'Snow White and the Huntsman' is goofy but beautiful

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“Snow White and the Huntsman” is not good, exactly, but it’s not terrible. The movie, ambitious and prosaic by turns, benefits from director Rupert Sanders’ eye for beauty and compelling images, like the moment when a group of crows dissolves into Charlize Theron, or the melting pile of gold that is the mirror.

The story of Snow White is not exactly my favorite. Snow White herself is passive, and frankly, kind of dim. The driving force of the plot is an older woman’s jealousy over a younger woman’s beauty. There’s something a little disturbing in the way this movie and the earlier “Mirror Mirror” seem to delight in showing a beautiful, powerful woman brought low and made old and pitiful.

This adaptation asks us to sympathize some with the evil queen. We see glimpses of a traumatic childhood and a mother who curses or blesses her to always survive by her beauty. Theron chews the scenery in this movie with a hearty abandon likely to earn her a place in the hearts of anyone who appreciates over-the-top performances. Her commitment to the role provides an anchor for a movie that spends a good deal of its running time wandering somewhat aimlessly around various enchanted and scenic locales.

Theron’s queen tricks her way to the throne held by Kristen Stewart’s father and then imprisons the young princess. Why she would choose to do that instead of outright killing her is a little mysterious. I wanted to see some hint of sympathy for her stepdaughter, because otherwise leaving her alive is a continuous risk to her own reign, which is cruel and lacking in civic beautification projects and educational reform.

Inevitably, Snow White escapes, in large part because of the idiocy of the queen’s brother, whose haircut must have been inspired by Javier Bardem in “No Country For Old Men.” Astute viewers may notice a few moments reminiscent of Japanese animation master, Hayao Miyazaki. The crow moment calls to mind similar scenes in “Howl’s Moving Castle,” and one of the aimless wanders to an enchanted forest seems lifted directly from “Princess Mononoke.”

Luckily for Sanders, I liked both of those movies, although it was disconcerting to see such distinct reminders pop up in this one. After Snow White’s escape to a cursed forest (not to be confused with the enchanted forest), the queen sends out the eponymous huntsman to bring her back. A grimy Chris Hemsworth muscles his way through the role and an occasional Irish accent as Snow White’s doom and then her protector. Why is he Irish? Why does Snow White offer up a familiar Christian prayer early in the movie? No matter, this is a fantasy epic, and I suppose such questions are unfair.

If you are not the type of person who usually enjoys fantasy epics, don’t see this. It bears more in common with such movies than with the Disney cartoon. The stilted dialogue and over-seriousness drag the movie down way too often. A sense of humor never killed anyone, Snow White.

And what about Snow White? Stewart often is characterized as affectless, but she manages a sweet but steely portrayal here that works well. Could have done without the news that it’s her “purity and innocence” that will save everyone. Really? She’s leading a coup, thank goodness she’s a virgin!

The movie seems primed for a sequel, but I sincerely hope they find a way to give Snow White a bit more of an edge. Also, the late-breaking addition of a love triangle makes me wish someone would just let Kristen Stewart have one boyfriend in a movie.

It’s goofy, but beautiful. If that intrigues you, check it out.

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