Snow White and the Huntsman
Directed by Rupert Sanders
Screenplay by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini
Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Ian McShane
How long is Snow White and the Huntsman? 127 minutes.
What is Snow White and the Huntsman rated? PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality.
A warrior princess, an evil queen, an overly saturated fantasy world…and a lot of cliches.
Everyone, everywhere, knows “Whistle While You Work” and the breathy, snub-nosed Disney princess, along with her seven faithful dwarves. But Disney’s first film (and all thereafter, from The Little Mermaid to The Hunchback of Notre Dame) glosses over the original Grimms’ tale so it’s nearly unrecognizable. The world could use a harder, darker version, I thought – aside from the truly awful one with Sigourney Weaver and Sam Neill. And hey, Kristen Stewart has a bad rap. Snow White and the Huntsman features Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth (where did these Hemsworth brothers come from, and why did it happen all at once?), as the titular Huntsman, and Stewart (Twilight’s Bella Swan) plays the princess. Charlize Theron, who is no stranger to uglification (she won an Oscar for gaining 40 pounds to play Aileen Wuornos in Monster), is every bit the chilly, throaty, bitter queen. Unfortunately, attempts at humor fall flat, shots at depth fall short, and ravishing romance? Not a chance.
Snow White and the Huntsman opens as any fairy tale should: with a gorgeous queen sidling through a beautiful, snow-blanketed courtyard. In this version, instead of sewing at the window, the queen admires a brilliant rose blooming despite the frozen earth. When the rose (rather than the spinning wheel) pricks her finger, three crimson drops of blood fall to the ivory snow. How she wishes she had a daughter with lips red as blood, skin white as snow, and hair black as the raven’s wing! Shortly thereafter (no sex in fairy tales!) she gives birth to none other than Snow White, before perishing when Snow White is still a child. The princess is revered throughout the kingdom, the narrator explains, for her beauty as much as her defiant spirit. The King, racked with grief, allows himself to be seduced by a stunningly beautiful woman named Ravenna – whose heart proves to be as hard and cold as her beauty is breathtaking. Apparently feeling a kinship with Snow White, Ravenna (whose parents were killed when she was young) imprisons the princess instead of killing her. Ravenna, cursed/blessed by her mother with youth, vanity, and exquisiteness, asks her enchanted mirror, “Who is the fairest of them all?” It is always her – and she remains the fairest by sucking the youth and beauty from lovely young things. But ten years later, Snow White comes of age and becomes (of course) the fairest of them all.
The events of the movie take place when Snow White escapes from the north tower in a Shawshank-like trip through the sewers (can you imagine Disney’s titular character drenched in excrement?) – and straight into the Dark Forest. This version of the Dark Forest features hallucinations, poison fungus, maggots, masses of dung beetles, and winged demons. Ravenna sends the Huntsman, a grieving widower, into the Forest on the promise that she’ll bring his wife back to him. Of course, he comes to his senses before capturing Snow White. As in any good romance, he tries to leave her, but realizes he cannot; he becomes her greatest protector, despite the fact that the two hardly interact and have very little to like about one another aside from their mutual desperation.
The Disney version of the fairy tale featured musical numbers by adorable dwarves with personality (dwarfality?) quirks to match their names. This one also features dwarves, this time played by A-list actors shrunk via CGI to miniscule proportions. Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, and Eddie Marsan inhabit the little guys – not that they have much to work with. The dwarves are usually played for laughs, and the writers of Snow White and the Huntsman struggle for some humor (how could you not laugh with Nick Frost?!). It just doesn’t pan out.
The dwarves do, however, live in Sanctuary, the land of the fairies. The Disney princess was so cute that even bunnies and fawns gather and birds flit and chirp upon her shoulders. It’s cheesy and ridiculous – but Snow White and the Huntsman does it one better. The whole world seems to come alive as the princess walks by, and though that includes the flora and fauna stretching to meet her grasp, it doesn’t feel silly. To the movie’s credit, it feels right. The princess, the dwarves teach the Huntsman, is indeed “life itself,” and they decide they’ll fight for her until they die.
All of this is interspersed with shots of Ravenna screaming at her subjects (Theron actually tore a stomach muscle during filming), staring evilly into her enchanted mirror, and surrounding herself with grimly circling ravens. Ravenna’s brother does her bidding, following Snow White and her Huntsman…at least until the Huntsman murders him. Ravenna is then forced to take the guise of Snow White’s childhood friend William to entice her to eat that poisoned apple with which we’re all so familiar. (There’s a lot of apple imagery in Stewart’s film career, it seems.)
After a kiss reawakens Snow White (though it may not be the kiss you’re expecting, which is slightly obnoxious), she rallies her men with a speech – and I do like Stewart, but this scene was horrible – and rides off to war with them. While previous Snow Whites have been pretty little princesses, this one wears leather pants beneath her skirts and looks “fetching in maille.” It’s one of the movie’s redeeming factors. And who should be the one to defeat the dark queen, but the princess herself? For Stewart, who’s been stuck playing weak, pathetic, husk Bella for years now, the role must’ve seemed a brilliant departure.
Snow White and the Huntsman falls into the category of fairy tale romance, certainly. It’s darker and uglier than some, and definitely worse than many. Its attitude toward men is pretty unforgiving, and its characters have about as much depth as a backyard pool. Theron appears to have a lot of fun with her role, though Hemsworth and Stewart have zilch chemistry. Nonetheless, it features some enjoyable moments, lovely effects, and pretty cinematography. Finally, Charlize Theron is a delight to watch under any circumstances. It can go down in history with movies like First Knight – not great, definitely stretching the lines of “adaptation,” but fun nonetheless. Come on, it’s summer. What do you expect?