says is, or can be, a rival. Ravenna is all set to pluck Snow White’s heart out to guarantee her own immortality and eternal loveliness.
In this ambitious $175-million retelling of the fable, Sanders’ Snow White turns out to be an almost ruthless warrior. It is clear that writer Even Daugherty and Sanders did not want to go timid. This is certainly no kindergarten stuff, packed as it is with long battle scenes and fantasy fights, often frighteningly forbidding. There is even a devilish looking monster which attacks Snow White and the huntsman as they flee through the forest.
The story plays out within the framework of the original, complete with the poisoned apple and the princely kiss which wakes the girl up from her deathly sleep. But there are twists and turns that are a complete departure from either what the Grimms penned and or the sugary Walt Disney production made decades ago.
After her father’s (and king) death, this Snow White (Kristin Stewart) is imprisoned in a hellish chamber atop the castle by her stepmother (and evil queen, Charlize Theron). Blood-thirsty than regal, the queen is livid when Snow White escapes into the jungle, and orders a drunken and widowed huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to get the girl back. In the woods, which are both beautiful and perilous, Snow White meets the dwarfs, who overcome initial suspicion and fear when they realise that she is the daughter of a king who loved them all.
Interestingly, the huntsman has a central role, and in a significant variation to the Grimms’ tale, he does not fall in love with Snow White but becomes a kind of father figure, a protector, and remains with her till the end. Her love interest is a childhood sweetheart, a kind of prince, who looks like a delicate curio in the drawing room. Fans of Stewart’s Twilight series may find her quite different here, though beneath the hard exterior Snow White’s exquisiteness is haunting and conveys an unmistakable seductive fragility. Finally, when she kills her stepmother, she is overwhelmed by a sense of grief, broadly indicating the dilemma within her at being forced to do something as dastardly as this. Her flawlessly fair skin, raven dark hair and rosebud lips contrast splendidly with Ravenna’s vanity and viciousness. However, it is Charlize Theron’s portrayal of the evil queen that is a smashing scene stealer – several notches higher than Roberts’ queen in Mirror Mirror. Theron’s performance, which may well earn her an Oscar, is aided by impressive costumes and CGI effects which work together to create the right blend of the sweet and the sinister.
Indeed, Snow White and the Huntsman is a visually stunning piece of drama, but those seeking a faithful replay of Grimms’ parable may be put off by the girl’s new avatar.