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It’s surprising that two live-action movies offering twists on the Snow White fairy tale came out this year. I haven’t yet seen Mirror Mirror, the family-friendly version that came out on DVD this week. Snow White and the Huntsman was billed as the slightly more adult version, although the original Brothers Grimm version of Snow White is more gruesome than people often realize. Snow White and the Huntsman combines some elements of the Brothers Grimm version and the popular 1937 Disney version along with original twists to deliver a bold new adaptation with gutsy heroes and impressive visual effects.

The mystical element is continuously at play here; the story emphasizes that the Evil Queen Ravenna (played by Charlize Theron) is a sorceress who uses her powers to take over Snow White’s father’s kingdom. Theron is flawless in everything she does, and this is no exception. She’s every bit the big, bad, beautiful evil queen with a script that allows her to have a trace of humanity. The special effects that showcase her powers are impressive as well, including scenes of her sucking life and beauty from young women and consulting a personified magic mirror. This version also adds in a brother for Ravenna, a right-hand man named Finn (Sam Spruell). Their close relationship hints at incest, but nothing more than a hint. Spruell does a good job as a creepy villain, although his unfortunate bleach-blonde pageboy haircut takes something away from his credibility.

Kristen Stewart takes on the Snow White role; her performance is as mediocre as I expected, but she has a strong enough supporting cast, dizzying effects and a decent script to carry her through. She certainly seems to have her windblown hair flip and wistful, vacant gaze down. She’s scripted as a tough, resilient heroine, and Stewart does what she can to take it on, but her limited ability to show honest emotion and gain an audience’s sympathy puts a damper on her performance.

Rounding out the star trio is Chris Hemsworth as The Huntsman–he never gets another name. A hard-edged, embittered widower, he is drafted by Ravenna to venture into the woods when Snow White escapes from her imprisonment. He gets more pivotal role here than this character has in other versions; at first his goal is only to deliver Snow White to the queen since she has promised to bring his dead wife back to life, but soon he is moved by Snow White’s spirit and her compassion. He does everything he’s supposed to in this role–he’s rugged, good-looking, and he’s an easy character to sympathize with; when you see Thor cry, you’ll know what I mean.

The version borrows from the Disney version in that it incorporates an enchanted forest that seems to come to life; in the Disney version, it’s pretty clear that Snow White is a victim of her own imagination, but in this one, the magical forces are at work to create a truly menacing forest. As in the Disney version, Snow White has an almost supernatural force that draws animals and people to her. The difference here is that there are several deliberate references and attempts to make sure the audience knows that Snow White is not just the fairest in the land, but an independent and self-sufficient heroine. It’s likely an attempt to bring a contemporary twist to a fairy tale, but it’s not done in a way that’s too preachy or heavy-handed. It calls to mind the Drew Barrymore adaptation of Ever After in which Cinderella drew the prince in through her intellect rather than by her beauty alone. The dark and impressive special effects in Huntsman hearkened to Lord of the Rings with a full cast of other-worldly creatures. Yes, the dwarves are here as well, but their parts of somewhat diminished and this is probably the first version where the dwarves were not played by little people. Instead, a special effects technique was used to make the actors who play them seem smaller. There’s a Prince Charming as well (Sam Claflin), but he doesn’t stand much of a chance when paralleled with the Huntsman.

In what appears to be his first feature film, director Rupert Sanders delivers an adventurous and brooding take on the Snow White story. The ending is one which looks to provide a smooth transition to the announced sequel, and it seems one is already in the works. It’s an exciting and impressive film, although Kristen Stewart is hard to believe as a passionate rebel. Nevertheless, the film is worth seeing for the special effects and Charlize Theron’s portrayal of the Evil Queen alone.

My rating: Good (3 of 4 stars)

Quick facts: Snow White and the Huntsman, 2012; PG-13 rating with a running time of 127 minutes; directed by Rupert Sanders; Roth Films, Universal Pictures.

Sources: Photo insert: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_White_and_the_Huntsman

Additional movie information: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1735898/