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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Snow White and the Huntsman' delivers both action, chills

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Charlize Theron stars in a scene from "Snow White and the Huntsman."

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN

(PG-13)

3 stars out of 4

Like many a previous movie based on a Brothers Grimm fairy tale ("Cinderella," "The Frog Prince," "Rapunzel," "Hansel & Gretel") most of the other versions of "Snow White" (about a dozen to date) have been homogenized and sanitized so drastically for mass consumption, they bear little resemblance to the original article.

Those familiar with Grimm texts know that even though they are technically fairy tales, they are not for children. They're not even suitable for a lot of adults. These are tightly crafted fables based on ancient European folklore that are, by and large, horror stories. With the possible exception of the made-for-TV version from 1997 starring Sigourney Weaver, "Snow White and the Huntsman" is the closest anyone has ever come to faithfully adapting the most well-known of all Grimm works.

When it was announced that the film was being directed by a first-timer (Rupert Sanders) whose only experience was making music videos, many scoffed. It was a big gamble but in retrospect one that paid off tenfold. Like most successful video directors, Sanders' ability to make three-, or four-minute musical short films lends this 127-minute movie a relaxed rhythm and hypnotic, even flow and one without a single wasted frame.

Looking and feeling like "Braveheart," "The Lord of the Rings" and "Gladiator," "SWATH" is not only the perfect date movie for any couple 13 and older but it could also appeal to fanboys, good ol' boys and to 14-year-old girls not all that enamored with "Twilight."

The second biggest chance Universal took besides drafting Sanders was casting Kristen Stewart as Snow White. Knowing it would be out before the "Twilight" franchise was done, the studio counted on (and will likely get) a huge "Twilight" fan-base windfall but could also be rightfully accused of cash-in casting. While not as good as her performance in "The Runaways," "SWATH" shows that Stewart can actually act given the right material and that her Bella character in "Twilight" is purposefully written to be flat and dull.

While often winsome and fragile Stewart's character (taking a cue from Katniss in "The Hunger Games") never backs off from a challenge and gives as good she gets. By definition, Snow White is a "fair maiden" but she's also nobody's fool or a decorative ornament; she's a Renaissance Riot Grrrl.

Filmed entirely in the U.K., "SWATH" bears a strong resemblance to the New Zealand Middle Earth seen in "The Lord of the Rings" and it is stunningly gorgeous. Whether it is a beach head, in the woods or the green-moss and white-stone soaked glens and valleys, every location is spot-on and lends the production the crucial airs of serene fantasy and ominous dread, often at the same time.

With a production this high-end and largely serious, you'd think there would be no characters included with names like Dopey, Grumpy, Bashful and the like and you'd be right. There are no Seven Dwarfs, but instead eight with names like Gort, Muir, Finn and Beith and they're played by such no-nonsense actors like Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone and Eddie Marsan. Some will call them "cute" but they more resemble bikers or Hobbits on steroids and they get all of the laughs.

The movie's major weak links are Chris Hemsworth ("Thor") as the hard-drinking Scottish Huntsman and Sam Claflin as Snow White's former childhood crush. Many will appreciate the filmmakers' strong resistance to include a "Twilight" love triangle sub-plot, but in the process it also limits the romance angle the throngs of potential female audiences crave.

It goes without saying that the strength of any action movie such as this is totally dependent on the villain and on this point "SWATH" is a runaway winner. As Queen Ravenna, Charlize Theron provides enough menacing evil for two antagonists in two films. Not since her Oscar-winning turn in "Monster" has Theron (or any actress for that matter) played such a vile, loathsome and -- oddly enough -- sympathetic foil.

Obsessed with power and maintaining her eternal youth, Ravenna literally sucks the life out of her victims and knows no bounds in order to achieve her goals. Also like in "Monster," Theron -- one of the world most beautiful women -- isn't afraid to "get ugly" (both inwardly and out) in order to deliver the finest performance possible. A supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Theron is all but in the bag. (Universal)