SAN DIEGO - Can you have a successful panel in front of 6,000 people when your movie hasn't shot a single frame of footage yet? That's always the million-dollar question at Comic-Con, but this year "Snow White and the Huntsman" surprised and intrigued after an hour of pimping its wares in Hall H.
One of two "Snow White" films to hit theaters next year (Tarsem Sing's "The Brother's Grimm: Snow White" being the other), this incarnation of the classic tale is expected to have a much grittier view of the fable. On hand for the discussion was Kristen Stewart (Snow White), Chris Hemsworth (the Huntsman), Charlize Theron (the evil Queen), "Pirates at the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides'" Sam Clafin (the prince) producers Joe Roth and Palak Patel and director Rupert Sanders. The film won't start shooting until next week, but with a June 1, 2012 release date, Roth admitted this was the one time they could hit the Comic-Con faithful and show their wares.
"I don't want to spoil the movie, but we have only kind of met each other very briefly," Theron says after the cast settled on stage. And referring to her onscreen adversary, Stewart, she noted, "She's probably going to give me a run for my money. I'm readay for it bitch. Let's go."
As the audience laughs, Theron adds, "It's not funny. It's for real. Let's go."
That back and forth -- mostly on the "Monster" actress' part, became a constant theme of the hour-long panel. Before it went there, however, the talented Sanders (who is best known for his commercial for Halo 3 and Black Duty Ops 3) talked about how "Huntsman" became his feature film directing debut.
"I actually wanted to do a war movie, but what really excited me about 'Snow White' was about [doing] a movie on an epic scale," Sanders says. "You have a story that all of us have in our hearts. It's very much part of how we are and it's a complex way of detailing with mortality. The mirror, the apple, the shape shifting queen. A great opportunity for me to do what I do best -- large landscapes with big emotion. With commercials you are very stuck. You can't really do that much. You can't tell a story really. So, to work from one of the classics -- it's nice to lose my cinematic virginity."
Could Theron be a tad jealous of her co-stars immense popularity? Her remarks came across as teasing, but she certainly took every opportunity to banter with the "Twilight" star.
"She's got this amazing ability to channel fear. Things people are normally afraid of into focused and charged energy," Stewart reveals. "She's also the people's leader. Not heavy handed, sincere. Doesn't let her mind get in the way of doing things. Also I have a sword and stuff. A really cool weapon. I'm excited to get going."
Roth, a former head of Walt Disney Studios and Revolution Studios as well as the producer of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland," described "Huntsman" as almost "'Lord of the Rings' in terms of size and scope and appetite." He also addressed the elephant in the room - the other "Snow White" film -- by recalling how easy it was for two massive meteor movies survived just a few weeks from each other in 1988, "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon." Roth recalls that after both films were blockbusters he did some follow up research and notes, "We found out they were more likely to see 'Armageddon if they had seen 'Deep Impact.'" That hasn't always been the case (see "Volcano" and "Dante's Peak"), but with 10 weeks between release dates both he and Universal Pictures are confident each film will find its audience. And as Roth and Sanders noted, this "Snow White" is much more adult. To give a sense of what direction Sanders is going in, a demo reel featuring unknown actors instead of the announced cast was shown. Used to help sell the studio on moving forward the project, the reel featured very stylized images and a dark and stormy landscape that Snow White is trying to survive in. And with talents like Collen Atwood providing costumes (as seen in these brand new reveals of the actors in character) and Dominic Watkins (the last three Paul Greengrass films) behind the camera it's hard not to imagine Sanders pulling it off. The screenplay? Well that remains to be seen.
As for why the cast decided to journey to this darker world of "Snow White"? Well, sometimes it just comes down to opportunities. Even if you're already established as the Avenging God of Thunder, "Thor."
"Look the last couple of years I've been in the states I've just been trying to get a job," Hemsworth says. "The director was hugely appealing and the type of [take] on this story is different than the 'Snow White' we grew up with - a dark and grittier version."
After shooting back-to-back parts of "Breaking Dawn," Stewart says the project appealed to her because it wasn't the Snow White she was expecting. Noting there are some major "mirror breaking scenes" she describes Snow as "someone who is not remotely self conscious" and "someone who isn't really aware of who she is, but has a strong sense of self and she saves the day."
For Theron, she's had to find a way to play the Queen as more than just a stock villain.
It really all plays in the circumstances," Theron says. "She starts off as a bad person and it was important to see what drives her and [how] she gets were she is -- [what] circumstances lead into her action. Trust me, she's dark. She's a serial killer. [It's all about] trying to ground it and make it real."
As for the rest of the cast, Sanders says he recruited some "tough east end villains - tough east end dwarfs" for the eight dwarfs. That's right. Eight and they include Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Eddie Marsan and Ray Winstone. The first time feature helmer refers to the crew as "My British SAS squad. very funny, very tough. There are eight and there are a few great lines [that] gets one of them get killed. It's a copyright issue."
To clear that up for those following at home, neither new "Snow White" production can use the title "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." That's held by Walt Disney Studios.
But at the end of the day, it was the fake competition between Stewart and Theron that most in the hall will remember most.
"I am very well be heaved. I take myself very seriously," Stewart jokes sarcastically.
"You're going to be fine because I'm an Oscar winner," Theron dishes. "I take the work very seriously. We're gonna be fine."
That gets a huge response from the crowd. Stewart tries to banter back relying, "You don't have yo show me up."
Looking to get the last laugh, Theron adds, "I will be calling you 'Snow White' all the time."
"Snow White and the Huntsman" opens nationwide on June 1, 2012.