Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

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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.

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

12 responses »

  1. In what I assume is fallout from the Kristin Stewart / Rupert Sanders affair: Stewart has been dropped from the sequel, which will now focus on Hemsworth’s character.

    A bit rash, no?

  2. Guessing she wants to distance herself from the whole thing.

    Haven’t seen this one yet, but guessing The Wolf and the Huntsman next?

  3. It reportedly wasn’t her decision and Rupert Sanders will remain in the Director’s chair. If true, one could certainly make the case that misogyny is alive and well in Hollywood.

    Regardless: this is almost certainly never going to happen. Juan mentioned that he could only see it moving forward because David Koepp costs an arm and a leg (and that they would be unlikely to hire him unless they were serious about producing the film). With Koepp gone, this is mostly just posturing.

  4. So let me see if I have this right: You have Ray Winstone, the funny fat guy from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and Swearengen from Deadwood, and frickin’ Bob Hoskins as a dwarf and this is how you use them? In a nihilistic, unfun, violent slog that is a ‘darker’ take on Snow White? Thanks, Christopher Nolan, thanks for nothing. Your ‘darker filmic take’ on a beloved Batman is spawning mean interpretations of other beloved characters. So you’re like the Frank Miller of the film world. (And like Nolan, ask yourself how many of Miller’s works hold-up today).

  5. Okay, perhaps that didn’t come out right again. As with my Oliver Stone ‘substance’ idea perhaps not being what I meant (insomuch that I wasn’t trying to infer Stone had no substance), I should clarify that like Frank Miller, many of Nolan’s works don’t hold up for me. Many of them do, of course, with Following and the second Batman but with many more works that pale in comparison to those certain masterpieces.

  6. Your opinion of the movie aside, you do know that the original Grimm Brothers fairy tale of Snow White was pretty fucking dark, don’t you? If it was a re-imagining, it was of the Disney version.

  7. I did not like the movie at all. They wasted even the idea to have all those awesome actors as dwarves.

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