Snow White and the Huntsman – A Review

Growing up, I didn’t see many Disney movies. For the first 14 years of my life, I saw exactly one Disney film – Alice in Wonderland – and that was only because I was at the theater with one of my friends and it was her turn to pick the movie (when it was my turn, I picked Rocky III; her father loved me for that). I don’t know if my parents had some beef with Walt Disney (the person or the company) or if we just didn’t go to the movies that often when I was kid, but it wasn’t until I was a teenager and started babysitting that I started to see the rest of the Disney collection. I remember watching Fantasia and Bambi with some friends in high school because they were perplexed as to how I had not seen them yet. Even with this late catch up, there are still a number of Disney movies that I’ve never seen, like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. I didn’t see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs until I was 33, which was also the same age I was when I went to Disneyworld for the first time (spoiler: I was ultimately unimpressed as it couldn’t live up to the 30 year build up. Space Mountain, to my great dismay, is kind of lame.).

This is in no way a complaint that I was denied as a kid, but rather an explanation as to why my working knowledge of fairy tales is pretty spotty. I’d read a few adaptations of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, like Rumplestiltskin and Rapunzel, but most of my friends had gotten their intel on fairy tales right from Disney. So while I know the basic plot of Cinderella, I’m not really sure where the mice fit in to the whole scheme of things. I’m not 100% positive as to why Sleeping Beauty is sleeping or what her real name is (assuming she has one). It was kind of shock to me how little time Snow White actually spends with the seven dwarfs in the Disney film; I kind of figured that was the main thrust of the movie for all the attention the little guys got.

The upside of this is that because these stories are not played out for me, I’m probably more interested than most adults in the recent barrage of updates in classic fairy tales. One of my summer television projects is to watch Once Upon A Time and Grimm. I really like the Fables graphic novel series. So when Snow White and the Huntsman was announced, I was pretty psyched. The trailer looked dark and bleak. Snow White, as played by Kristen Stewart, appeared to be more bad-ass than her Disney counterpart. I really like Charlize Theron and generally trust her choices in projects, so her involvement as the wicked Queen was also a bonus. I figured this was my kind of fairy tale – lots of action and less singing animals.

Snow White and the Huntsman is definitely much grittier than the Disney version and brings back some of the scariness of the original Grimm tale. A lot of the movie works, but it fails to live up to its full potential. There are definite moments when you see what this movie could have been, but it never quite gets there. It was enjoyable, but I didn’t walk out of the theater raving about it as I expected I would.

I think the basic plot points are the same in Snow White and the Huntsman as they were in the original: Snow White’s evil step mother the Queen wants to be the fairest of them all. She cannot achieve this, however, as long as Snow is still alive, as her purity and beauty surpass those of the Queen. In the Disney version, the Huntsman is tasked with killing Snow White and instead lets her loose in the woods; in the 2012 version, Snow White escapes all on her own and the Huntsman is tasked with bringing her back. Both have a poisoned apple and both rely on a kiss to save the day.

The 2012 version of Snow White is definitely more proactive and independent than earlier versions; while she still relies on the assistance of others, she is not just a damsel in distress. She plays a role in her own survival and in the final showdown with the Queen. In some ways, she is a mash-up of the original Snow White and Joan of Arc. While I appreciate making her more than just a victim who relies on men to save her, it also makes the movie feel a little inconsistent. One moment she is connecting with nature and the next she is wielding a sword. It’s just a little disjointed. The two ideas can definitely co-exist, but with some additional work put in to the story.

And while there are some thrilling moments of action, there are also parts of the movie that drag. I think the movie could have been edited down to be sleeker and more focused. The ending is fairly anticlimactic. There are some plot holes that I found myself dwelling on too long. The film raises some interesting issues or concepts, only to quickly abandon them.

By far the best part of the film is Theron. She kills it as the Queen; she is evil and yet vulnerable. There is a little bit of campiness in the performance – how can there not be when you are screaming about needing to eat another woman’s heart – but it is not so over-the-top that it is ridiculous. The desperation of the Queen in trying to stay young and beautiful is believable and the character benefits from the new backstory that she is given in this version of the film. She even gets a name – Ravenna. She is not necessarily evil just for the sake of being evil and I would have actually liked to see them pursue her origin story more fully. She’s got some legitimate gripes and some interesting things to say about the patriarchy of the world. In a different movie, she might have even been the sympathetic victim. They use some great special effects with Theron, who fluctuates in appearance throughout the film. Definitely a very enjoyable performance.

I am not particularly a Kristen Stewart fan; the Twilight movies are just terrible and Stewart seems to be miserable all the time, whether in character or not. She presented at the Academy Awards a few years ago and had a scowl on her face the whole time. While this demeanor occasionally works, like when she was playing Joan Jett in The Runaways and her angst could be properly channeled, the rest of the time it just makes her unpleasant. I just don’t get what she has to be so unhappy about. That being said, it was kind of jarring to see her actually smile in Snow White and the Huntsman. There were moments in the film where she looked legitimately happy, though they were few and far between as she was running for her life for most of the film. But with all her brooding as Bella Swan, it was nice to know that Ms. Stewart is actually capable of happy emotions. The role of Snow White doesn’t require much of her other than running around the woods, but the majority of the time she is required to actually act she does an OK job. There are moments in the film, however, where she just looks awkward.

I have a ridiculous crush on Chris Hemsworth, so I don’t even know if I can be objective when it comes to his performance. I would have been happy if the whole movie was him just walking through the woods. But he does a fine job as The Huntsman, a role that requires a little more emotion and restraint that his more famous role as Thor. And yes, he is still swoon worthy.

The dwarfs, on the other hand, didn’t really work for me in this film; using the wonders of technology they were able to shrink down average sized actors, like Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins, to dwarf size. The results are a little creepy. These are definitely not your Disney dwarfs – they are dirty and kind of nasty – and they don’t spend much time giving them much character development. They all kind of blend together and only one of them really stands out. If they weren’t such an iconic part of the Disney story, I’d say that they could have been totally excluded for what little value they brought. Thankfully their singing is kept to a minimum.

Other random thoughts:

  • 2012 is definitely the year of the archer with The Hunger Games, The Avengers and now Snow White and the Huntsman all featuring the bow and arrow prominently.
  • There are some very cool visuals in the movie, but not all of them are necessary. Theron immersing herself in a bath of milk looked neat, but ultimately felt like it was inserted in the movie for no other purpose.
  • The movie loses points in my book for the inclusion of fairies. They are definitely my least favorite of the supernatural creatures. I actually groaned when they showed up.
  • I know it would have been a much shorter movie if it happened, but I wish they had addressed why the Queen kept Snow White alive all these years. Why didn’t she just kill her when she offed the King? Seems like a rookie mistake. King Joffrey (Game of Thrones) would have murdered her tout de suite.
  • Also a convenient plot devise – the all and powerful Queen’s magic doesn’t work in the Dark Forest, which necessitates her sending out the Huntsman to do her dirty work. Is AT&T her magic provider?
  • I could not wrap my head around the fact that one of the dwarfs was named Gus. Seriously? Gus the Dwarf? I get that they can’t be named Happy or Dopey or whatever, but Gus? I’d rather that they were unnamed.
  • With all the news stories about people eating body parts lately, the Queen’s desire to consume Snow White’s heart takes on a whole different meaning.
  • Because of the gaps in my fairy tale knowledge, I’m probably the only person in the theater who wasn’t positive how they were going to break Snow White’s spell. I thought it was a kiss, but then I thought I might have been confusing it with Sleeping Beauty. I eventually realized that most of these tales all end the same way.
  • I’ve decided I’m bringing back the word fetching to the vernacular. It’s just a cool word. Or I just really like the way that Chris Hemsworth says it. Either way, that’s on my agenda for the summer. Don’t laugh – I’ve done a lot for the words hobo and shenanigans.
  • There could be some really interesting things written about the themes in the film: women’s desire to stay young at all costs and the inherent competition between younger and older women, beauty being a source of power, the value attached to purity. I’m just not the person to do it.

I agree with the couple that I overheard as I was leaving the theater – I didn’t love Snow White and the Huntsman, but I didn’t hate it either. I think it is worth seeing, but not necessarily worth seeing opening weekend or even in the theaters. It’s slightly above average, but I found it ultimately disappointing since there were too many glimpses of a much better movie just hiding under the surface.

Snow White and the Huntsman opens nationwide today.