Thursday, June 7, 2012

More 'Snow White and the Huntsman' Reviews added

Enjoy the reviews about our favorite warrior!

Please keep in mind that reviews can contain spoilers, lots of spoilers, and that negative reviews can be interesting to read.
If you have more reviews, feel free to email me. :)


•• TimeOut, Keith Uhlich: Rating 3/5
Ready for another taste of poison apple? Mere months after Mirror Mirror—Tarsem Singh’s frenetically hyperstylized take on the beloved bedtime story about a fair maiden, an evil queen and seven dwarfs—comes first-time feature director Rupert Sanders’s surprisingly solemn retelling. A too-bustling prologue shows how Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron, camping it up) usurped power, poisoned the land and imprisoned her stepdaughter rival, Snow White (Kristen Stewart, a delight). But then the film finds surer footing and proceeds with a deliberateness rare in a big-budget franchise starter; you can sense the hand of coscreenwriter Hossein Amini (Drive) in the story’s always involving, slow-build structure.

The very strong early scenes are practically a chamber drama, as Ravenna skulks around the castle longing for everlasting power and beauty (her mirror on the wall is a burnished disc that strikingly morphs into a faceless golden figure) and Snow figures out a way to escape captivity. Yet once the scope widens to include the dwarfs—creepily played by a bunch of normal-height British character actors with their heads transposed onto small bodies—and the loutish huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) who proves to be our heroine’s Prince Charming, the movie becomes a more conventional fantasy adventure in the Lord of the Rings vein. The rousing speeches and booming battle scenes are all well done as far as blockbuster spectacle goes, but you can’t help but feel the filmmakers’ resistance to the story’s grimmer undercurrents. The moral is clear: Indulge the baser desires of the multiplex masses above all else.

•• NYMag, David Edelstein: When a friend’s little daughter became upset recently watching the beauteous Butter­cup in the fun 1987 mock fairy tale The Princess Bride do little to help the hero slay the Rodent of Unusual Size, I realized we’d crossed a bridge: Damsels in distress can no longer be rescued by handsome men, at least until they’ve proved they can rescue themselves. Snow White and the Huntsman, the latest adaptation of one of the Brothers Grimm’s most beloved fairy tales, is not your father’s Snow White—and, more to the point, not your Uncle Walt’s. Nightmarishly brutal, set against wintry landscapes and medieval battlements, and rife with hopeless, starving peasants, it’s practically a full-bore horror picture, reminiscent of Game of Thrones, Joan of Arc, and Countess Dracula—the one where the title character, inspired by Elizabeth Bathory, stays youthful by bathing in the blood of young women. It’s also strongly influenced by a lot of smart, feminist thinking about why Snow White has so much staying power—and why the story is better when it’s the heroine who slays the monstrous matriarch.

The theme is spelled out in the opening scenes, in which Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) slaughters her newest king in bed while hissing that for women, who have been historically subjugated, “beauty is power.” Everything Ravenna has depends on her looks, and the ultimate judgment is delivered in the male voice of a golden-molten mirror that takes near-human form. In the first Grimm version, the Queen was Snow White’s mother, rather than her stepmother—the brothers altered it when they realized it was too close to the bone for their audience. But the hatred here is still primal. Ravenna’s jealousy of Snow White (Kristen Stewart) isn’t presented as mere vanity. She wants literally to devour the girl’s heart, the corollary to putting an infant to the breast in the mind of a mother perverted by the world of men. Nature itself is sucked dry by the Queen’s thirst for beauty.

Kristen Stewart is not an obvious choice for Snow White, given her habitual expression of discomfort while striking conventional feminine poses—both in movies and on red carpets. That’s why, of course, she’s right for this Snow White, imprisoned in a tower during puberty and with no regard for her looks: She has integrity, inner beauty. “How do I inspire? How do I lead men?” she asks the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), a grief-stricken drunk who teaches Snow White how to stab her opponents by using the weight of their onrushing bodies against them. She’s not a barrel of laughs, but then, unlike recent fractured fairy tales such as Tangled and the campy Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman doesn’t have a single (intentional) laugh. The language is high-flown, the cast unsmiling. It’s a shock when the dwarves (there are eight and they don’t sing) debate killing Snow and the Huntsman (“Skewer him, leave her to rot!”), and a bigger shock when we recognize some of their faces: “What the hell, it’s Ian ­McShane, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, and Bob Hoskins, on little bodies! How’d they do that?!”

Director Rupert Sanders comes from the world of commercials and Xbox games: He’s good with images and not good at all at making them flow together, which means lots of choppy swordplay and tacky slow motion. But the movie’s revisionist tone is startlingly enough to carry you along. The goddessy Theron is a thrilling sight in designer Colleen Atwood’s raven cloak. The actress has no middle register, either declaiming mightily (in close-up) or turning quiet and desolate as wrinkles spread over her face—as they’re apt to do before her next infusion of youth. Stewart’s Snow knows Ravenna is more to be pitied than skewered. Maybe for that reason she’s the first Snow White not to end up in a clinch with her prince, happily indifferent to the verdicts of men or mirrors. You can almost hear her future mother-in-law: “She doesn’t cook, she doesn’t clean …”

•• What Culture, Shaun Munro: Rating 3,5/5
“Twilightification” is a pejorative term that appears to have recently entered the common cinematic lexicon, denoting any entertainment media which has been stylistically or thematically preened to fit the tidy template of the Twilight films (ala the dire Red Riding Hood). In fact, it seems to be a term people warily wave around any remotely fantasy-based film starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson or Taylor Lautner. Snow White and the Huntsman, a frighteningly confident feature debut from music video director Rupert Sanders, ably divorces itself from any such criticisms, and emerges as an impressive, cleverly postmodern take on the Brothers Grimm’s seminal fairytale.

While the bare essentials are as we know them, this is one spin on Snow White that is keen to make the story its own, switching out the more superfluous and predictable plot beats for something a little edgier and more amenable to modern audiences. From virtually its first scene, it is established as brutal and keen to put pressure on the 12A rating; our introduction to the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) sees her brutally stab her new husband, the King, to death. While other takes might shy away from the bloody particulars of such things, Sanders lingers on the infliction and the wound, enhancing the gravity of the violence while not exploiting it.

The Queen and Snow White (Stewart) are of course two sides of the same coin, and the Queen we meet here is a well-realised one, owing not only to Theron’s vicious, intimidating performance, but the wealth of screen time devoted to her character development. We feel her sadness – a hint at a tragic past of neglect is one of this update’s smarter additions – and thanks to bang-up make-up work, we are convinced by both her youthful veneer and her vile “true form” (not that Charlize needs any help looking young).

Snow White, is of course, innocence at its most pure and literally beautiful, but what really impresses is the transformation of the source text from one which seems anachronistic in light of feminism – waiting for a man to save the day – into one of proactive escape from one’s oppressors. The seemingly delicate fairytale figurehead is repositioned as a gutsy leader of men – a risky move, and one which didn’t work so well in Tim Burton’s flaccid Alice in Wonderland – with Stewart’s intensity making up for her waifish, presumably inoffensive frame. It would definitely be fair to say that Theron patently outdoes Stewart in the pic’s first half, dominating the screen, but she later bows out for a lengthy time, giving both Stewart and Snow White time to forge their identities.

As far as the world is rendered, sophisticated visual effects help to amplify a deeply expressionistic style; within the perilous dark woods, trees literally ooze black, and their branches are built of snakes. Striking cinematography from Greig Fraser – who previously lensed the dazzling Let Me In – creates a strong contrast between the Queen’s bleak, miasmic empire, and the bright, optimistic land occupied by the dwarves. The fantastical imagery encountered later on – of fairies and magical animals – is cute and imaginative without ever falling into the sickeningly whimsical. James Newton Howard meanwhile delivers a score as reliable as is to be expected, enhancing the visuals and helping to create a strong atmosphere.

As for the dwarves, it is difficult to imagine how the studio managed to resist focusing on them, because they’re a real hoot. Frankly, the conceit is too good to spoil outright, but Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Bob Hoskins and Ian McShane are wonderful here, injecting energy back into proceedings just as it seems set to run on fumes. The combination of trick photography and visual effects is staggering, and a pleasant head-scratcher.

Akin to the story’s own interplay between light and dark, Sanders gets the balance between fiery and fluffy just right. Downcast and broody though it often is, the dwarves along with Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman keep things from becoming overly self-serious, as has plagued most of the Twilight films, for instance. With accents being something of a wild card affair throughout, Hemsworth’s Scottish riff is an odd but ably-handled choice, though one which will likely be endlessly scrutinised regardless. Nevertheless, he convinces as both a rugged, tragic tough man and alongside the dwarves, palpable comic relief, a much sought-after diversity of talent.

You’d be fair to expect that a story like this can be predicted by-the-numbers, but several subversive story retrofits keep us guessing. Spelled out in less expository terms than a fairytale intended for easy digestion by children, the story takes on a new form, which adults as well as tweens will appreciate. It doesn’t skimp on the darkness, and in fact, is probably closer to the works of Christopher Nolan than those of Stephenie Meyer. Next to Tarsem’s recent take on the material – the shambolic Mirror Mirror – it looks even better.

More The Dark Knight than Twilight, this is one fairytale update that packs an impressive punch and a deft, human touch.

•• Roger Ebert: Rating 3,5/4
"Snow White and the Huntsman" reinvents the legendary story in a film of astonishing beauty and imagination. It's the last thing you would expect from a picture with this title. It falters in its storytelling, because Snow White must be entirely good, the Queen must be entirely bad, and there's no room for nuance. The end is therefore predetermined. But, oh, what a ride.

This is an older Snow White than we usually think of. Played for most of the film by Kristen Stewart, capable and plucky, she has spent long years locked in a room of her late father's castle, imprisoned by his cruel second wife (Charlize Theron). When she escapes and sets about righting wrongs, she is a mature young woman, of interest to the two young men who join in her mission. But the movie sidesteps scenes of romance, and in a way, I suppose that's wise.

The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) is a heroic, mead-guzzling hunter assigned by the Queen to track down Snow White and bring her back to the castle. After encountering her, however, he is so impressed he changes sides. There is also Prince William (Sam Claflin), smitten since childhood, and the two men join in an unstated alliance.

The Queen lives in terror of losing the beauty of her youth and constantly tops up with the blood of virgins to restore it. She tests her success with the proverbial mirror on the wall, which melts into molten metal and assumes a spectral form, not unlike Death in "The Seventh Seal," although its metallic transformation process reminds us of "The Terminator."

The castle, which sits in eerie splendor on an island joined to the mainland only at low tide, is a gothic fantasy that reminds me of the Ghormenghast series. The Queen is joined there by her brother, somewhat diminished by his blond page-boy haircut, who does her bidding but seems rather out to lunch. Extras appear when needed, then disappear. The Queen commands extraordinary supernatural powers, including the ability to materialize countless black birds that can morph into fighting demons or shards of cutting metal.

All of this is rendered appropriately by the special effects, but the treasure of this film is in two of its locations: a harsh, forbidding Dark Forest, and an enchanted fairyland. Both of these realms exist near the castle, and the Huntsman is enlisted in the first place because he knows the Dark Forest, where Snow White has taken refuge.

In this forbidding realm, nothing lives, and it is thick with the blackened bones of dead trees, as if a forest fire had burned only the greenery. There is no cheer here and a monstrous troll confronts Snow White in a dramatic stare-down. After the Huntsman frees her from the Dark Forest, they are delighted to find, or be found by, the Eight Dwarves.

Yes, eight, although one doesn't survive, reducing their number to the proverbial seven. These characters look strangely familiar, and no wonder: The magic of CGI has provided the faces of familiar British actors such as Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan and Toby Jones. While this technique is effective, it nevertheless deprives eight working (real) dwarves with jobs, which isn't really fair.

The dwarves lead them to my favorite realm in the film, an enchanting fairyland, which is a triumph of art direction and CGI. Mushrooms open their eyes and regard the visitors. Cute forest animals scamper and gambol in tribute to a forest scene in Disney's 1937 animated film. The fairies themselves are naked, pale-skinned sprites with old, wise faces. The spirit of this forest is embodied by a great white stag with expressive eyes and horns that spread in awesome complexity. This is a wonderful scene. The director, Rupert Sanders, who began in TV commercials, is clearly familiar with establishing memorable places.

As for the rest, there is a sufficiency of medieval battle scenes, too many for my taste, and a fairly exciting siege of the castle, aided by the intervention of the dwarves, and featuring catapults that hurl globes of burning tar — always enjoyable.

There is a great film here somewhere, perhaps one that allowed greater complexity for the characters. But considering that I walked in expecting no complexity at all, let alone the visual wonderments, "Snow White and the Huntsman" is a considerable experience.

•• Emanuel Levy: The second version this season of the old-age and popular fairytale, “Snow White and the Huntsman” is a visually inventive, darkly-toned, thematically revisionist film, as the producers have led us to believe, but not as dramatically or emotionally involving as we had hoped for.

That said, it’s easy to see by this visionary adaptation what has made the tale so durable for over a century, so legendary in universal appeal, but also so open to various interpretations, including this one, which is imbued with a post-modernist perspective.

You may say that each generation gets the specific rendition of the iconoclastic fables it deserves, and so, “Snow White and the Huntsman” unfolds as an epic spectacle, strong on technical design, dazzling visual style, and state-of-the-art special effects, but weaker on narrative and characterization. While offering a treat to the eyes and to the ears, with striking visual and aural pleasures, ultimately, the movie is a tad too heartless and soulless (Perhaps we deserve this kind of moody and stolid treatment, too).

The reason for the film’s shortcomings may be simple enough: This “Snow White” is helmed by Rupert Sanders, a debutant director who comes from the field of ads and commercials, some of which quite visionary. A respected commercial director, Sanders has achieved fame with a visual style that distinctly branded ad campaigns for the juggernaut video game “Halo 3,” among others.

The screenplay is credited to Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock, with additional (but crucial) polishing work by Hossein Amini (who has penned the Ryan Golsing’s noir “Drive”). Daugherty’s story offers an innovative take on the Brothers Grimm tale, originally published in 1812 in the text “Kinder und Hausmärchen” (“Children’s and Household Tales”).

The casting, it must be said right away, is better than that of “Mirror, Mirror,” and more importantly, it fits into Sanders’ overall conception of the tale.

This is an important year for both of the film’s female stars. Wishing to go beyond what she has done in the “Twilight” series, Kristen Stewart can be seen this season in two different roles, the other being “On the Road,” Walter Salles’ version of Jack Kerouc’s 1957 iconic novel (which premiered in Cannes Film Fest last week to mixed results, though it is not the actors fault). In this version, Stewart plays the titular role as a tougher, more brooding, and rebellious young femme.

Ditto for Charlize Theron, who after years of disappointing roles, experiences something close to a comeback with two parts in high-profile pictures, as the evil Queen Ravena in this picture, and in a secondary role in Ridley Scott’s eagerly anticipated prequel to “Alien,” “Prometheus.” It may or may not be a coincidence that the two movies open theatrically back to back, a week apart (June 1 and June 8, respectively).

As is known, the wicked ruler Ravena’s single-minded goal is to destroy Snow White, failing to realize that the girl, who has escaped her and now threatens her reign, has been training in the art of war with a brutal outdoors Huntsman named Eric, who initially had been dispatched to capture her. This rugged He-man is well played by Chris Hemsworth, who’s very hot right now, on the heels of the huge international success of “Thor and especially “The Avengers.”

Sanders and his writers have shifted the focus of the tale from the more conventionally female-dominated to one with a stronger “masculine” (and slightly feminist) perspective. To that extent, they have enhanced considerably the role of the Huntsman in a story whose scale is bigger, the stakes are higher (if not always credible), and the battles more brutal and fiercer than are the norms for such fairytales.

Assisted by the great production designer, Dominic Watkins (responsible for creating such distinct and authentic milieus as “The Bourne Supremacy” and “United 93”), Sanders has constructed a universe, defined by both familiar iconic metaphors and new imagery, in which every element is slightly skewed and off-center. You will find the expected mirrors and the red apples, but added to them are massively-scaled battles and even a rebellion. That these additions call too much attention to themselves might be a result of the producers’ wish to distinguish their film as much as possible from the eralier “Mirror, Mirror.”

On the plus side, the film’s ensemble is well cast down the line. Sam Claflin plays William, the young duke enchanted by Snow White’s two seemingly contradictory traits, outright defiance and innate purity, and Stewart is adequate in coveying both sides of her persona.

The secondary parts of the dwarfs are portrayed by distinguished British character actors: Ian McShane is Beith, the embittered leader of the clan. Bob Hoskins is Muir, their blind senior statesman. Ray Winstone is Gort, the ill-tempered drunkard. Nick Frost is Nion, Beith’s right-hand man. Toby Jones is Coll, the tough soldier. Eddie Marsden is Duir, the shadow to Coll. Johnny Harris is Quert, Muir’s musical son, and Brian Gleeson is Gus, the youngest of the dwarfs, who stands for the kingdom’s love for Snow White.

But, alas, in its current shape, “Snow Whie and the Huntsman” is overlong by at least 20 minutes or so, too stolid and deliberate in pacing, and too self-conscious in execution. Who knows: Sanders may develop into a more solid and fluent narrative director; this is after all his first picture. There are other filmmakers who have come from the field of ads and commercials, Ridley Scott and David Fincher, to mention just two examples, and went on to become brilliant directors.

•• JoBlo, Chris Bumbray: Rating 8/10
Just like the ads say, this ain't no fairytale. In fact, for the first half hour or so, it almost felt like I was watching a big screen version of GAME OF THRONES (right down to the incestuous, blond-haired, sibling villains), albeit one with far less sex and gore (damn). Certainly, SNOW WHITE & THE HUNTSMAN puts the grim back into the Brothers Grimm, and for the most part, I found this to be a highly entertaining fantasy adventure.

Of course, this version of SNOW WHITE has nothing at all to do with this spring's MIRROR, MIRROR- which I've yet to see (not that I have any desire to), or even the classic Disney cartoon. In fact, the only other version of Snow White that seems to have been some form of inspiration is a little known cable version from the nineties called SNOW WHITE: A TALE OF TERROR, which was even darker than this.

SW&TH certainly is a radical re-imaging, and a very successful one- or so it seemed to me sitting in a theatre full of cheering, clapping moviegoers. Running a shade over two hours, this takes it's time telling the story in an appropriately epic fashion, with a good chunk of time setting up Ravenna's rise to power (including a very LOTR-style battle with soldiers made of black glass), and Snow White's initial escape. The Huntsman doesn't even figure into the story until about half hour in, and the dwarfs until the film is half over, but to director Rupert Sanders credit, this isn't much of an issue.

As Ravenna, Charlize Theron (certainly the fairest of them all) seems to be having the time of her life chewing the scenery as the deliciously evil queen. Whether sucking the youth out of teenage beauties, or chewing the hearts out of black crows, Theron is terrific- although the sheer over-the-top way she devours the part may put off some. To me, this seemed just right. Director Sanders seems just as enthralled with Theron as we are, and for large parts of the movie she dominates it, and some of the imagery involving her character, including her emergence from a milk bath, and transformation into a flock of crows- is quite striking.

Meanwhile, Kristen Stewart makes an extremely likable Snow White, and while some have snarked at her getting the part, she once again proves that there's a lot more to her than TWILIGHT, and she perfectly embodies the purity that the character is supposed to radiate (although- this being 21st century fare, she kicks a bit of ass too).

Once he shows up, Chris Hemsworth also makes for a fine Huntsman. While Hemsworth initially seemed a little young to be playing the battle-weary, alcoholic Huntsman, he's able to play a lot older than he actually is. Differentiating the part from Thor, Hemsworth adopts a thick Scottish brogue, along with greasy hair and a beard, and (sorry ladies) manages to keep his shirt on most of the time. Hemsworth is kinda perfect in films like this, bringing an effective edge to the part, as well as doing nicely in the many action sequences. As Snow White's princely love-interest, Sam Claflin is game, although next to Theron, Stewart, and Hemsworth, his part seems a bit inconsequential and disposable.

As for the dwarfs, they come into the film an hour in, and bring some much needed comic relief to this dark fairy tale. Considering that they're played by a who's who of awesome English actors (including Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan, and Bob Hoskins)- you can be sure that they steal the show once they're introduced, with each getting the time to make a nice impression. While they're far less merry than their animated counterparts, they bring some much needed wit to the proceedings, and also hit a nice melancholic note, with them being the last of their kind, that fits in well with the rest of the film.

Suffice to say, SNOW WHITE & THE HUNTSMAN really impressed me, and I'll admit that I'm not the easiest sell for fantasy films (I like the genre, but I like it done well- see GAME OF THRONES). But, the gritty vibe (matched by a thunderous musical score by James Newton Howard), the top-notch leads, and striking visuals left me plenty satisfied. And it's in good ol' 2D. Hooray!

•• The Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy: This serious take on the fairy tale features arresting visuals, surprising imagination and a face-off between the beauty of Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron.

A bold rethinking of a familiar old story and striking design elements are undercut by a draggy midsection and undeveloped characters in Snow White and the Huntsman. After the campy family farce of Mirror, Mirror, this second revisionist take of the year on the 19th century fairy tale strides out deadly serious and in full armor, not to mention with more costume changes for Charlize Theron than a Lady Gaga concert. Designed to appeal to teen and young-adult girls and guys, this muscular PG-13 action adventure conspicuously lacks romance but should get a good box-office ride on the shoulders of stars Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth.

The teeing up is dramatic, to say the least, giving a swift and dire account of the malevolent usurpation of the throne of a rugged waterfront kingdom by Ravenna (Theron), a stunning blonde who infiltrates from enemy territory, bewitches the widowed monarch and dispatches him on their wedding night. The king's daughter is kept prisoner in a high tower until her maturity, at which point the queen's mirror -- in this case a giant golden plate that morphs into a molten statue -- informs her that the status of fairest in the land has shifted to Snow White (Stewart), who represents the queen's greatest threat as well as her salvation.

All through this, the visual elements are riveting, with production designer Dominic Watson and costume designer Colleen Atwood making major statements with their fabulously detailed and rich-looking creations. Initially based on blacks, whites and reds, the color scheme is slowly expanded to embrace a rich, carefully calculated array of hues, which first-time director Rupert Sanders, whose background is in commercials, knows how to show off to maximum effect.

Woe be to anyone who would permit Snow White to escape. But since the guilty party is the queen's albino-ish enforcer brother Finn (Sam Spruell), this unfortunate fellow is merely obliged to follow her into the aptly named Dark Forest, to which she has perilously fled and from which the dirty, unschooled teenager can only be rescued by a drunken warrior (Hemsworth), another widower, who has nothing to lose.

Sanders shows a skilled hand for conjuring up dramatic contexts, presenting characters, making actors look good and stirring up threatening moods. He's less effective at maintaining interest over the long haul of the midsection's lengthy journey, as the huntsman leads Snow White through the dreaded forest to a village of women and children and on to a land known as Sanctuary, a once-enchanted home to dwarfs, sprites and unique animals that has come upon hard times since the evil queen has been in power.

Although this interlude has its charms, stemming from the creature creations as well as the from the lightly amusing characterizations of the little guys by normally robust actors such as Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone and Eddie Marsan, the protracted odyssey feels especially flat because it's not marked by any deepening of the personalities of the princess and her blade-toting escort or any significant alterations in their relationship. Hemsworth's soldier seems too loaded and hung up on his late wife to think too seriously about Snow White, but even if he did, he'd have to defer to William (Sam Claflin), the princess's childhood friend and presumed intended, who turns up (with this season's obligatory weapon, the bow and arrow) to join the good fight and install Snow White on her throne back home where she belongs.

Every so often, the film cuts back to the castle to reveal the queen in distressed states of aging and miraculous rejuvenation, the latter alarmingly achieved by sucking the youth out of younger victims. This royal would seem to be a self-made vampire of sorts as well as a forerunner of contemporary youth-obsessed women willing to do almost anything to maintain their beauty and allure.

So this is a film of moments, of arresting visuals, marked seriousness, sometimes surprising imagination and with nothing on its mind, really, except to provide the conventional reassurance of installing a rightful royal on the throne. It's also a film in which you can't help but behold and compare the contrasting beauty of two of the most exceptional-looking women on the screen today, Stewart and Theron. Sanders studies both of them closely and from many angles, with Stewart nearly always maintaining her ethereal air clenched by angst and determination and Theron expressing a will and mercilessness to rival any despot. Despite the narrow ranges their roles require, both command one's attention throughout. Required in their own ways to be gaze-worthy, Hemsworth and Claflin bear up in far more constricted parts.

Craft and technical contributions are all first-rate. James Newton Howard has composed an unusually somber and nuanced full orchestral score that helpfully amplifies the story's dark moods and currents.

•• Rolling Stone, Peter Travers: Rating 2,5/4
You don't need a voice in a mirror to tell you which recent Snow White movie is the fairest of them all. Snow White and the Huntsman has Mirror Mirror beat by a mile. Director Rupert Sanders made his bones in commercials and Xbox games, and his debut feature is a visual marvel. Not in the way of the chirpy, witless, postcard-ready Mirror Mirror, in which Lily Collins played an unthreatening Snow and Julia Roberts merely swanned around as the Evil Queen. Sanders' take on the classic fairy tale is as grim as, well, the Brothers Grimm originally intended. It has a darkness that seeps into the soul.

OK, now that I've scared away the children, we can talk. Credit Sanders for assembling an intriguing cast. Kristen Stewart, freed from the bonds of Twilight, morphs convincingly from a skittish girl into a determined warrior princess. Her Snow White knows that Evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), her stepmother, murdered her father on their marriage bed and now wants Snow dead so she can eat her heart out. Literally. Otherwise, there's no way the Queen can stay the fairest in the land, since Snow is looking good.

The Queen dispatches the Huntsman (Thor's Chris Hemsworth) to the Dark Forest to find Snow and perform his own brand of thoracic surgery. But the Huntsman, a drunken widower, begins to see Snow's point. Then there's the matter of the seven dwarfs (eight in this version). A bunch of scruffier forest shits you couldn't find anywhere. And they're far from little darlings as played by the formidable likes of Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Nick Frost and Bob Hoskins, all shrunk down to dwarf size. "Let her rot," they shriek in a manner that hardly befits a toydoll collection.

This is all to the good. What rankles is that Sanders loses his nerve just when the story starts cooking. Stewart looks strong on horseback in armor, and it's satisfying that Snow and the Huntsman never even think of getting it on. This sister is definitely doing it for herself. But Sanders leads her on a conventional route to the film's climax. Also, as a director of actors, Sanders has no flair for modulation. Theron is every inch the imperious Queen, and the way her silence simmers is something to behold. But when the Queen starts ranting like a Real Housewife of Castle Bitch, Theron's power dwindles. Snow White and the Huntsman is definitely a missed opportunity. Sanders was on to something in taking the Snow White tale to its most menacing extreme. Right now, he lacks the skill set to shape and mold what's in his head to screen proportions. But the good news is that Sanders has the potential to do just that. Today's misfire just might turn into tomorrow's masterwork.

•• NPR, Linda Holmes: What Charlize Theron does for Snow White and The Huntsman in her role as the Wicked Queen is a bit like what Godzilla does for a Godzilla movie: She gives you something big and distracting to look at while a lot of thinly defined victims run around frantically trying to avoid a grisly death at her hand.

This is the second Snow White movie in only two months, and where March's Mirror Mirror was whimsical and playful like a cartoon fairy tale, this one is meant to be dark and scary like a real fairy tale. This is meant to be the Snow White with the scheming and the murdering of family members and the ripping out of hearts, not the Snow White with the "Hi-ho, hi-ho" theme song.

They've cast it with actors both well-regarded and popular: Aside from Theron as the Wicked Queen, Snow White herself is played by Kristen Stewart, an actress with considerable chops she's rarely had good opportunities to demonstrate, since she's spent so much of her career in the Twilight franchise. And the titular huntsman the queen sends to retrieve Snow White after she escapes from her tower is played by Chris Hemsworth, currently hammering things mightily as Thor in The Avengers.

The two are destined to get beyond the hunter and the hunted, though: Once they iron out their differences, they become allies in opposing the queen's attempts to eat Snow White's heart and become immortal. (You can see why S.W., in particular, would be against this.)

The first few minutes of the film, from first-time director Rupert Sanders, contain some lovely visuals, with intriguing uses of specific focus and a white-and-gray palette that promises something foreboding, something particularly spare and cold.

But quickly, that gives way to conventional melodramatic fantasy as we watch the queen yell, menace, glower and eat the hearts out of birds. She's accompanied by her sycophantic brother and right-hand man Finn (Sam Spruell), who, were the queen a Disney villainess, would be a right-hand parrot or lizard. He has, it must be said, about as many dimensions here as he would there.

Once the queen's wickedness is made manifest, however, and just when Theron's lusty devouring of a castle's worth of scenery begins to shift from impressive to tiresome, something even worse happens: She disappears from the movie. We then enter a long fallow period in which we wander around with Snow White, her huntsman, and eventually the seven dwarfs, who are not played by actual little people but by digitally altered actors including Ian McShane. They're followed around by the pasty and terrible Finn, as well as by Snow's well-meaning, personality-free childhood friend William (Sam Claflin), who serves no conceivable purpose in the story.

There was great excitement when the early images from this film emerged, because it seemed that here was an active Snow White — a warrior, wearing armor, participating in battle rather than watching from a tower and awaiting rescue.

Unfortunately, that's the tail end of the story, and it comes after she, like so many fairy princesses before her, spends far too much of the proceedings doing almost nothing except being scared and pleading for help. (And, in one cringe-inducing sequence, pacifying a violent monster by gazing warmly upon it. Even monsters get crushes on her!) She does have the resourcefulness to escape in the first place, it's true, but even that escape requires a horse ex machina to appear, and after that Snow retreats into passivity and stays there until it's time for the final act.

What dooms Snow White and the Huntsman is ultimately not how over the top it is, but how dull it is. Stewart and Hemsworth have so little chemistry that any romantic undertones between them seem clumsily stapled to the story. (The film's PG-13 rating mentions "brief sensuality," so there must be some; when it occurs does not come immediately to mind, which is ominous in sensuality terms.) Moreover, once you've seen the queen bellow and roar, you've seen just about everything she does throughout, aside from CGI aging effects. Theron can be an actress of sublime subtlety, but this role shows off only her power and volume.

The idea of a dark Snow White is a sound one, and the idea of casting an actress with the strength of Theron to terrorize her is a sound one as well. But everyone involved needed a substantially better script — and a better eye for the difference between what would come off as loopy, creepy darkness and what would just make audiences sit in the theater thinking, "Did that guy just fight a bunch of birds with an ax? I'm almost sure he did."

•• CinemaBlend, Katey Rich: Rating 2,5/5
In Snow White and the Huntsman, a series of characters insist over and over again that the titular princess is "very special" or "the one" or "the only one who can save us;" it's a classic instance of telling instead of showing that reveals a lot about this glossy but unsatisfying fairy tale revision. Snow White is special because she has to be for the story to work, not because director Rupert Sanders, the trio of screenwriters or Kristen Stewart give us any reason to believe it. And the more the movie tells you something you know isn't true, the harder it is to invest in a story you know already, and in a world that's all surface sheen and no logic or stakes.

First-time director Sanders famously got the job after presenting a self-shot visual reel, and it's clear he cherishes the grim, fantastically curated visuals of the film above all else. That goes double for every scene featuring Ravenna (Charlize Theron), the evil stepmother queen who handily kills Snow White's father then locks the girl up in a tower, all the better to execute her reign of terror on the land. Far from your run-of-the-mill despot who can only poison an apple, Ravenna maintains eternal beauty by sucking out the youthful souls of women culled from the countryside; she can also sic glass knights on her enemies, shapeshift, and somehow also extend the youth of her doting brother (Sam Spruell).

Theron commits admirably to the evil but broken Ravenna, but beyond outfitting her with a series of phenomenal dresses and a few nifty CGI transformations, Sanders basically abandons her. Theron's high-pitched, ferocious performance frequently borders on camp, but Sanders never lets her take it there, leaving her fuming in her castle in a series of dresses and severe crowns that imprison what could have been the most interesting part of the movie. Because beyond Ravenna, we're left with "the one" Snow White, her handsome but boring would-be savior William (Sam Claflin), a band of hastily sketched-out dwarves played by barely recognizable famous people like Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins, and then the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), who with a gruff Scottish accent and axe-throwing skills frequently seems as bored to be stuck with Snow White as we are.

The Huntsman is initially assigned to kill Snow White and bring back her heart, just like in the fairy tale, but winds up traveling with her through the dark forest, which Sanders overstuffs with horrors early on but eventually looks like regular old woods. For a movie that ends in an epic battle on horseback, Snow White and the Huntsman is remarkably aimless for a while-- the main two evade capture, run into some dwarves and a hauntingly beautiful village of women (the movie's best scene by far), and then eventually work up the stones and the manpower to fight back against Ravenna.

The easiest way to liven up the proceedings would have been a romance, and the way Snow White and the Huntsman bungles this might be its most baffling mistake, especially given the Twilight-adjacent fanbase they're aiming for. Stewart, giving a nicely rounded performance in a badly written role, does spark up a nice chemistry with Hemsworth, which should have made for an easy and juicy conflict when William arrives to join the fight. But Sanders, who either doesn't know how to direct his actors or doesn't bother with them when there's CGI scenery to adjust, doesn't give us any emotions to invest in at all, leaning instead over and over on the same portentous notes of good vs. evil, fate and loyalty and all the other things you've seen done better in better fantasy epics. Sanders has approached a classic fairy tale with a few strong visual ideas and a very game Charlize Theron, and it's almost impressive how little he's managed to make of it.

•• The Reel Deal, Mark Sells: Mirror, mirror, on the wall, which movie adaptation is fairest of them all? Following in the footsteps of the Julia Roberts' farce, Mirror Mirror, comes Snow White and the Huntsman, a much darker revision of the beloved fairy tale. Here, an older Snow White is held captive by her father's second wife, a cruel and evil Queen who fears losing her beauty and must drink the blood of virgins to restore it. So when the fairest of them all escapes, the Queen sends the Huntsmen out to bring Snow White back to the castle and ultimately, preserve her youth. Without question, Snow White and the Huntsman is a visual pleasure. The costumes, the landscapes, and the effects are all colorful and creative. However, the film is slightly off in the character and story departments - areas that could have benefitted from complexity over fairy tale simplicity. It's not enough to turn the film into a bad apple, but ironically, reduces Snow White and the Huntsman to a superficial beauty.

•• Sci-fi Movie Hype, Mark Dujsik: Rating 3/4
The Queen is simply insecure after being jilted by one man too many...

She’s power-hungry after a difficult life that began when her mother cast a spell on her daughter that would cause the girl to retain her strength as long as she remains beautiful. She and her brother have apparently lived the lives of outcasts ever since.

The huntsman is a widower. He spends his days in a drunken stupor, and, when he questions the Queen’s order to find her a young woman who has run away into the woods, he is perfectly content with her resulting threat of death. He has a death wish, if only so that he may see his beloved wife again.

Snow White is still considered the fairest in the kingdom because of her kind spirit, which has been forged after much suffering and death around her. That spirit also apparently has the ability to bring life back to what has become a wasteland after the Queen took control. When it comes time to end the Queen’s reign, she’s the one to rally the troops into battle with a stirring speech.

It’s amazing what little details can do to reinvigorate a story that has been told in some form or another countless times (including one blunder of a cinematic incarnation earlier this year). Snow White and the Huntsman, which imagines the Brothers Grimm story as a combination of something out of history (in a general way) and fairy tale, contains enough such details to help make the familiar elements of the story seem new again. There’s even a certain poetry to the simplicity of the “Once upon a time” opening narration, which includes the line, “Nature turned on itself and people on each other”—suggesting everything while still leaving plenty to the imagination.

It’s a bleak tale, this adaptation, and that prologue sets the tone and atmosphere, which first-time director Rupert Sanders shows a strong hand at maintaining, just right. The first queen of the land envisioned her future daughter’s countenance after pricking her finger on a rose in the castle’s garden and watching three drops of blood fall on the snowy ground (skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, a will as strong as a rose).

Some years after giving birth, the queen dies. The king is inconsolable until he discovers Ravenna (Charlize Theron, creepy early on in the character’s quiet moments but becoming a typical scenery-chewing villain as the film progresses) locked up in a carriage on the battlefield, where a phantom army that shatters like black glass falls a bit too easily. So taken aback by the woman’s beauty is the king that he doesn’t notice.

He only learns of the trick just before Ravenna stabs him in bed on their wedding night (She falls to the other side of the bed afterwards, as one satisfied after ecstasy). Ravenna locks her stepdaughter in the highest tower (The film connects its heroine to Joan of Arc with her prayerful imprisonment and especially when she takes on the role of the leader of an army) and rules throughout the years that follow with cruelty, though she imagines herself to be much kinder than those who have treated her poorly in the past. After all, it’s not any queen who will allow her citizens the privilege of drinking the milk in which she bathes.

The rest of the plot follows through in a relatively customary way. Snow White (Kristen Stewart) escapes the castle after learning that Ravenna wants her heart to solidify the spell that will keep the queen beautiful and ageless (Her mirror is a golden bowl that melts into a haunted, hooded figure). Ravenna hires the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, particularly solid in a soliloquy in which the character lays bare his soul) to seek out Snow White in the Dark Forest, and eventually they come across a group of dwarves—the last of their kind (Through some very effective technical trickery, actors including Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, and Toby Jones become smaller versions of themselves).

All of the familiar parts of the story are colored with impressive production design. The forest is a nightmare, filled with spores that release a noxious, hallucinogenic gas that turns the already frightening place even more so. The trees seem to reach out for any wayward traveler, while winged beasts and figures that form from a black fog come from nowhere.

The rest of this world is no better for the people within it. Along the edge of the wood is a bridge, and anyone vaguely aware of fairy tales knows what lives under one of those (This one is massive with skin that blends in perfectly with its rocky surroundings). A neighboring town is full of villagers wielding scythes and is decorated with skeletons in hanging cages. The only place that provides any solace is a glade where fairies dwell, and screenwriters Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini don’t allow it to stay uncorrupted for long.

In short: There seems to be something grotesque at every turn of Snow White and the Huntsman. Even Ravenna’s transformation from a murder of crows back to her regular self is prompted by the birds flying straight into the floor of her closet, leading Ravenna to emerge from the viscous mess. The film sets a startlingly foreboding stage upon which an old story plays in sometimes-inspired ways.

•• Express, Henry Fitzherbert: Rating 3/5
Snow White And The Huntsman is a much more muscular affair as it turns the fairytale princess (Kristen Stewart) into a Joan Of Arc-like leader of men (and dwarves) who seeks to liberate her land from evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron).

We even get a climactic speech on the beach as an armour-clad Snow White, on horseback, rallies the downtrodden masses. “Who will ride with me?” she bellows like Braveheart’s plucky little sis.

All the elements are here for a rousing bit of fairytale reinvention with an especially twisted antagonist in Theron’s murderously seductive Queen Ravenna who marries Snow White’s father and stabs him to death on their wedding night. Charming.

Snow White is locked away like one of the Prince’s in the tower while Ravenna maintains her comely smoothness and magical powers by sucking the youth from hapless young innocents, leaving them decaying husks.

Avoiding such a fate in the knick of time, Snow White escapes into the “dark forest” and Ravenna hires a “Huntsman” (Thor’s Chris Hemsworth), a forest hunk with emotional issues, to track her down.

It looks like we’ll be in for an exciting chase movie but the truculent, Scottish-accented Huntsman is quickly won over by Snow White and the picture drifts into Lord Of The Rings-lite territory with long walks along epic landscapes and detours into enchanted kingdoms of fairies.

Directed by Brit Rupert Sanders - a commercials director and talented visual stylist - it’s spectacular looking but ponderous and peopled by too many characters (and that’s before we get to meet the dwarves).

Another potential love interest materializes in the form of Sam Claflin’s Prince William, Snow White’s childhood pal turned hotheaded rebel warrior.

Which of the two brooding studs will seal the deal with a kiss? Oddly, there’s no great romantic tension or conflict while Theron’s glacial Queen is absent for long periods and much missed.

There’s fun to be had in witnessing some of Britain’s most recognizable geezers playing shrunken versions of themselves as the dwarves - including Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane and Eddie Marsan - but they add little to the under-plotted story.

Still, Snow White proves a decent swashbuckler at the climax, the picture looks impressive and it’s appealing young cast should ensure it has more chance of catching on with the public than the lame Mirror, Mirror.

••, Liz Braun: Rating 3,5/4
In the epic battle between good and evil, evil kind of steals the show in Snow White And The Huntsman, a retelling of the classic fairy tale. The film is noteworthy for glorious visuals and music.

Charlize Theron is all menace and beauty as the wicked queen whose mirror tells her who is the fairest of them all. Kristen Stewart is Snow White, here played as a cross between Lara Croft and Joan Of Arc; she's the king's daughter and the one person in the land who can restore order and natural harmony. Stewart does a good job, but even the most diehard Twilight fan will admit that Theron rules the film. She is kicking butt every second she's on the screen.

The huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) sent by the queen to kill Snow White becomes Snow White's ally instead, but you already know all that. What's new here is the darkness of the tale and the fantastic creatures filling the landscape. There are snakes and beetles and terrible creatures in the dark forest, and there are fairies and magical flowers in a spot called the Sanctuary. You never run out of things to look at in this film.

In fact, Snow White and The Huntsman has a terrific visual joke at its centre: the seven dwarfs. They are played by a handful of respected British actors, including Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones and Eddie Marsan. It's an inspired bit of silliness.

Otherwise, the film takes itself fairly seriously, although aside from a nod to feminism, there doesn't seem to be much social or political underpinning here. It's too long at two hours plus and it sags in places, but when Snow White And The Huntsman is at its most lively, it's scary and delightful. It's probably too dark for kids younger than nine or 10, but it's a lot more engaging than the sanitized version of the fairy tale.

•• The Detroit News, Tom Long: Don't go looking for Happy, Dopey, Sneezy and the rest in "Snow White and the Huntsman."

Oh, sure, there's dwarves. And fairies and witches and trolls and phantom warriors. Even a mirror on the wall.

But this visually arresting and dramatically straightforward version of the Snow White story doesn't have the light lilt of a Disney fairy tale. From the princess' filthy fingernails to the evil queen's soul-sucking attacks, this Snow White has bite.

Fantasy fans should be ecstatic; small children should stay home. The happy ending here is a long time coming and fairly hard-fought.

In some nameless land, Snow White is born a princess. Her mother dies when she's still a little girl, and then her father falls in love with and marries the mysterious Ravenna (Charlize Theron). This turns out to be short-sighted, and soon Ravenna is the widowed queen of the land.

Snow White (Kristen Stewart) grows up captive in a tower as Ravenna's mere presence causes the countryside to wilt. Ravenna, turns out, feeds off the life force of others, using their spirits to maintain her great beauty and witchy ways.

Just as Ravenna has decided to yank Snow White's heart right out of her chest (which would make for a very short and brutal film), Snow White escapes. As fairy tale luck would have it, she stumbles upon a lovely white horse on a beach and gallops off to get lost in the Dark Forest.

The Dark Forest being a very scary place, none of the queen's men know their way around it. So they recruit a widowed, drunken huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to find Snow White and bring her back for a heart-ectomy.

He finds the girl, but she convinces him to side with her and travel to enlist the help of a nearby duke in overthrowing the queen. This is the beginning of acknowledging that Snow White has sort of a mystical glow to her.

And then the film becomes a mythical road trip as the two meet a contingent of dwarves, walk through a magic fairyland and spend time in a village where all the women have scarred faces so they won't threaten the queen's reign of beauty.

First-time director Rupert Sanders, a veteran of high-end commercials, certainly shows he has visual know-how and imagination. His fairies are adorable, the queen's incarnations are properly terrifying and the overall landscape has just the right "Lord of the Rings" tone of haunting beauty.

The film's most magnificent creation, though, may be the dwarves, who are made up of full-size British thespians (Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan) — somehow shrunk down — who seem to be having the time of their lives.

Hemsworth — Thor to superhero fans — does a fine job as the Huntsman, a big, sweaty fellow fighting off a tragic streak. But the film belongs to its female leads.

Theron lets her demonic freak flag fly, sputtering and shouting and clawing her way through scenes, desperate to retain her beauty and immortality.

Stewart, meanwhile, keeps it low key, letting Snow White slowly emerge as a sort of goddess-leader. But she brings real power to a battle-rousing rant at the end and, let's face it, she looks pretty cool in armor.

Perhaps the best thing about "Snow White and the Huntsman" is it doesn't smirk at itself. It plays out as a story about mortality and greed and oppression in a fantastical world, but it doesn't act as if anything is silly.

It's hard to keep a straight face while looking at a troll, but "Snow White and the Huntsman" does so. And it works.

•• Los Angeles Times, Betsy Sharkey: "Snow White and the Huntsman," starring a fierce Kristen Stewart and an even fiercer Charlize Theron as warring sides of good and evil, is a baroque enchantment filled with dazzling darkness, desultory dwarfs, demonic trolls and beastly fairies. It is an absolute wonder to watch and creates a warrior princess for the ages. But what this revisionist fairy tale does not give us is a passionate love — its kisses are as chaste as the snow is white.

Perhaps they are saving the passion for the sequel, for it seems there is surely one to come after director Rupert Sanders' brilliantly inventive debut. The film's Alexander McQueen-esque illusions of grandeur do a very good job of masking its flaws, and for the story, Evan Daugherty has conjured up a serious feminist twist on the ages old fable. It is his first screenplay to be produced, with later assists and shared credit with veterans John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side," "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil") and Hossein Amini ("Drive," "The Wings of the Dove").

The bones of the tale remain as the Brothers Grimm envisioned it — a villainess queen obsessed with beauty, a truth-telling mirror, a fairer and far younger Snow White, helpful hapless dwarfs, a poison apple and the power of true love's kiss. But it's the way in which the filmmakers have fleshed things out that makes the magic happen. The best addition is a drunken mercenary in the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), who is pressed by the Queen to track down Snow White.

Instead of a prince, there is a childhood sweetheart who grows into the daring duke William (Sam Claflin), a bowman destined to break down walls that both protect and repress. Queen Ravenna is now blessed and cursed with a hopelessly devoted and devious brother Finn (Sam Spruell). And in addition to notions of immortality, the pure of heart and the blackest of souls, the film is examining all the ways in which power-mad politics can bleed a country and its people dry.

But the seismic shifts have come in the heroics, with Snow White driven by her destiny to right the wrongs of her kingdom, a girl of ambitions who can't be bothered by love. Duke William is something of a romantic player, but it's the Huntsman who proves most worthy of Snow White's anger and her affection — she's really not into the whole being saved thing, and if there's a white steed, she'll ride it herself, thank you very much.

Hemsworth has a great screen presence that works as a good counterpoint to the slightly built Stewart. He is explosive when there are fights to pick, but he flounders as a sloppy drunk and he's not given much of a chance to become a heartthrob.

In Theron's hands, Ravenna plays a lethal political and personal game, literally and figuratively sucking the life out of everything and everyone around her. It is a chilling transformation for the actress, who embodies the Queen's desperation for youth and immortality in ways that are frighteningly reflective of our times. Those bloody little raven hearts she seems to be munching would sell like hotcakes if they had half of the rejuvenating properties we witness on screen.

But none of it would work without Stewart's steely Snow White as the bough that will not break, and never have the actress' soulful eyes and exposed heart worked more in her favor. The story begins with her magical childhood (Raffey Cassidy plays the young Snow White) that is soon marred by her mother's death and her father's (Noah Huntley) fateful fall for the damsel who will cause all the distress and that molten mirror mirror on the wall. Its shape-shifting properties are one of the film's many mesmerizing effects (Christopher Obi gives the reflecting glass a booming bass voice to match).

What exceeds expectations is the way in which the film realizes Sanders' insane flights of fancy, from the evil armies that shatter into dark shards to the eerie way in which actors Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins have been morphed into wonderfully wizened dwarfs.

This is a movie that is built from the ground up for maximum visual impact — the sewage that Snow White must swim through is wretched, the rock-hewn castle seems hand-carved out of the cliffs, the mythical white stag in a forest lush with bewitching flora and fauna is otherworldly to behold.

•• The Irish Times, Donald Clarke: YES, YES, YES. The latest adaptation of Snow White – like this year’s feeble Mirror Mirror – is, of course, an outrageous rip-off of Tim Burton’s puzzlingly successful Alice in Wonderland.

As in that film, the heroes get to don armour and wallop antagonists on their hairy heads. Come to think of it, Burton’s film owed an awful lot to Lord of the Rings. The new film is positively dripping in other people’s DNA.

Never mind. Snow White and the Huntsman turns out to be a surprisingly nifty piece of work. Whereas Alice in Wonderland toyed too much with whimsy and cuteness, Rupert Sanders’s grimy epic allows in a surprising amount of blood and gratifying degrees of entry-level horror. It’s spooky, funny and just a little bit freaky.

Charlize Theron is impressively spiteful as the wicked queen who takes expected umbrage at the mirror’s outrageous suggestion that her stepdaughter might be the “fairest of them all”. The under-rated Kristen Stewart brings introverted fury to the role of Snow White. Though the film stays away from clever-clever pop-cultural references, one still gets the sense of a lady who lunches becoming confused by a looser, more contemporary class of beauty.

Chris Helmsworth, our current Thor, confirms his status as the era’s most gifted wielder of the manly grunt. Playing the titular huntsman, he is offered every opportunity to pluck the damsel – no slouch at defending herself, mind – from the clutches of demonic henchmen.

At times, the smoky art design becomes just a little monotonous. But the interlude in a fairy glade offers some colourful relief, and the contributions from the celebrity dwarfs – Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Nick Frost and three others – are consistently amusing.

Mind you, one can’t help but worry about the notion of digitally altering fully sized actors to play little people. Isn’t this a little like blacking up performers to become ersatz people of colour? Some class of boycott is sure to follow.

•• The Aisle Seat, Mike McGranaghan: Rating 3/4
My fear going into Snow White & the Huntsman was that it would represent the Twilight-ing of a classic fairy tale, kind of like last year's Red Riding Hood. I have nothing against making movies for a primarily tween-girl audience, but some of them are dumbed down to appalling levels. (Cute boys! Love triangles! Barely contained sexual urges! Ugh.) Much to my surprise, it seems as though the makers of this picture were trying to make a Snow White movie for guys. It's got a couple of gorgeous lead actresses, some dazzling CGI, and a handful of wild-and-crazy action sequences. I guess the theory is that women will go see a “guy's movie” more readily than men will go see a “chick flick.” Of course, I can only speak for one man – myself - and I found Snow White & the Huntsman to be unexpectedly entertaining.

Kristen Stewart plays Snow White, a fair maiden who is locked in a castle tower by her evil stepmother Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who took over the kingdom after killing Snow's father. Ravenna is obsessed with youth and beauty. A magic spell allows her to absorb those things from other women, essentially giving her eternal good looks, so long as she can continue to find new victims upon whom to prey. When her magic mirror informs her that the now-grown Snow White is officially the “fairest of them all,” Ravenna vows to fatally suck up the young woman's beauty. Snow escapes before that can happen, and the huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) sent to track her down ends up joining forces with her to defeat the evil queen. And then they meet a bunch of dwarfs.

Snow White & the Huntsman is a visually magnificent work. From a production standpoint, everything on the screen is stunning. The majesty of the costumes and sets are heightened by Greig Fraser's atmospheric cinematography. (He also shot the equally-impressive Let Me In, so that's no surprise.) There is a lushness to the film that you can get lost in; there were times when I was admiring the sheer look of it more than I was investing in the plot. It truly is eye candy. You could literally take any frame from this film and hang it on your living room wall as a piece of art.

But more than that, the movie is grimmer than you might anticipate. This is not a sweet-and-sugary big-screen fairy tale. There are moments of genuine menace, especially the sequences set in the Dark Forest, where Snow White gets hit with a cloud of hallucinogens and begins imagining all sorts of gruesome and disturbing things, including mushrooms with eyes. The combat scenes are staged like those in Gladiator, with shaky cameras and rapid editing, yet instead of blood, Ravenna's minions explode into shards of metal when hit. At several points, Ravenna is shown mercilessly turning helpless young women into aged hags. All of these things created sufficient drama to keep me hooked.

Aside from the visuals, a sizable chunk of the credit must go to Charlize Theron. She's superb as the evil queen. Theron takes the character to the edge without over-playing her. She also brings a tiny hint of humanity to Ravenna. Yes, the woman does cruel, cruel things, but you can see a tinge of insecurity underneath it all. This is a woman whose own lack of esteem has literally turned her into a monster. Only an actress of Theron's stature could give such a villain that extra dimension. She's the ticking heart of the picture. Stewart and Hemsworth are good too, as are the famous actors playing the dwarfs. Nick Frost, Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, and Ray Winstone may not look like little people, but the seamless special effects convincingly put their heads onto smaller bodies. They also bring welcome flashes of humor.

I'll be the first to admit that Snow White & the Huntsman is nothing more than a surface-level pleasure. Thematically, it goes darker than it does deep. The plot occasionally falls victim to clunky pacing, as well as a sense that more effort went into the visuals than into the words actually coming out of the actors' mouths. Giving the two lead actresses more screen time together could have amped up the tension, or even made the conflict between their characters more vivid. As it stands, they spend most of the movie apart, fighting one another from afar.

Those flaws went through my mind as I watched, but then there would be a fantastical scene in the fairy forest, or some new creature for Snow and her cohorts to fight, or Theron would pop back up and unleash her character's fury. And you know what? That was enough for me. Snow White & the Huntsman is slick and stylish, with an overriding desire to show you the grittier flip side of a famous fairy tale we usually see portrayed with more lightness. I surrendered to its pleasures, in spite of its shortcomings.

•• Dustin Putman: Rating 3/4
Arriving less than three months after Tarsem's buoyant fractured fairy tale "Mirror Mirror," "Snow White and the Huntsman" makes clear that there is more than enough room to house two separate—and very different—revisionist takes on the Brothers Grimm's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" fable. Whereas the former film was coated in a candy-colored palette and embraced a cunning sense of humor, this one is conceived and mounted as a portentous action epic in the vein of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Director Rupert Sanders, making an impressive feature debut, belies his experience helming commercials by methodically and self-assuredly unfolding his story and characters without any tendency to go for erratic edits and style over substance. Oh, there's a lush aesthetic to behold—technically, every aspect is exquisite in its sheer detail and scale—but Sanders' filmmaking is almost blessedly old-school in the way that he pays just as much attention to the people his film is about as he does to the large-scale battle sequences and intricately woven special effects. When these arrive, they have a greater impact because the viewer has a reason to care and understand the stakes at hand.

As a child, Snow White (Raffey Cassidy) lived in peace and happiness as the heir to her parents' royal throne. Governed by King Magnus (Noah Huntley) and his Queen (Liberty Ross), the land surrounding the castle prospered. Then tragedy struck when Snow's beloved mother grew ill and passed away. Stricken with grief, the King's mourning finally subsided when he rescued the gorgeous, blonde-haired Ravenna (Charlize Theron) from capture. They soon married, but the scheming Ravenna had ulterior motives, promptly murdering her new husband, entrapping Snow in a dungeon, and stealing the throne for herself. With her phantom army and patsy of a brother, Finn (Sam Spruell), by her side, Ravenna found glory in watching the world die around her as she continued to use whatever black magic—and youthful victims—she could find in order to keep from growing old. Some ten years later, Ravenna is outraged when her mirror tells her that someone is fairer than her—namely, a now-grown Snow White. Naturally, she wants her dead, but this desire turns out to be more challenging than expected when Snow manages to escape from the castle grounds and ends up in the Dark Forest. Called upon to do the malevolent Queen's evil bidding is the forlorn Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), promised to have his recently deceased wife back if he locates and kills Snow.

In finding its way to the screen, "Snow White and the Huntsman" gloriously imagines a whole new world, part fantasy and part medieval in spirit. Not content to shoot exteriors on big soundstages, director Rupert Sanders and broodingly atmospheric cinematographer Greig Fraser (2010's "Let Me In") make superb use of the rural landscapes and crashing shores of England and Wales, touched up and given an added breath of whimsical life by the visual wizards who seamlessly place hand-sized fairies right next to the woodland creatures of the forest. Feeding off one's own fear, Snow is accosted by trees that come alive, demons hiding in the bark, and branches that transform into slithering snakes. It's a ghastly feast for the eyes, as is just about every frame the movie has to offer, from the metallic hooded figure that pours out of the Queen's magic mirror to Ravenna's desperate shape-shifting attacks on Snow. All the while, James Newton Howard's (2012's "The Hunger Games") orchestral score is as rich and bold as one might hope without it ever becoming annoyingly bombastic.

Because this is, indeed, a take-off on "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"—most indelibly made into Disney's 1937 animated classic—screenwriters Hossein Amini (2011's "Drive"), John Lee Hancock (2009's "The Blind Side") and Evan Daugherty remain faithful to the premise and paramount elements that make the story so memorable while tweaking the rest in inventive ways. In addition to the trio of leads—Snow, the Huntsman, and the villainous, beauty-obsessed Queen—there also are dwarves, eight in all, whom the protagonists befriend along the way. Former gold miners who saw their livelihood taken from them, they have their own reasons for overthrowing the current twisted dictatorial regime. In addition, the Greek chorus of animals in the forest are drawn to Snow in the same way they were in the Disney picture, and of course the poisoned apple makes an appearance, locking Snow in a lethal slumber that can only be broken by true love's kiss. Speaking of kiss, the romantic subplot is the film's most weak and wayward aspect because the man whom Snow is positioned to end up with is not the same one that she seems to genuinely love. Thus, when Snow is reunited with her childhood best friend, William (Sam Claflin), their scenes are filled with all of the spark and sexual wanting lacking in her relationship with the Huntsman.

For skeptics and cynics who can't seem to remember Kristen Stewart (2010's "The Runaways") was an accomplished actress long before the "Twilight" saga, they should be suitably silenced once they see her hold her own as a more complicated, fully developed version of Snow White. A far cry from Bella without a roll of the eye or touch of the hair in sight, Stewart embodies the put-upon princess as a willful, smart, but sheltered girl whose years of imprisonment have stolen her innocence. In her fight to survive while avenging her parents and gaining the confidence to lead her people, Stewart impresses, relaying all the shades of a character who thinks much more than she speaks. As the Huntsman, Chris Hemsworth (2012's "The Avengers") has a personality to go along with his ruggedly handsome features—a plus for sure—but not much is done with his role once he's in the thick of things helping Snow. There also simply isn't any detectable romantic chemistry between himself and Stewart, which one major plot point hinges upon. Much more effective in this department is Sam Claflin (2011's "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"), making Snow's now-grown friend from the past a memorable figure with far less screen time. Sinking slimily into the part of Ravenna's brother Finn, Sam Spruell (2009's "The Hurt Locker") not only acts as spiteful as need be, but gets extra points for a haircut and skin tone that give him an off-kilter albino resemblance. A cavalcade of normal-sized British thesps—among them, Ian McShane (2010's "Case 39"), Bob Hoskins (2009's "A Christmas Carol"), Ray Winstone (2011's "Hugo"), Nick Frost (2011's "Paul"), and Toby Jones (2011's "My Week with Marilyn")—are shrunken digitally to portray the dwarves, but it's so convincing one would never know it if they weren't already familiar with the actors.

And then there's Charlize Theron (2011's "Young Adult"), who once again has put an unforgettable stamp on an indelible screen creation not easily forgotten. An ice queen with a heart that wavers between frozen and aching, Theron's Ravenna is as wretched as they come even as she suggests the broken soul underneath, irrevocably affected by a childhood that placed outward beauty above any worthwhile qualities she might have had inside. This stands at contrast with Snow's own upbringing, where she was known for her "defiant spirit" as much as she was for her exterior attractiveness. Theron, wavering between blemish-free and witheringly ancient depending on how much magic she's used and how many people she's slaughtered at any given time, chews the scenery while remaining all too real. When she gets worked up and screams (which is often), don't be surprised if you find yourself worrying that the actress might burst a blood vessel. Whether she's prancing around in her ravishing couture, dousing herself in a milk bath, plucking the hearts out of birds and eating them with her metal talons, or desperately trying to pull herself together following a transformation into a flock of ravens that leaves several of them dead or badly injured, Theron is magnificent, in full control of a witchy woman who's as pathetic and sad as she is wicked.

Following a month where each Friday saw the release of a summer tentpole that didn't live up to its potential (i.e., the good but not great "The Avengers," the derivative "Battleship," the tired "Men in Black 3"), "Snow White and the Huntsman" gets June off to an appropriately sizzling start. Full of large-scale thrills and action set-pieces in between enough attention to character to give the story emotion and weight, the film is clean, coherent—there is no rapid-fire editing, thank you very much—and able to still put a little awe onto viewers' faces by way of imagination and spectacle. Trouble spots are few and far between; the closing scenes are lacking the catharsis they should have had—in lieu of a parting smile, Snow really ought to have let loose with a song-and-dance number like her counterpart in "Mirror Mirror" did—and, again, the relationship between her and the Huntsman is more or less a non-starter. Otherwise, this is close to spellbinding as entertainment, simultaneously beautiful and gritty, threateningly dark as well as fantastical. When it comes to fairy tales, half the battle is in the creation of a winning hero or heroine and a bull's-eye adversary. "Snow White and the Huntsman" understands this, then outdoes itself.

•• The Phoenix, Betsy Sherman: This grim special-effects juggernaut mucks around in the darker regions of the fairy tale. The dominant presence is Charlize Theron's evil stepmother, a man-hater who offs the king and imprisons his daughter. Once grown, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) escapes to the Dark Forest. Hers is not the old clichéd path towards romance, but the new clichéd path towards becoming a kickass girl warrior. Her huntsman mentor (Chris Hemsworth) is a more movie-bound archetype, the dissipated rogue ready for redemption. Stewart succeeds in conveying Snow White's compassion (her Inner Beauty) without mushiness. Director Rupert Sanders revels in all that can melt, ooze, disintegrate, or swoop together (the queen's cloak is made of ravens). The dwarves, played by top-notch British actors whose heads are affixed to small bodies, are an oasis of personality. Too bad Snow White blows past them en route to her swashbuckling finale.

•• Houston Press, Pete Vonder Haar: There's not much new under the sun in Snow White and the Huntsman, which is to be expected when your source material is a 19th century fairy tale that's been adapted half a hundred times already. You know the story, you know the characters, you know there will be dwarves. And even then it's like playing Spot the Influence (Oh, look, The Princess Bride! Hey, there's Excalibur!) However, to first-timers Rupert Sanders (director) and Evan Daugherty's (screenplay) credit, what is new works, turning what could have been an unfortunate reimagining into something...well, not "great" by any stretch of the imagination, but interesting nonetheless.

This being the 21st century, there are a couple prerequisites for our fantasy stories. The first is, no one can simply be an evil person. Just as Darth Vader was retconned into a petulant boy with abandonment issues, so does the evil queen have a tragic past to justify the suffering she inflicts. I sort of miss villains who were villainous simply for the hell of it, and Ravenna -- a mash-up of Countess Báthory and Cersei Lannister -- would've been a perfect candidate.

And then there's the heroine. We've come a long way (baby) from the Disney incarnation of Snow White. And thank God for that. It was all well and good for the porcelain-skinned chick with the terrifyingly high-pitched voice to bite the poison apple and require magical reawakening...wait, that happens in this movie, too. Only in this version, once Snow White is revived she straps on plate mail and a longsword and goes to kick the Queen's ass.

It should also be noted that Snow White and the Huntsman isn't a children's movie. The intense scenes will be old hat to anyone who's ever sat through an entire episode of America's Next Top Model, but might cause a few nightmares among the younger set.

The movie also confirms something I've suspected for a while but never felt like exposing myself to ridicule enough to say: Kristen Stewart isn't a bad actress. I've been as critical of her sleepwalking through the Twilight movies as anyone, but honestly, can you blame her? Reading a Stephenie Meyer-inspired script probably triggers the same emotional withdrawal and detachment brought on by any traumatic event (that's also a pretty apt description of Bella). But through all those, I always remembered her earnest performance in Into the Wild and figured she'd snap out of it eventually.

Of course, not everything clicks. Magic works intermittently (Ravenna complains of her powers being sapped one minute, the next she's teleporting across the kingdom via murder of crows -- and the reason she keeps Snow White alive for ten years is never clear (she doesn't learn about the Atkins all-heart diet until literally moments before Snow White escapes). And then there are the dwarves.

I'm ashamed to admit I didn't realize the dwarf who looked so much like Ian McShane that I actually said, "Man, that guy looks likes Ian McShane," was, in fact, McShane in digitally reduced form. From that point, I felt bad for any actual little people in Hollywood not named Peter Dinklage, because every one of the dwarves is played by a normal-size actor shrunk with the use of computers (others include Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost and Ray Winstone).

But for all that, Sanders does a fairly remarkable job creating a world that, while more than a little familiar, still contains enough wonder and whimsy to keep us engaged. It's not without its flaws (who decided Hemsworth should try a Scottish accent?), and veers occasionally into absurdity (the troll scene), but I must confess. Snow White and the Huntsman was a pleasant surprise.

•• The Illinois Times, Chuck Koplinski: Darker White makes for a vibrant tale

The second entry in this year’s Snow White Sweepstakes arrives in the form of Snow White and the Huntsman, a far darker take on the tale than Mirror, Mirror, which debuted a mere two months ago only to come and go with a $61 million whimper against its $85 million budget. A third version of the fairy tale from Disney, which was to feature the seven dwarves as ninjas defending Hanna’s Saoirse Ronan was thankfully canceled last week due to budgetary concerns, which is proof positive that something good did result from the box-office debacle that was John Carter.

This version, from director Rupert Sanders who makes an impressive debut here, is far darker in tone than Mirror and is more in keeping with the Brothers Grimm’s take on the story. However, thanks to writers Hossein Amini, Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock, certain tweaks have been made to appeal to modern audiences as the title damsel-in-distress has been transformed into a warrior princess, while her rescuers, the seven dwarves, now appear more Hobbit-like. When they set out to restore their charge to her rightful throne, the whole production takes on a Lord of the Rings vibe that ultimately strengthens the film.

No doubt you know the story of the king who foolishly marries far too quickly after the death of his beloved wife and winds up with an evil witch who kills him and keeps his daughter in seclusion. Huntsman adheres to this to the letter during its first half hour, though Charlize Theron’s Queen Ravenna is more of a succubus than a witch, literally draining the life out of her husband and any young woman who crosses her path, in order to maintain her youthful appearance. As the kingdom’s supply of young maidens rapidly dwindles, Ravenna discovers that if she were to consume the heart of her stepdaughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart), she would be forever young as she is the personification of purity and life itself. However, the princess escapes from captivity, hightails it to the dark forest and is soon overwhelmed by the evil that lives there. The queen is not one to take disappointment lightly, so she charges the Huntsman (Thor’s Chris Hemsworth) with finding and bringing her back.

As with Mirror, this film’s strong suits are its visuals. Sanders and his crew pull out all of the stops to plunge us into a naturalistic fairy tale world that is at turns a place of palpable nightmares or one of glorious dreams come to life. Snow White’s first excursion into the Dark Forest is a showstopper as she’s accosted by trees that come to life, and images of death around every corner. Piles of dead birds teeming with maggots, flowers that bleed and horrific demonic creatures greet her, only to have Sanders move his camera high above the action to show our heroine truly trapped by the Queen’s evil. Equally impressive is the flipside of this locale, when the dwarves take Snow White and the Huntsman to a hidden location known as Sanctuary, a realm lorded over by fairies that teems with life, as moss-encrusted tortoises laze about, rabbits frolic and all manner of plants bloom while a great white stag oversees it all. Both locations dazzle and show that Sanders has an eye for detail that results in lush settings. He’s also not afraid to throw in a bit of symbolism, as birds are a recurring motif in the film, with crows being harbingers of death while finches prove to be signs of salvation. This carries over to the queen’s outfits as they’re festooned with various kinds of feathers and she even sports a collar accented with tiny bird skulls on another.

Equally dominant is the Christian iconography that’s present throughout the film. Snow White comes to be looked upon as a messiah by those who follow her and it’s easy to see why. Those who spend any amount of time with her notice that their aches and pains disappear and she comes to be regarded as the very personification of new life, charged with resurrecting the kingdom that’s been transformed to a barren wasteland under the queen’s rule. That she recites the “Hail Mary” during a time of need and ends up looking like Joan of Arc, a holy warrior if there ever was one, in the film’s final act, only underscores the role’s religious overtones, which never seem forced.

While the film’s three principals could have easily been overshadowed by the film’s many special effects, they all manage to hold their own. Theron was born to play the role of the vain queen. With her icy good looks and haughty demeanor, she need do little to convince us that sucking the life out of a young girl is all in a day’s work for Ravenna. There are times when she lays it on too thick, but the sense of menace she brings to the character overrides any impulse we may have to laugh whenever she goes a bit over the top.

Hemsworth proves he’s more than a hunk with a hammer as the Huntsman, a tortured soul grieving the loss of his wife. He finds a renewed sense of purpose when he decides to protect Snow White. A scene in which he confesses his failings to the sleeping princess is one of the film’s emotional highlights. As for Stewart, she’s fine early on as the confused Snow White, a role that has more than a passing resemblance to “Twilight’s” Bella. However, as things get more dire, she’s able to convince us of the character’s growing strength and sense of duty, which compels her to lead a revolt against the queen.

Along with these fine performances, there are other impressive visual effects. The most impressive is the rendering of a troll who doesn’t take too kindly to those who cross his bridge without permission, while a bit of computer-tweaking convincingly reduces Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones and Ray Winston, all larger-than-life character actors, to the size of dwarves. Yet, it’s the familiar tale told through a lens darkly that makes Snow White and the Huntsman memorable. Far from a story for children, this adult fairy tale effectively reminds us of the power of love, loyalty and redemption, in a film that will stand the test of time.

•• Creative Loafing, Matt Brunson: Rating 2,5/4
Let's get the obvious out of the way: Snow White and the Huntsman, the year's second big-screen outing centered around a forlorn princess, a wicked queen and a magnificent seven, is infinitely superior to Mirror Mirror, which proved to be about as appetizing as a worm-infested apple. If this new picture isn't a complete success, that's because its ambitions are often thwarted by its execution.

Kristen Stewart embodies the most independent Snow White yet seen on film, and if she doesn't always seem comfortable in the role, she's certainly an improvement over Mirror Mirror's bland Lily Collins. Too busy to waste time washing the dwarves' dishes and waiting for her prince to come, she stands alongside all men (including Chris Hemsworth as the title huntsman) as they unite to bring down the fearsome, supernaturally endowed queen (Charlize Theron) who has usurped Snow's rightful claim to her kingdom.

An accomplished director of television commercials, Rupert Sanders makes his feature debut with this picture, and his vision, tag-teamed with those of production designer Dominic Watkins, thrice-Oscar-winning costumer Colleen Atwood and the CGI gang, results in a rich look for the film, with its expansive kingdoms and daunting forests. Unfortunately, the story ultimately becomes more Tolkien than Grimm, with extraneous additions and radical reworkings meant to assuage moviegoers weaned on the Peter Jackson trilogy.

Theron is excellent as the vicious ruler who, in a nice bit of unstated hypocrisy, rails against the tendency of men to suck the youth out of fair maidens before discarding them but then proceeds to do likewise in her own sorcerous way. She's a scary figure, a perfect counterpoint to Stewart's equal-opportunity Snow White. What doesn't represent equal opportunity is the decision to cast name actors (Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, etc.) as the dwarves and cut them down to size via visual effects. Mirror Mirror at least had the decency to cast real dwarves - with so few roles available to little people, the route taken by Snow White and the Huntsman is an unfortunate one, and really no different than if the makers of the recent hit Think Like a Man had decided to cast all the principal parts with white actors in blackface.

••, Steven Rea: Rating 3/4
This 'Snow White' is a fine, fierce tale.

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.

•• BlackFilm, Wilson Morales: It may not be the best story adapted from a book (the German fairy tale ‘Snow White’ by the Brothers Grimm) or the best dialogue written, but ‘Snow White and the Huntsman,’ is certainly filled fantastic imagery and production design that outweighs the flaws in the film. Directed by Rupert Sanders and starring Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, and Chris Hemsworth, there’s plenty of substance to satisfy those looking to be intrigued.

In a storyline similar to HBO’s Game of Thrones or Shakespeare’s Hamlet, someone has taken over the kingdom by treachery and it’s up to the chosen one or rightful heir to claim the throne back from tyranny. In this case, the newly married Ravenna (Theron) has murdered her husband, King Magnus (Noah Huntley), on their wedding and stage a coup on the palace. In doing so, she has captured and imprisoned the King’s daughter, Snow White. Due to some witchcraft spell placed on her by her mother, in order to remain beautiful and “the fairest of them all,” she has to literally suck the life of every young woman available. When told by the man in the mirror that Snow White is her albatross to immortality, the new Queen sets to her loyal brother Finn (Sam Spruell) to fetch Snow White for her imminent death.

Snow White, all grown up, manages to get the upper hand on Finn and escapes to the Dark Forest where the Queen’s witchcraft are useless. Snow White encounters all sorts of traps and must evade and Queen’s brother and Eric, the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), a drunken skilled lad who his way around the forest but foolish enough to believe the Queen can bring his loved one back from the dead if he helps her. When he does his job and Snow White is caught, he decided to betray Ravenna when told her powers could never fulfill his one request. The two of them run off seeking Duke Hammond (Vincent Regan), who can perhaps aid her in the fight for her kingdom.

Meanwhile, as the Queen starts to get older as long as Snow White is on the loose, she continues to kill every woman in sight to sustain her beauty. Snow White and the Huntsman travel to the woods and forest, when they come upon a number of dwarves (Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Brian Gleeson, Johnny Harris) who initially don’t take a liking to them. With the Queen and dark power gaining closer, Finn brings on a new henchman (Ciafin), who’s actually Prince William and really there to help his childhood friend, Snow White. When she gets to a safe haven, she has to muster the strength to lead not only herself, but the people around her to fight the evil that’s relentless and forthcoming.

Sanders’s background in advertising and video games (Halo 3 ODST) comes in hand here because everything from the set design and costumes look gorgeous and he knows how to make good use of them, especially when Ravenna takes a bath in milk or the sight of fairies. As for the actors, say what you will about Kristen Stewart and whether she can do well outside of the Twilight series, but she gives in a good attempt. While she’s unfortunately is the third wheel behind Hemsworth and Theron’s performances, she held her own and with time, will re-invent herself in this business. Hemsworth seemed suited in his role as the Huntsman. Having used similar action traits from his role as Thor, the role didn’t seem like a stretch for him and he was able to be comfortable being a drunk, so long as there’s a fight or two mixed in. Theron is virtually the showstopper her. From her looks to her costumes, she relished in villainess role. She’s one Queen one doesn’t ever want to see angry. Theron plays the role close to the vest and never lets the role and her actions be campy. The only wasted performances come from the dwarves because they weren’t on screen long enough.

At a running time over two hours, the film could have been trimmed by 10-15 minutes, but overall, ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ works because of the impressive debut of Sanders and Theron’s dynamic performance.

•• Breitbart News, John P. Hanlon: “Men use women,” the villainous Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) says in the new film, "Snow White and the Huntsman."

Ravenna, on the other hand, uses everyone. She uses a new husband to take over his kingdom. She uses her brother to get her dirty work done. And she uses young women to steal their beauty.

But the girl she doesn’t know how to use properly is her step-daughter, the beautiful Snow White ("Twilight's" Kristen Stewart). That is, until she realizes White could be her key to eternal life.

"Snow White and the Huntsman" focuses on the Queen’s attempt to recapture and kill the defiant White after she escapes her imprisonment.

As the story begins, Ravenna isn’t an actual queen. In fact, she looks like a fragile prisoner when the King, Snow White’s father, finds her cold and shivering in the dark after a battle between the King’s forces and an evil army.

Ravenna was aligned with the evil forces but when they are defeated, the King takes pity on her and marries her the next day. He may be king, but no one said he was a wise king.

Ravenna swiftly betrays him, and the story proceeds from there as she sends a drunkard widower-- the titular Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth)—to find her in the dark forest.

Snow White and the Huntsman eventually work together and face a series of challenges and evil forces in the woods. It’s here that the film takes on an episodic format that never builds up to anything. The non-dynamic duo go on several adventures and meet different personalities—including, of course, a group of mischievous dwarves—but these little adventures don’t add much life to the story and could have easily been excised to make room for stronger characters and a deeper plot.

But the film does offer up astounding special effects and great visuals delivered by first-time director Rupert Sanders. In this accomplished effort, Sanders displays a flair for visual magnificence in his early battle sequences and in the scenes showing Ravenna emerging from a bathtub covered in gooey liquid. The make-up team for this picture should also be applauded for its work on the queen, who ages rapidly when she is unable to feed off of her captives.

In terms of casting, Theron has the meatiest role as the evil Queen. As the two title characters, Stewart and Hemsworth do a solid job, but the script gives them little help. On the other hand, Ravenna is imbued with a delicious evilness that Theron pulls off nicely. Although there are a few scenes where her yelling fits get over the top, the Oscar winner knows how to show both stridency and fragility and offers them both up here.

If "Snow White and the Huntsman" is remembered over the next few years, it will likely be for its visual effects and Sanders’ accomplished directorial debut.

His talent—and Theron’s acting skills-- shine through in what is otherwise simply a passable film experience.

Chris Stuckmann Review

+ James Franco reviewing the movie: "Kristen is a warrior queen. Give her the crown."