HE reader Jesse Crall caught Rupert SandersSnow White and the Huntsman (Universal, 6.1) last Saturday, and has sent along some impressions. Pic currently has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 83%. It opens tomorrow in the UK and Friday in the States.

“Shot largely in desaturated gray palettes, Snow White and the Huntsman makes impressive use of gothic imagery best exemplified by a stone castle rising high above a raging sea. The set design, spare in detail, conjures up an atmosphere both medieval and otherworldly.

“It begins as a supposed prisoner of war named Ravenna, played with biting ferocity by Charlize Theron, marries a benevolent king and promptly murders and usurps him. She imprisons his daughter, the fair Snow White (Kristen Stewart), and begins a reign of terror so poisonous the entire kingdom withers and blackens.

“Theron storms about with caustic nastiness; she screams and browbeats but her performance isn’t campy. It’s as if Young Adult‘s Mavis Gary turned her attention away from Patrick Wilson and toward despotism. With raccoon make-up and intricate hair-braiding, she looks stunning at her best; at one point, she descends bare-backed into a massive vat of milk and emerges with the appearance of being cast in white chocolate.

“But her obsession with preserving her youth and beauty drives the plot. A witch or sorts, given the power of immortality by her mother, Theron’s Ravenna stands to lose her powers should a fairer figure come of age. When Snow White does so, Ravenna sends her lackey brother to bring her to him, prompting an escape, a chase, a mission, planned revenge and the usual usual usual.

“Once Snow White escapes, the story turns to the titular characters, the latter played by Chris Hemsworth. Hemsworth brings a rakish edge to his character’s depressive self-destructive tendencies, and he and Stewart make a fine pair in their storyline. While she’s received criticism for colorless turns in the Twilight series, Stewart does an excellent job with Snow White, giving her ethereal character a steely quality that makes her a worthy heroine for the film.

“Overall, Snow White and the Huntsman deals in an interesting mix of rugged action and feminine burdens. Theron’s anti-aging paranoia gets played with utter seriousness, but it reads similarly to her scenes of excessive primping in Young Adult. Stewart holds the center of the film’s second and third acts, and the script admirably holds the focus on her as an individual. The film’s universe needs her to ascend to the throne but Snow White never needs a king to do so.
“Visually the film thrives when its tone trends toward enchantment. One scene, shown briefly in trailers, features Stewart wandering into a meadow filled with mythical creatures like mossy turtles and a pair of coltish fairies set against luminous greenery. It brings to mind Pan’s Labyrinth in its strange splendor, a considerable feat indeed. 1st time Sanders holds complete control over his bizarre universe, which moves from dark age castles to enchanted forests to gruesome skirmishes large and small with impressive handling.

“The 2.35:1 aspect ratio absorbs the dramatic landscapes effectively, far more so than The Avengers, which felt cramped in 1.85:1. Snow White maneuvers the widescreen views and more intimate stagings with equal effectiveness, allowing for the more taciturn scenes of quiet menace to help amplify the brutal action.

“A trope of the film involves moments of repose getting broken up by bursts of severe carnage. Like The Hunger Games, it engages best through intimate moments between its actors, whether they be Theron and her own insecurity or Stewart finding security through Hemsworth. But once the film shifts its tenuous balance toward the volatile realm of CGI havoc, it loses itself. The ending isn’t difficult to predict and it follows two hours of myth-building that feels under-explained. Theron’s actual powers and how they specifically relate to Snow White aren’t clear until the end; I don’t get the impression that the filmmakers intended to be so cryptic.
“Unlike recent blockbusters like The Hunger Games and The Avengers, Snow White contains an entire story within its singular time frame. It concludes, if shakily, with an almost admirable finality as opposed to working as a set-up for a larger narrative framework.

Snow White also marks Stewart’s first truly involving turn as a leading actress. Stewart never performs like she’s working for tips, staying within the dour nature of the film’s tone. Eschewing lazy verbal laments, the film instead relies on Stewart’s melancholy body language to remind the audience that she’s lost her mother and father to tragic circumstances before getting her childhood robbed by Theron. After years locked away in a castle, her sudden brush with pastoral beauty and a wondrous white stag forces her face open.

“Like Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games, Stewart opts for reality over charm and affects viewers more deeply in the process.
“Instead of a starting point for a slew of sequels, Snow White and the Huntsman showcases its talented veterans like costume designer Coleen Atwood, Theron, and composer James Newton Howard while previewing the budding skills of Stewart, Hemsworth and Sanders. It’s a flawed but intriguing film that succumbs to convention only in the broad structure of its plot. Within its individual scenes and performances, it engages more deeply than any blockbuster yet this year.”