Kristen Stewart as Snow White
Chris Hemsworth as The Huntsman
Charlize Theron as Ravenna
Sam Claflin as William
Sam Spruell as Finn
Ian McShane as Beith
Bob Hoskins as Muir
Ray Winstone as Gort
Nick Frost as Nion
Eddie Marsan as Duir
Toby Jones as Coll
Johnny Harris as Quert
Brian Gleeson as Gus
Vincent Regan as Duke Hammond
Liberty Ross as Snow White’s Mother
The Brothers Grimm version of “Snow White” should be familiar enough to everyone readying this, thanks to a hearty helping hand from Walt Disney, that there’s no real need to re-explain the plot. Universal certainly hopes so, as they take that familiarity and attempt to turn it upside down with their dark fantasy re-telling: “Snow White and the Huntsman.”
Director Rupert Sanders’ vision, brought to life by a trio of screenwriters, is to imbue the classic story with more realistic characterization; darker, more adult oriented design, and a dash of feminism.
It certainly seems like that’s what we’re going to get early on as Snow White’s (Kristen Stewart) father the king, distraught over his wife’s death, rides out to do battle with an army of silent warriors that shatter into obsidian when killed. After vanquishing the magic army, the king discovers a beautiful captive (Charlize Theron) and soon takes her as his new queen, healing all the wounds in the land. Except that his new queen is an immortal witch who, due to the tragedy of her past, loathes men. She murders the king in his bed, takes his throne and casts his daughter into prison for 10 long years.
It’s a great beginning, one which promises an action fable which takes its material seriously and attempts to convey it in an adult manner rather than as a children’s tale.
Unfortunately, what “Snow White and the Huntsman” is best at delivering are empty promises. After starting out strong and introducing a well-thought out group of pieces, the filmmakers suddenly seem to realize they have no idea what to do with them.
The design is fantastic and lovingly rendered, creating a realistic world while still filling it with fairies and dwarves and the like. Beautiful doesn’t seem like quite the right word as it glories in taking its creatures and shoving them into the muck and mire, but it is hard to stop looking at it.
And Charlize Theron is perfectly cast in the freshly-inspired role of the evil Queen. And though the filmmakers have not gone so far as to try and upend the story completely, they have tried (at least initially) to explain why she is the way she is and put some pathos on her side. Captured and taken by a warrior king when she was just a child, Ravenna had to rely on her beauty to survive and naturally came to look on men as scavengers and ravagers good for little but ruining women. She has become hard and cold to ensure that no one will ever hurt her again.
That’s going to be a problem for the queen considering Snow White has been prophesied to defeat her as only the fairest can kill the fairest, like some sort of super model battle to the death. After spending several years in prison, Snow White escapes out through the castle sewers and into a magical forest filled with hallucinogenic fungus and animals which semi-resemble dinosaurs. A dark forest where the Queen’s magic doesn’t work. Instead, she sends her men out to find a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) who knows the land to track her down and return her.
Which is about where “Snow White and the Huntsman” begins to fall apart like one of its obsidian monsters.
It’s not Hemsworth’s fault. Eric is a morose man still mourning his dead wife and trying to ruin himself until he dies. When he comes across Snow White, something in him awakens and instead of killing her he drags her through the forest, attempting to reunite her with her father’s few remaining knights. A lot of it is typical romantic anti-hero stuff we see all the time–he’s gruff, he’s an outsider, he has a ridiculous Scottish accent–but Hemsworth makes it play. It helps that he doesn’t have to be much more than taciturn, but he does taciturn well.
Once united with the Huntsman and with her purpose laid out in front of her, Snow White has all the tools she needs to cast off the typical fairy tale damsel role and take up her father’s sword to lead her army into battle against the Queen.
And if they’d managed to do that, they’d probably have a pretty good movie on their hands.
Unfortunately, in the midst of all this reimagining, no one seems to have figured out what to do with Snow White herself. They know where they want her to start prototypical fairy tale princess trapped in a high tower. And they know where they want her to end up battle hardened warrior who doesn’t need no stinking Prince Charming to fight her battles for her. But how to get from Point A to Point B? They haven’t a clue.
In fact once she hooks up with Eric and convinces him to take her to the Duke’s castle, she seems to lose all power of speech for most of the next hour. In this feminist take on the classic princess in distress legend, Snow White the film’s lead spends most of her time following along and being talked at by male characters that end up being far more detailed and interesting than she is. It comes even more noticeable when she and Eric finally stumble onto the seven dwarves more than halfway into the film. They get more characterization in 60 minutes than Snow White does in the entire film, although they have the benefit of being filled with experienced character actors.
Some of it is the desire to follow along in the wake of the story itself which means Snow White must enchant animals, bite into a poisoned apple, and be awakened with a kiss. And, of course, everyone has to call her Snow White. There’s been enough thought put into it to make some interesting thematic ties which aren’t really followed up on as everything becomes forgotten in the mad dash for the big action finish.
It could be screenwriter lapse. It could be Sanders choosing to edit around Stewart’s performance. It’s hard to say, all though I lean towards lapse in view of the sheer number of plot points left hanging at the end, such as Snow White’s relationship with William her childhood friend, not to mention Eric himself.
There are a lot of good pieces to “Snow White and the Huntsman” and every so often they coalesce into something entertaining, but it’s not real magic, it’s stage magic all smoke and mirrors and nothing behind.