Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

Why is Hollywood intent on slaughtering fairy tales?

If you’ve been waiting for a good retake of an old fairy tale to come out of young Hollywood, Snow White and the Huntsman is probably not going to do it for you.

There’s not much to spoil about this plot, since the story is too well-known. An evil queen (Charlize Theron) usurps a kingdom by killing its king (King Magnus, which means “big,” played by Noah Huntley). Her step-daughter, the young princess (Kristen Stewart), is basically treated badly–in this instance, kept locked in a cell for a decade or so. When the girl comes of age she becomes a threat to the queen’s beauty, because that’s what’s important to queens. The queen attempts to have her assassinated. In this version, the princess escapes into the forest, and a drunk huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) is sent to kill her. The assignment doesn’t go well. Along the way they meet a group of dwarfs in the forest (none of whom, save Toby Jones, is actually smaller than average in real life), and bump into Prince Charming, who happens to be named William (Sam Claflin) in a fit of unoriginality. We’ll suspend disbelief and not point out that William’s father, Duke Hammond (Vincent Regan), must (in order to be a duke) be the king’s brother, thereby making the duke her uncle and Prince Charming her first cousin. The young princess then gathers her guts, raises an army, and overthrows the evil queen. Easy.

Charlize Theron is good for bad: the psychotic Queen Ravena in Snow White and the Huntsman. Photo by Universal Pictures.

Let’s start with what works in this film. First, the visuals are stunning. It’s a very richly photographed film, with great care taken to give the tale the depth and mythological scope of a truly classic fantasy story. It’s made to look vast, but non-descript as regards any real location or historical period. In the same vein, the costumes are grand, the sets are lavish, and the special effects–which were more extensive than either expected or necessary–were quite stunning.

Charlize Theron as Queen Ravena was awesome. She’s fantastically psychotic, and as a cold-blooded killer queen she really is spellbinding. On the same level is Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman. Hemsworth is really a great actor to begin with, and this role is another Thor-like combination of fun and action that plays to his strengths of comedic timing and reluctant heroism.

The dwarfs were a great bit of comic relief in a film that needed relief in a lot of ways. It was nice that they were made into the remnants of a caste of workmen, rather than merely a group of outcasts living in a secluded cabin in the woods. This at least gives them social value and a reason for being (there are eight of them in this movie, by the way).

Kristen Stewart is amazing at acting like she doesn’t know, or care, what’s going on. Photo by Universal Pictures.

What doesn’t work in this adaptation is extensive, and much of it falls on the attempt to write a film to a pre-teen formula that worked for Twilight (because Kristen Stewart can’t be allowed to act anything else, apparently), and on using Kristen Stewart for anything. There are much prettier actresses in Hollywood who can act, and I have yet to understand the need to put Kristen Stewart in movies. In this one there were moments where she almost acted, but she does spend a great deal of time wandering around with glassy eyes and mouth agape. At least there wasn’t a lot of stuttering this time, but if I had to guess I’d say it was because she was concentrating so hard on keeping up her accent (don’t get me started on that).

Aren’t there any pretty brunette 20-something actresses in England? Jeez. Where’s Olivia Wilde when you need her? Keira Knightly maybe?

The teen drama between Stewart and Claflin, which goes nowhere at all in the plot and I suspect was meant to set up yet another horribly rendered love triangle in the Bella/Edward/Jacob vein, is almost as bad as the one between Amanda Seyfried, Shiloh Fernandez, and Max Irons in last year’s deplorable Red Riding Hood. It’s full of awkward pauses, mistimed glances, and a magical kiss that doesn’t get anywhere. We’re meant to think it’s because she’s fallen in love with the Huntsman, whose kiss actually works (either that, or she’s been unconscious long enough to get over the poison apple thing), but that story literally goes nowhere either. Listen, Hollywood: just because your main character is a girl doesn’t mean her only key choice has to be which of the two cute boys who pine for her she chooses. I know it worked in Twilight (I’m kidding…it didn’t) but that dynamic isn’t a convincing one. Let it die.

I guess it’s necessary to have a troll show up on screen just to demonstrate that you can CG a troll, but this is just one example of completely unnecessary, totally plot-independent sequences in the film that served no purpose in either storytelling or character development. The same thing could have been accomplished with a wild horse. At the very least, the troll should have made a surprise appearance during a battle sequence.

Waste of a troll.

There are also too many implausible elements here, even for a fairy tale. For one thing, why would a battle-hardened neighbouring warlord agree to be led in battle by a teenage girl who’s spent her entire life in a prison cell and who, if you really think about it, is about to knock him out of line for the throne (he is a Duke, after all)? How did she learn the ins and outs of battle strategy? Is it really wise to storm a castle by galloping straight into a fray of archers and exploding catapult launches? The list goes on, but generally I’m annoyed by the idea that this girl, who hasn’t seen anything close to an education in at least ten years is suddenly a master strategist, strong enough to leap from a horse while wearing armor, and an expert swordsman. Just days earlier (in the plot), she got trapped by some branches and needed help to get out. It’s a quasi-gendered political statement that becomes a mockery of itself simply by being too goofy to be taken seriously.

I get it, OK? The idea is to portray a fairytale princess who isn’t dependent on men to reclaim her throne. She does it herself. Yeah yeah…and it plays against the Queen’s constant man-bashing (the reason for the Queen’s malevolence is her distrust of men in general). But remember that by this point in the story, her survival has depended entirely on ten men. It’s already too late to make her into Joan of Arc.

To cap off an almost good action sequence, the audience is forced to endure probably the most hapless coronation scene ever filmed. A crown is placed on Snow White’s head, “in the name of all that is good and just in the land.” Uh…no. Medieval coronations were done in the name of God–and don’t try to say they were avoiding that connotation, because in the first scene in her cell Stewart was busy lighting a fire and reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Then there’s an awkward silence as nobody says a word or bothers to cheer the return of the rightful queen, until one of the dwarfs (Ian McShane) decides to pipe up with “Hail to the Queen!” The assembly repeats the line once. Then we’re subjected to a five minute tableau with no action, no speaking, and no expression whatsoever from Kristen Stewart. The Huntsman makes an appearance at the back of the room, but she gives no indication whatsoever that she can see him, and there’s no closure to their story. I can imagine the director, Rupert Sanders, saying, “OK, now you need to look like you’re awestruck at the whole idea of finally becoming queen,” and Stewart reacting with, “So…I should stand here with a blank expression, glazed eyes, and my mouth open?”

I’m not joking. Five minutes of awkward silence to end an “action” film. As an ending it was uncomfortable and weird, not pensive and dramatic. And it capped off what could have been an awesome movie, had it not tried to take itself too seriously.

Snow White and the Huntsman. This movie could have been so good…and then it sucked. Photo by Universal Pictures.