Director: Rupert Sanders (debut)
Length: 2h 7m
Synopsis: In a land far away, a princess was born that had lips as red as roses, raven-black hair, and skin as fair as snow. Her name was Snow White, and she was destined to become the purist of all creatures. Tragically, when Snow White was just a little girl, her mother passed away. Her father, vulnerable and overcome with grief, remarries a lost woman named Ravenna (Theron) and makes her the new Queen. On their wedding night she slays the King and assumes control of the kingdom, turning it into ruins. Though revered for her beauty, the Queen is nevertheless jealous of her stepdaughter’s fairness. For several long years Snow White (Stewart) remains locked up in the castle. The Queen, whose beauty and youthfulness we find comes from the consumption of young girls, seeks to consume Snow White when told by her magic mirror that doing so would allow her to live in youth forever. Luckily, Snow White manages to escape the castle, but is chased by a Huntsman (Hemsworth) hired by the Queen to fetch her. He eventually catches up to the princess but cannot bring himself to carry out his mission. In fact he falls in love with the fateful girl, and together they look for a way to defeat the evil Queen and reclaim the kingdom.
Analysis: Some people have made mention that they aren’t very keen on the idea of creating a version of Snow White that takes itself too seriously, as it’s supposed to be primarily appropriate for children viewers. Pardon? Says who? Ostensibly adapted (loosely) from the Brothers Grimm 1812 version, the tale of Snow White is not really known outside of the Disney bubble to be very kid friendly, especially by today’s standards. For this reason Snow White and the Huntsman tries hard to separate itself from the “for kids” designation, but to those who might be concerned it doesn’t completely turn its back on it. Yes the film has some blood and violence, but not nearly as much as it could have had considering its source material. There is also still some loyalty to the fanciful elements the tale is most known for. And a further indication of this pursuit of balance is director Rupert Sanders’ two-headed visual tone. Not only are the evil settings dark and dank and the more noble settings full of light and color, but the former is encased in the macabre and the latter is positively bathed in whimsy. These fantastic extremes suggest that the film was aiming for an epic feel, and from a pictorial standpoint it succeeds. However…
Many wont be fooled. To be sure, it is hard to make a two-hour running time feel truly “epic” in the traditional sense of the word. The scope is large and the stakes are high, but the drama just isn’t played out to its fullest potential. A lack of time only worsens matters so much however, as the most prevalent reason for this muted dramatic effect is the indecisive composition of the character of Snow White. Safe for one instance that brings on the second act, and another that signals the fourth, Snow White is a rather passive protagonist. The Huntsman and others act as her protector for the bulk of the story, and as a figure of destiny she is often escorted to each successive plot advancement, rarely assuming command of the helm herself. For this reason, when she finally tries to don the cap of a revolutionary leader we may find her words inspiring but nevertheless missing that earned exclamation that might have really made them impressive. It’s always nice to see a strong female lead, but we see no build-up of fortitude to merit this capacity.
The Huntsman doesn’t receive better treatment. As in the Grimm fairy tale he eventually falls in love with Snow White, but this romance – though somewhat founded – ultimately plays a superficial role in the bigger story. This would not be a major problem if it carried a heft that warranted the separate attention it demands, but it does not. His and her love for each other does not elaborate either of them. It does not resonate with either’s personal tale, and if it was supposed to then Sanders does not do well to convey such reverberation. If anything, the Huntsman’s love for Snow White actually works to weaken his character. By this I mean that his backstory (what little we’re told of it) suggests that a certain direction should be taken in the interest of his personal growth, but his romantic feelings for Snow White, which are unrelated to that direction, prevent him from progressing as he promised to. This disappointment does not affect the main story directly, but it creates a void that if filled would have worked to help make the main story as epic as it aimed to be.
So what is there to like about a movie titled Snow White and the Huntsman when neither Snow White nor the Huntsman are much to get excited about? The answer is Charlize Theron as the evil Queen. Her character is arguably fleshed out the best, and it is largely because of this that you’re bound to find her the most interesting and engrossing. The role is not quite what some might call “three-dimensional,” but the lack of full clarity, mostly regarding her motivations, is probably another result of the relatively short running time. Remarkably enough, the character is not designed to be evil incarnate like a Darth Vader or Voldemort, but what I’ll tentatively call hatefully sympathetic. She is completely unjustified in her actions and self-disillusioned to the point of being dangerously narcissistic, yet pitiable because we’re able to understand the fear that causes such things. She worships youth, yes, but oddly not because of pure vanity, nor because she fears death. What she truly fears is abandonment (particularly from men) and she attributes the cause of this to a woman’s naturally waning beauty. Therefore, to her, being the most beautiful and keeping such beauty would mean being the most admirable and loved, and not having to fear abandonment. Or if she didn’t care about being loved she at least satisfies her sense of self-worth. The irony is that she has no one but her subjects to abandon her, with her unbridled resentment of men keeping her from allowing any man the opportunity to do so.
Beauty, as it is in the Grimm tale, is the bedrock motif that drives the film. As part of the overarching theme which eventually claims that beauty of the soul is to be admired more than the corporeal variety, we and Sanders spend a lot of time admiring all of its forms from beginning to end. To put it lightly, Snow White and the Huntsman is at no point short of spectacle. Like with Snow White herself we are meant to value the film’s inherent beauty, but also the splendor of its aesthetic. Opinions about the occasionally energetic camera aside, lush depictions of an enchanted, virginal environment convey the illustriousness of life when thriving for the sake of itself. And just as alluring are the converse depictions of the curiously malevolent. In total, unfortunately, the fairness of Snow White and the Huntsman is only skin deep. Its heart is hardly as black as the Queen’s, but it lacks the vitality that would have invigorated it to meet its own ambitions.