From Grimm’s Fairy Tales, to the animated Disney classic, to an endless amount of revisionist takes that have been filmed over the years, the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is a story most of us are familiar with in one way shape or form. This is both a blessing and a curse for screenwriters. While they have certain points in the story that are clearly already laid out for them that they have to include, they also have the freedom to fill in the gaps between the guide posts to form the journey to their own creation. Or in the case of Snow White and the Huntsmen, you can just fill in those gaps in the story with fantastical imagery, which will no doubt please the summer film-going public. Hopefully they don’t fall asleep though before the epic finale.
The film begins with the young Snow White coming to terms with the death of her beautiful mother – the Queen of the land. During a battle against a dark army, the king encounters a strange woman being chained up and taken hostage in a wooden cart. Her name is Ravenna (Charlize Theron). Not long after the love-struck King and the mysterious prisoner are married, do we find him dead on the night of their consummation. Flash forward twenty years and we discover that the evil queen’s presence has placed a deadening curse over the land, she talks to a gold servant who emerges from a mirror, sucks the souls of young girls to maintain her beauty, and keeps her step-daughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart) locked away in the dungeon. It doesn’t take long before Snow White escapes her captor and goes on a journey to evade the queen and bring about the light that once shined over the land.
Snow White follows the age-old path of self-discovery found in many previous tales of normal people suddenly thrown into a world where he/she has to learn to embrace one’s power. I’m pretty sure there’s a summer film about to come out following a guy named Peter Parker who has to accomplish the same mundane task. The problem here though lies with the fact that we never truly feel for the girl with hair black as night, skin pale as snow, and lips red as blood. Whether it is the fault of the script or the direction from newcomer Rupert Sanders, Kristin Stewart’s emotive skills are reduced to incessant blinking, biting her lip, or playing with her hair. Not to mention that she is given only about twenty real lines of dialogue before an awkward rabble-rousing speech she has to give before the final battle (yawn). As one would expect from Chris Hemsworth at this point following his roles in Thor and Cabin in the Woods, he delivers the bloated chest and manly bravado while serving as a teacher of sorts to Snow White on her journey. He delivers a solid performance even though it’s completely derivative of similar characters in films past. Without a doubt, the standout performance belongs to Charlize Theron. Her take on the evil queen rests completely on her slithery vocal delivery and not as a physical threat. In a lot of ways you could say she comes across as a female Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort) from the Harry Potter series as she almost whispers her lines in a long and drawn out manner when she’s not breaking into a fit of yelling at any moment. Also worth noting is the inclusion of Sam Spruell as the brother of the evil queen. Though not a major player in the story after about thirty minutes into the film, the handful of scenes he is in early on are an absolute pleasure to watch. He brings a dark element to the story that even hints at a possible incestuous relationship with his sister. Now, that’s something you won’t find in the animated Disney movie.
The trailers for the film depict this fairy tale as a story centered on dark and engaging visuals. This is where the majority of the fun lies in this overly long fantasy. At times it seems that the art department on the film strives to mimic the visual inventiveness found in the films of Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy). The most obvious creature that seems borrowed from the Spanish director is that of a moss covered troll in a scene that first shows Snow White becoming more confident in her role as a leader. Between sumptuous imagery of Charlize Theron emerging out of milk, turning into crows, or simply eating up each scene in lavish gowns that give off a gothic elegance, we are treated to beautiful landscapes and sweeping shots that recall The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Like those films, many of these locations are actually real places or constructed sets instead of being created by CGI.
Fans of medieval fantasy adventures will most likely be more on board with this journey than some. For several of us who saw the film together, the middle third of the film drags the film down incredibly. Like watching a five year old try to walk in a suit of armor, the film almost comes to a complete halt after Snow White and the huntsmen escape the dark forest. From there we are treated to several new inclusions in the Snow White story that seem like filler to pad out the paper-thin story. We all know in Snow White that there is going to be an evil queen, seven dwarves, and a poisoned apple. Why it takes over an hour to get to the eight dwarves (yes, there are eight not seven in the movie) is beyond me. All of the slowness of the middle seems to wash away by the final battle. Once again, there’s some astounding imagery that makes it all seem worth the wait. At times the film wants to feel like a summer blockbuster popcorn movie while others it wants to feel like a more serious take on medieval mythology in the vain of Lord of the Rings. By the end of it, the two hour long film will feel like you just watched the extended cut of the aforementioned classic.
Snow White and The Huntsmen is by no means a terrible movie. In fact, I enjoyed it more than some due to the exquisite imagery. I’m without a doubt a sucker for beautiful art direction and can excuse some weak storytelling if I’m taken on a visual journey. Though I wish I could have been treated to as inventive of a screenplay as the sights on display, at least I can say the journey wasn’t completely for nothing.