"Any dead thing can go with the stream," wrote fairy tale defender G.K. Chesterton, "but only a living thing can go against it." In this PG-13 version of the traditional Snow White tale, our heroine (Kristen Stewart of Twilight) is carried along by a broad stream of evil. With the loss of her mother, Snow White gains a stepmother named Ravenna (Charlize Theron) who is said to be "the fairest of them all." But Ravenna's designs include a political element: After murdering her husband in their marriage bed, she seizes the kingdom and, with her brother's dark army, ushers in a reign of terror.
Years later, after keeping Snow White locked in the tower, Ravenna learns that the girl holds the key to her immortality. Not a moment too soon, Snow White escapes to find shelter in the perilous Enchanted Forest. A huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) brings her back, becomes Snow White's protector, and vows to see her to safety. What follows is Snow White's journey to awaken the land and its people, and to find within herself the ability to unseat the queen and break her spell.
Coming on the heels of Mirror Mirror starring Julia Roberts, this film's darker and more gritty presentation stands out. For families considering its virtues as in-home viewing, this isn't a completely poisoned apple. The bolder contrasts make Snow White's virtue shine like winter snow against the queen's dark arts. Viewers are also shielded from the full effects of battle-scene gore, several characters' boozing, as well as the queen's two scenes without clothing (she covers herself where it counts).
But this isn't apple-pie either. Girl-power themes prevail amidst all-too-familiar fantasy terrain, while promising romances twist, turn, and swan dive into oblivion. There are numerous violent or disturbing scenes, and the writing and pacing are uneven, often leaving the viewer cold. The movie never manages, like truly great stories, to draw on the prevailing headwaters of culture while redirecting them in fresh, compelling ways.