You have to give some credit to Universal, for making a $170 million dollar picture that tells the story of Snow White much more closely aligned with the Brothers Grimm than with Disney. It also has a somewhat feminist approach–for women, then as always, youth and beauty equal power. There even isn’t a Prince Charming.
It’s unfortunate, then, that Snow White and the Huntsman starts with ambition but is ultimately a film that earns shrugs of the shoulders. I saw it on Saturday and it already seems like a distant memory. Perhaps the problem is that it is directed by a novice, Rupert Sanders, who graduated from short films and commercials, for this film never really takes flight and instead kind of just sits there.
As with the Grimm fairy tale, a queen pricks her finger and three drops of blood fall in the snow. She wishes for a baby that has lips like blood, skin like snow, and hair like a raven’s wing. She is rewarded with a girl called Snow White, but dies shortly after giving birth.
Later, the kingdom is threatened by an army of soldiers who shatter into pieces when struck. The king rescues a hostage, a beautiful woman called Ravenna (Charlize Theron), and he marries her. Turns out to be a bad idea, because she’s something of a Trojan horse, a woman who wiles her way into kingdoms, kills the kings, and takes over. She does this in short order.
The princess Snow White is imprisoned, and grows into maturity to look like Kristen Stewart. The queen has a mirror that she speaks to, and answers her by forming a silverish humanoid figure (an interesting wrinkle is added when her brother, Sam Spruell, watches her talk to the mirror but does not see the silver man, perhaps indicating the queen is whackadoo). You know the rest–“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all,” yada yada yada.
Snow White escapes, and the queen hires a dissolute hunter (Chris Hemsworth) to track her down. He’s mourning a dead wife, and has no interest in the job, except that it pays well. But he quickly finds out that the queen is up to no good, and takes Snow White’s side (in the fairy tale, he returns to the queen with the heart of a pig). Hemsworth teams with Snow, along with a group of irascible dwarfs and her childhood friend (Sam Claflin) to create an army to try to destroy the evil queen.
What works about his movie mostly stems from Theron. She gives a crafty performance, looking great but oozing evil. Her character is written somewhat like the very real Countess of Bathory of Romania, who bathed in the blood of virgins to try to keep young. Theron bathes in milk, instead, but does suck the life force out of young women whenever a few wrinkles start to show.
But what makes the character work is the sense that she’s a woman trapped by beauty. She is scared to lose it, because she knows without it she has no power. The movie suggests she may be very old indeed, and has done this many times. This has definite parallels to today’s society, where men are said to age gracefully while women are just about cast aside when they start to get old.
The rest of the movie is a routine action picture. The dwarfs, who are played by British character actors such as Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, and Ray Winstone (shrunk down via CGI) are not so cuddly as they were in Disney–they don’t sing “Heigh-Ho” on the way to work, and are painted as possible thieves. But they side with Snow and Hemsworth because they don’t like the queen’s rule, either.
As for Stewart, she’s perfectly fine, and shows more spine than she does in the Twilight movies. It seems kind of ridiculous to see her wearing armor and leading a cavalry charge, like Joan of Arc. Many of the battle scenes are not well shot or edited, and are simply a lot of business.
I did like some of the special effects. At one point Theron turns into a flock or ravens, and then back in her castle reconstitutes herself out of the carcasses of the birds, which is pretty neat. Also neat are guardians she creates out of shards of glass. If this film gets an Oscar nod for Visual Effects it would be well-earned.
But, despite the attempt at linking the fairy tale of old to today’s culture, Snow White and the Huntsman is mediocre at best. Nice try.
My grade for Snow White and the Huntsman: C.