Snow White and the Huntsman offers a Brothers Grimm-meets-Lord of the Rings version of the classic fairy tale about the tormented princess who has skin as white as snow and the misfortune of being more fair than an evil queen, her stepmother, bent on youth and beauty. Starring Charlize Theron as the queen, Ravenna; Kristen Stewart as Snow White; and Chris Hemsworth as the huntsman; much has been said already about the sharp contrast between this movie and the previously released Mirror Mirror staring Julia Roberts. I didn’t see that one, but I think it is safe to say the two films have little in common in spite of the fact that they share nearly all the same characters and essential plot devices.
What small pleasure I took from Snow White and the Huntsman came largely from a few surprises and plot points that weren’t twists, exactly, but weren’t entirely expected either. For this reason, I will trust you know enough about the tale of Snow White and the slant this version is taking based on the previews, and skip the plot summary.
This film loses itself a bit in its attempt to be an epic fantasy, an epic quest a la Lord of the Rings. There are beautiful visuals and impressive special effects. There are supporting characters introduced to show the far reach of the Queen’s evil reign and the stakes resting on Snow White’s success. The Huntsman must overcome his terrible grief and the alcoholism he uses to cope, Snow must over come her own self-doubt, and her childhood friend, William, must overcome his guilt for having abandoned her when they were children. Even Ravenna and her brother Finn have trauma that threatens their sanity and their lives. All the makings are here, in the story, for something grand, something beautiful and compelling.
And yet…it is not. Not grand. Not compelling. I will give it beautiful, I suppose.
Some things work about this movie. The aforementioned visuals are great. Charlize Theron and Sam Spruell are both very good in their roles as damaged villains. They manage to convey some humanity toward each other without backing off from being truly diabolical and “love-to-hate” worthy. By far, they stand out as the most watchable, the most interesting characters. There are some nice, funny and sweet moments with the supporting cast, including one of my favorites, Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz). Every once in a while, William (Sam Claflin) and the Huntsman fight side by side and it looks cool.
…That’s about it.
If I had to put my finger on why Snow White and the Huntsman ultimately fails, I would say that the titular heroine never quite connects with the audience. I have nothing against Kristen Stewart. I know her participation in the Twilight movies makes her a darling for some and pariah for others, but I am neutral on her. I do think she gave a truly sweet and perfect, albeit short performance in Into the Wild. She has been miscast here, however. That, or given poor direction. There is something about the actress that does imply a great deal going on beneath the surface; a sort of awkwardness that speaks to a larger struggle within. Yet, as an audience, this is not something we can access and make sense of in SWatH. She is simply too guarded. So, we are left knowing everyone loves Snow White, knowing she is good and sweet and strong and brave, and knowing we should all love her and root for her because we are told that by other characters and that is all. Without being firmly on her side, without rooting for her, we have nothing to invest us in the action of the film.
You all know my feelings for, I mean about *cough*, Chris Hemsworth. He is certainly well-cast in this role. He once again proves he is more than beefcake with some scenes that pack an emotional punch – or at least they should. Except he shares nearly all of them with Snow and, well, I have to say it is like she sucks all the energy from them. There is no sexual tension, no sense of urgency, and only the barest sense of camaraderie between the two. Truly, it’s baffling.
I think perhaps another problem for the film lies in the direction of newcomer Rupert Sanders, or maybe the script from Evan Daugherty . Hell, I don’t know, maybe it’s the gaffer’s fault. It is hard to say, to be honest. Something just doesn’t work about it.
Sorry, folks. I had high hopes for this one, too.
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