One of the biggest mistakes a filmmaker can make is to wrongly presume their film is resonating with the audience, something first time feature director Rupert Sanders does on a continual basis with Snow White and the Huntsman, a film that gets progressively worse from start to finish. The nuts and bolts of the Snow White story are here, but there is hardly an inkling of storytelling going on as one random sequence of events collides with another to create a ragged tapestry of ill-fitting pieces. Granted, those pieces may be accompanied by spectacular, big budget effects and a loud, booming score, but it all comes apart at the seams leaving a story in tatters by the film’s end.
Sanders’ claim to fame stems from commercial work and the marketing campaign for Microsoft’s Xbox game “Halo 3” and it shows. Snow White and the Huntsman is nothing more than big visual effects from worthless trolls, liquid mirror men, fairies and glass monsters with the actors reading their lines as if they must one up each other at every turn. Charlize Theron is the worst offender of the lot, playing the wicked queen Ravenna, who has killed the king and has sucked the life out of the land. Each word she reads is accompanied by a long pause, meant to instill fear but instead induces delirium as she can never seem to get out a sentence without it taking 30 seconds.
“Mirror…. Mirror…. on the…. wooooollllll… Who is fairest….. of them ooollllll?” It just doesn’t end, and when she isn’t stringing out her sentences, she’s screaming one word commands and when she isn’t screaming, she’s taking random milk baths or decaying in front of our eyes before sucking the life out of young girls. All of this may sound cinematic and sinister, but it isn’t a character you haven’t seen before and it is all presented in such an over-the-top way that over-the-top becomes the unbearable norm.
In terms of character building, it’s minimal. I think I’ve established Ravenna is evil, but did you know she is also a metaphor for how society treats women, treating them as if their beauty is all they have and once you lose that you may as well die. Her insecurity began with her mother cursing/blessing her with power and beauty and and she also has an axe to grind with all men, but I digress. Now she chants to a mirror on the wall, one who will help her maintain her powers, but only as long as she is the “fairest” in the land, a title now challenged by the young girl she’s kept locked away in a castle all these years… Snow White (Kristen Stewart).
Snow, despite having been locked up for several years after her father was murdered, seems to have her wits about her and when summoned by the queen’s creepy brother (Sam Spruell) she manages to escape, finds a random white horse just chilling on the beach (she may as well have jump started a Buick for what it’s worth) and rides off into the dark forest. Here she’s overcome by the malevolence of the forest seeing visions of bugs, dead animals, tree demons and what not. She collapses and, well, this is your introduction to Ms. White.
Meanwhile, the queen has now asked for the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), whom we first meet as he’s fighting some guy over some money owed. Who is the guy he owes? Who cares, he’s of no importance and the Huntsman is soon assigned the task of finding Snow and bringing her back to the queen so she can cut out her heart and live forever and you know the rest. Long story short, the Huntsman is double-crossed, ends up helping Snow and the story plays on from there.
One of the many problems with the film is that it’s being sold as a revisionist take on the Grimm brothers’ Snow White. There is hardly anything “revisionist” about this. It’s still the exact same story, just the methods have changed, or, more accurate, a bunch of junk has been stuffed into a story where it either doesn’t fit or makes it all too much for Sanders to manage. Snow White and the Hunstman is really nothing more than one long chase scene that ends with those being chased finally deciding to stand up for themselves. Oh boy, haven’t seen that before.
Throughout this chase we stumble on the previously mentioned random horse, then there’s a troll we never hear from again, the Huntsman decides to give Snow some random bits of combat training, then we meet random river people, then it’s suddenly snowing, oh and there’s the long lost childhood friend William (Sam Claflin), there’s a magical deer and here come the eight dwarfs.
The dwarfs, like most of this film, are an exercise in excellent effects (makeup and digital), but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in The Lord of the Rings trilogy where John Rhys-Davies was made to look smaller. Here it’s the likes of Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan, Nick Frost, Toby Jones, Johnny Harris and Brian Gleeson. Admittedly there is a mild entertainment factor with these guys, but it is once again all so overstated it becomes too much to bear.
It’s around this time Sanders turns the corner and Snow White and the Huntsman essentially becomes a parody of the Lord of the Rings as a funeral song for a character we’ve known for a solid five minutes is sung. This song is the epitome of everything that’s wrong with this film — it’s unearned, unnecessary and tedious. It goes on and on, and even after the funeral is over our heroes are seen wandering through majestic landscapes, the song still playing over the images as if the memory of the lost comrade is still with us. It’s not. We never knew him just as we hardly know any of these people.
When it comes to the two leads, Hemsworth is essentially playing Thor with an accent, it’s not bad, but the accent wanders in and out and why he had it in the first place I’ll never understand. Kristen Stewart is given a little more range than in the Twilight films, but not much, and she is mostly let loose in the film’s final moments to give a rousing “Let’s go get ’em!” speech that falls tremendously flat, but to no fault of her own. After seeing Stewart in On the Road there is clearly talent there, but films such as Twilight and this film in particular don’t bring it out of her as she just seems bored.
The screenplay by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) and Hossein Amini (Drive) was either never good in the first place or destroyed in the film’s production, because this is a ragged feature if there ever was one, filled with over-the-top characters that never seem to take a well-deserved break from shouting, posing and moping. Lord knows about midway through I was ready to check out and by the end I couldn’t get away fast enough.