The mirror? Check.
The apple? Check.
Evil queen? Check.
And the warrior waif in armor leading a charge of rebels on horseback, storming the castle gates as burning oil and fireballs rain down . . . um, that's Snow White?
Yes, it is.
A full-force fairy tale that takes the Grimms' twisty yarn and adds heapings of The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Joan of Arc, and Celtic myth, Snow White and the Huntsman - with Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth in the title roles - is not your grandmother's Disney cartoon. The seven dwarfs, when they finally make their appearance deep in a spellbound forest, aren't whistling while they work: They're a bunch of knobby thugs, and they're played by a gang of great British character actors (Hoskins! Jones! McShane! Winstone!), digitally diminuated and ready to steal anything they can get their hands on - including the movie.
And a surprisingly fine, fantastic movie it is.
Directed by Rupert Sanders, a Brit with a resumé of eye-popping commercials (Halo, Xbox, Puma, Adidas), Snow White and the Huntsman finds its hero, like Frodo or Odysseus before her, engaged in an epic quest. From innocent, beautiful child (played, in the prologue, by Raffey Cassidy) to a wan prisoner in a dank tower, to a fugitive in hiding, to an exiled royal ready to reclaim her throne and restore the land to rosier days, Snow White - with her pale skin and raven tresses, and Errol Flynn-as-Robin Hood tights - is the archetypal adventurer, facing daunting challenges, and meeting them head-on.
Stewart, who was beginning to seem hobbled by the torn-between-two-lovers teenage angst of The Twilight Saga, literally jumps into her role here (she escapes the queen's clutches by propelling down a watery chute). There's a scene with Snow White, moving warily through the woods, in which she faces off with a tree troll. Even Hemsworth's Huntsman, a sad, angry soul hired by the queen to return the runaway princess to the castle, is impressed.
He should be.
As for the queen, Ravenna, Charlize Theron has a grand old time, sexy, sinister, soliloquizing before a giant gong-shaped mirror, plotting with her lecherous brother (Sam Spruell), dressed in elegant capes, cloaks, and gowns. Her slip-on talons, used to pluck the hearts out of little birds, are quite practical, too.
If Theron has to deliver a few laughably bad lines (Ravenna wants "immortality forever" - as opposed to the short-term immortality option?) she does so with aplomb. Stewart, likewise, rallies her troops with an invitation to mount up and "ride like the thundering waves!" Not exactly the St. Crispin's Day speech.
Like the original Grimm tale, Sanders and company's Snow White and the Huntsman digs into Jungian and Freudian muck: The apple is temptation, but also knowledge; the relationship between sister and brother is founded on trust, but also, perhaps, on desire (Snow White's long-lost sibling, William, returns in the guise of English pretty boy Sam Claflin). And Christian and pagan themes run through the story: Snow White is greeted by a statuesque hart (with tree branches for antlers), a god figure with hooves. Their fateful meeting happens in the midst of an enchanted forest, where the mushrooms have eyeballs and weird little naked faeries pop from the breasts of magpies. It's like a pre-Raphaelite acid trip. Freaky and twee.
In a good way, of course.EndText