A 21st century 'Snow White' with new movie, Snow White and the Huntsman

By John Horn

Los Angeles Times

Published: Thursday, May 31 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

Snow White (Stewart) has been imprisoned by the murderous Queen (Theron), whose thirst for eternal life and beauty has made her far more vampiric than regal. When Snow White escapes, the Queen recruits the drunken Huntsman (Hemsworth) to retrieve her stepdaughter.

Snow White runs into the forest and finds the woodlands both enchanting and foreboding. There are merry dwarfs (played in part by full-sized actors Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone and Nick Frost) and a frightful, computer-generated troll. But it is Sanders' use of visual effects, the work of 18 companies, that distinguishes "Snow White" from this spring's "Mirror Mirror," a much tamer and less expensive version of the same fable from Relativity Media that fizzled.

In "Snow White and the Huntsman," the Queen ages years in seconds, plants wither and bloom instantly, the magic mirror melts into a golden anthropomorphic blob, the Queen alters her appearance (transforming into birds and another person) and obsidian-like shards of a ceiling form indomitable warriors.

Such cinematic sleight-of-hand has become a requisite component of summer movies as studios pitch their productions to an audience that demands eye-popping action. If the PG-13 "Snow White" is to justify its massive cost, it must fend off the male-oriented "Men in Black 3" and "Prometheus," which open the weekends before and after "Snow White." And it must attract moviegoers male and female, young and old — something not a lot of movies with a princess have done.

"It was a massive gamble," Sanders said of taking on something so risky as his first film. "It's movie jail or bust."

For all of the film's action and computer tricks, Sanders and his cast are hopeful that audiences are moved by the film's heart and its take on female empowerment. "I set out to make an emotional blockbuster," Sanders said. "So many blockbusters are fun to look at, but you leave feeling that your soul hasn't been nourished."

To create a story with sentiment, Sanders had to collaborate with his performers — something he didn't gain much experience doing while crafting sales spots for cars and video games. "It's a trap for commercial directors," said "Snow White" producer Sam Mercer. "They're used to working with images, not actors who have lots of dialogue."

The "Snow White" cast said Sanders was unexpectedly open to their ideas — "We were obsessively changing things every day," Stewart said — and was as interested in story as cinematography. The shoot lasted 80 days, and in addition to Wales, filming took place in England's Bourne Woods, Burnham Beeches and London's Pinewood Studios.

"If he only cared about visuals, I would not have wanted to be a part of that," Theron said about why she decided to work with the first-timer. "He really wanted to explore the emotional core of the story and ground it in reality. He wanted these characters to be real."

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