The plot is, indeed, "Snow White," but substantially expanded and a bit more complicated. Notably, we get some backstory on Ravenna (Charlize Theron) the wicked queen/stepmother, which gives her a motivation beyond mere jealousy of Snow White's beauty. (She also has a pale-blonde chief henchman brother (Sam Spruell), ala the Lannisters of "Game of Thrones", a nod to the HBO presentation, which the film also resembles in its grit and dirt.)
Ravenna is a frighteningly powerful witch, who sustains her beauty and her power by battening on the lives of young women and on the life of the kingdom at large. After Ravenna's magic mirror prophecies that Snow White will be her doom, Snow White escapes from Ravenna's clutches, and has adventures in the Dark Forest, meeting the Huntsman Ravenna has sent after her (Chris Hemsworth), falling in with the Seven Dwarfs (heavily influenced by "Lord of the Rings") and coming to the castle of her childhood friend, Lord William (Sam Clafin), who has been conducting a Robin-Hood like insurgency against the Queen and her minions. Once recovered from the Queen's poisoned apple, Snow White dons armor and becomes a veritable Joan of Arc, leading the people in a climactic uprising against Ravenna.
The movie is indeed good to look at. Costumes are well done, especially Ravenna's fantastic "wicked queen" outfits, but details such as those found in the dwarfs' gear are worth noting as well. Scenery includes two amazing castles (again, "Game of Thrones" is detected as an influence)set in dramatic locations that I was surprised to see were England and Wales (where not CGI) instead of Ireland or New Zealand. The fearsome Dark Forest (an homage to Disney's "Snow White") is updated to be authentically creepy and dangerous. There is a brief scene in the "fairies' sanctuary" that is a nod to both "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Princess Mononoke." (Also, in the final battle, Snow White bears a shield with a device that looks a lot like the White Tree of Gondor--.) With such generally high production values, omissions tend to glare: when they've taken pains to establish the whole "skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, hair as black as night" theme in the opening, why couldn't someone have found a black wig and lighter base make up for brown-haired rosy-cheeked Raffey Cassidy as "young Snow White"? Especially since grown-up Snow White has an appropriate dungeon pallor and ink-black tresses?
There were other nice touches: when the dwarfs play music around the campfire, Snow White dances with the youngest dwarf, and her curtsy to him is from Disney as well. Although the words weren't very sensible, it was touching that the dwarfs were given a dirge to sing for their fallen.
Charlize Theron, as the villain, has the best clothes, and a lot of the best lines. She chews the scenery with vigor and relish. Chris Hemsworth, as the emotionally damaged Huntsman, has the next most emoting to do, and does a fair job. Kristen Stewart, as Snow White, isn't bad in the role, she's just out-acted by Theron, Hemsworth, and the coterie of veteran character actors that make up the dwarfs (Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Brian Gleeson, et al.) It doesn't help that most of the time her facial expressions run from "vaguely worried" to "vaguely fearful" with not a whole lot else.
The action scenes have a lot of violence, but amazingly little gore considering the numerous deaths inflicted by sword, axe, or impalement. Actual blood is reserved for those instances where it is critical for the plot.
Make no mistake, this is not a "Snow White" for children. Although there is no sex or bad language, it is very violent and scary. Ravenna's magic has physical costs to her that are as disturbing as the harm she does to others.
Recommended for fans of fantasy, and those "jonesing" for a fix of imposing fortifications, medieval brutality, and sinister magics now that the second season of "Game of Thrones" has ended--.
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