Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Stewart and director Rupert Sanders on the set… (Alex Bailey / Universal…)
Early in"Snow White and the Huntsman,"several droplets of blood fall to the frozen ground in extreme slow motion, a sample not only of the menace to follow but also of first-time director Rupert Sanders' truly painstaking attention to detail.
The shot was the last sequence filmed by the veteran commercial director, and no matter how hard the crew tried, the production's artificial serum never had the proper viscosity or splatter. "It just looked like raspberry jam," Sanders said. So Sanders insisted that a crew member draw about 10 teaspoons of the director's own blood in a syringe, and that's what audiences will see when "Snow White" opens June 1.
What is indisputably an extreme example of show business sacrifice highlights the precision of Sanders' creative style. The 41-year-old Brit's advertisements for the video game Halo 3: ODST, Sears and Toyota have captured numerous awards for their sophisticated cinematic looks, and Sanders cemented the "Snow White" directing job based on a commercial-length preview of his take on the fable about beauty and vanity — think more Brothers Grimm, less Walt Disney.
Though there are plenty of fairies and magical beasts in his "Snow White," Sanders' movie plays like a late 15th century "Gladiator."With a script by John Lee Hancock ("The Blind Side"), Hossein Amini ("Drive") and newcomer Evan Daugherty, "Snow White" follows the contours of the fairy tale, complete with charming woodland creatures and a passel of dwarfs, while injecting it with grit and verisimilitude. Snow White (Kristen Stewart) may be the fairest of them all, but there's more dirt under her fingernails than most 5-year-old boys. "Trying to ground everything in reality was the most important thing to me," Sanders said.
Charlize Theron plays Queen Ravenna, who soon after marrying Snow White's widowed, royal father dispatches her new husband and consigns her stepdaughter to a locked tower for years. When Snow White escapes, Ravenna commands the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to capture her, as only in consuming Snow White's heart can the queen achieve immortality.
The Huntsman is fighting his own demons. His wife has been murdered, turning the once invincible warrior into a staggering drunk. "He's quite a tortured soul," Hemsworth said.
"I grew up with a lot of fairy tales," Sanders said. "And they had an essence of darkness to them."
In his telling, Snow White is no damsel in distress. Rather, she's both warrior and healer — she has the power to restore nature, whose balance the queen has upset. Like a vampire who consumes both flesh and earth, Ravenna has leveled the land, deforesting the home of countless wild beasts, trolls, sprites and dwarfs. "She's a burning fire that touches the tinder of the people around her," the director said of Snow White. "They see something in her that can make them whole again. She's the beating heart of life."
For all of its larger-than-life ambition, supported by a $175-million budget, Sanders hopes it's his film's heart rather than heft that audiences remember. "I think it's possible to make a blockbuster that is actually emotional," the director said. "They don't need to be mutually exclusive."