by Mark Burger

Some 200 years after being written by the Brothers Grimm, 2012 is shaping up to be the year of Snow White. Such an anniversary is not one to be ignored by Hollywood, especially when the story’s in the public domain and can be subject to all sorts of interpretations — even misguided or overblown ones.

Thus far, we’ve already had Mirror, Mirror with Lily Collins as Snow White and Julia Roberts as the wicked Queen under the direction of Tarsem Singh, which was neither a critical or financial blockbuster, and even a direct-to-video B-movie from director Dave DeCoteau titled Snow White: A Deadly Summer — and deadly it was.

The most eagerly anticipated version is the latest and most expensive one, Snow White and the Huntsman , with Kristen Stewart and Liam Hemsworth in the respective title roles, and Charlize Theron as Ravenna, whose villainy is exceeded only by her vanity. At the helm is first-time director Rupert Sanders, working with a budget reportedly north of $170 million. (Nice work if you can get it.)

The money’s on the screen, but not in the script. The film is not lacking in epic grandeur or visual splendor, but is severely lacking in charm or humor. What humor there is comes off as forced and self-conscious, with charm — this is Snow White, after all — left by the wayside.

Having been imprisoned by her new stepmother immediately after she killed Snow White’s father, the young heroine (Raffey Cassidy) languishes in a remote tower for years (at which point Stewart takes over the role), until the opportunity to escape presents itself. Ravenna is none too pleased, and orders her warriors — among them the embittered Huntsman — to track her down and bring her back.

For much of the next hour, the action shifts back and forth from the “Dark Forest,” where Snow White has fled to, and where she and the Huntsman eventually become allies, back to the kingdom where Ravenna ages and rages. This doesn’t do much to maintain, or sustain, the story’s momentum. Most audiences are fully aware where this story’s supposed to go, but Snow White and the Huntsman takes an inordinate amount of time getting there.

There is a lift in the proceedings when the dwarfs (eight to start with) arrive on the scene, and it’s testament to the quality of the film’s CGI effects that such actors as Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan and Ray Winstone have been so convincingly digitally “miniaturized” to fill out these roles. It’s also nice having these welcome actors on hand, even if they ultimately have little to do — no pun intended.

In her previous roles, including the Twilight franchise, Stewart’s presence has mostly been in a wistful or ethereal vein, but can hardly be described as commanding. Approaching the climax of this film, Snow White becomes an armored warrior in the fashion of Joan of Arc, but the slow-motion shots of Stewart leading troops into battle on horseback are more apt to inspire giggles than awe. In addition, having fought her way through scores of foes en route to her final battle with Ravenna, Stewart has nary a speck of dirt on her face or a hair out of place.

This is also familiar territory for Hemsworth, whether intentionally or not. Bellowing into battle while swinging his trademark axe is only too reminiscent of his best-known role — that of Thor in last year’s Thor and this year’s The Avengers. True, his demeanor’s a little scruffier and his brogue (along the lines of Braveheart Scottish) more pronounced, but it’s hardly a stretch from Thor to the Huntsman — and it’s entirely likely the filmmakers were counting on that. There’s a detectable calculated quality to Snow White and the Huntsman, except in this case the calculations don’t add up to very much.

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