When you know how a story ends, you have to care deeply about how it gets there. Every familiar plot twist — and even the unfamiliar ones — must resonate with a touch of something that makes it worth watching.
But in Snow White and the Huntsman, based lavishly on the tale by the Brothers Grimm, all we get is noise, noise, noise — that, and a few bungled British accents. Directed by the neophyte Rupert Sanders, it's the summer's first big digital hot mess, and it's not even in 3-D. Authentic Grimm stories have a lurid simplicity to them. This version is simply lurid, like a superfluous Game of Thrones — which itself is superfluous — only without (c'mon, admit it) the nudity that you watch the HBO series for.
The story here revolves around the lovely titular princess (a vampire-free Kristen Stewart); the magical evil queen (Charlize Theron, her accent especially hokey) with that mischievous mirror; and a huntsman (a surprisingly poignant Chris Hemsworth) sent by the queen to capture the escaped princess before she foments a rebellion. But the huntsman is an honorable fellow, and when he realizes what's at stake, he becomes her protector.
There are lots of supernatural special effects in Snow White to assail us with spectacle. But even fantasy has to make sense, and if anything can happen, you stop caring about what does. The Queen became a bloodthirsty bitch because men love young women and abandon them when they're old. But why is she so damned vain? She's a sorceress who can stay young forever, even if her mirror — a molten mound of gold that takes human form — tells her that she's no longer the fairest in the land. She has Snow locked away in the tower, and the girl looks like crap — except, magically, when she breaks free, she's wearing supple red lipstick.
Still, the movie's biggest special effect may be its littlest ones. When the Seven Dwarfs, all properly diminutive, finally show up, they're played by full-sized actors (Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones and Ray Winstone among them). It's a good trick, although it does mean some shorter actors didn't get work. Unfortunately, even in so serious a movie, with such impressive actors digitally downsized, dwarfs are still quite funny — even in battle. I welcome gentle humor in a movie this dull, but not when we're laughing at the same old joke.