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Lovely virgins and killer-queens.

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Norman Mailer opened his 1959 book Advertisements for Myself with "A Note to the Reader" that mentioned the pleasures of liking an artist at his worst. Keep this idea in mind when watching Snow White and the Huntsman, another version of the German fairy tale that offers — in between some splashy battles, borderline-campy nonsense, and fairy-tale head-scratchers — multiple opportunities for two underrated actresses to strut their stuff.

Snow White and the Huntsman is best described as a double chase narrative masquerading as a fairy tale. During the first two-thirds of the film, everyone's trying to catch the escaped Snow White (Kristen Stewart), whose purity and goodness pose a significant threat to the wicked queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron). But in the last third, the tables are turned as Snow White leads her army on a charge against the wicked queen's castle. The barely-there subtleties of this story are easily ignored, as are all the boys, from the huntsman to the wicked brother to the CGI-enhanced strike force. However, the female leads are captivating from the start: Director Rupert Sanders gives Theron and Stewart mysterious, dramatically lit entrances worthy of their status in the film as allegorical figures.

Say this about Theron: She has no fear. Whether she's in a near-great movie like Young Adult or something like Snow White, her commitment is always impressive. At times, her wailing overacting feels like a Nicolas Cage impression. Yet in two key scenes — one early and late — her teary-eyed conviction cross-pollinates with her essential cruelty, and something approaching pathos takes root. Plus, Theron proves that you should accept no substitutes when you want a desperate villainess to crawl along a stone floor as her part-crow body slowly reconstructs itself.

As Snow White, Stewart begins the film as mute and frail and ends it as a determined warrior-queen. Like Theron, Stewart doesn't let the overall silliness deter her. She's particularly talented at conveying moments of intense emotional arousal: When she swoons for a guy, takes an ill-advised bite from an apple, or declares war, she seems to grow in stature like some raven-haired she-hulk. Neither Stewart nor Theron needed to try very hard in this film. But because they are such craftsmen, they both discover emotional depths in their one-note characters that give their final showdown unexpected seriousness and punch.

The production design is awfully good, too. The Dark Forest is a lysergic nightmare where branches become snakes and everything else is dead, and the Land of the Fairies is a pastoral vision. In fairy land, every animal lives in harmony with every other, mushrooms and butterflies cloud the land and air, and a sacred deer rules them all. Any summer blockbuster that thrives on such throwaway lyricism is certainly worth a look.

Snow White and the Huntsman
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Snow White and the Huntsman

Official Site: www.snowwhiteandthehuntsman.com

Director: Rupert Sanders

Writer: Evan Daugherty

Producer: Sam Mercer, Palak Patel and Joe Roth

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Toby Jones, Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone, Sam Claflin, Dave Legeno and Lily Cole

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