I know I’m a bit late to this party, but if the CineMasochist can talk about Prometheus 2 weeks after it came out, I can talk about Snow White and the Huntsman almost 3 weeks after its North American debut.
This has been a pretty good year for fans of heroic fantasy cinema. We’ve already had John Carter, and in addition to this Snow White flick, we’re getting three Berserk movies, Wrath of the Titans, Disney’s Brave, and a Hobbit movie. That’s more than Hollywood has given us in ages, man. And given that The Avengers had a sorcerer as the antagonist and Thor as one of the heroes, I can almost count that one as well. The fact is, guys that like this sort of thing are having a good year. It’s also a good year for feminist action films, between this, Prometheus and The Hunger Games. But how does it stack up?
The plot is different than the normal interpretations of this classic fairy tale in several ways. While it retains Snow White (who is never given a name aside from that) as a princess, and the queen as an evil sorcerer and her stepmother, the king wasn’t murdered in the old stories. If he did die, it was always natural causes. Snow White was never a prisoner in the fairy tale, but here she was immediately imprisoned and kept alive to preserve Queen Ravenna’s legitimacy on the throne. Snow White in the fairy tale is a child, here, she’s an adult. The Huntsman (who’s given the name Eric in the movie, apparently, even though no one calls him that) in the movie is sent to find the escaped princess, whose identity he doesn’t know. In the stories, he was tasked with taking her to the woods, then killing her. In the older stories, he either falls in love with Snow White or decides that murdering someone so young is evil, in the movie, it’s because he finds out his reward (the resurrection of his wife) isn’t coming to him. In the fairy tale, that’s the last we see of the Huntsman, here, he’s one of the main stars, and in fact has some unresolved sexual tension with Snow White. In the fairy tale, the dwarves keep Snow White around in order to have her cook and clean for her, here, they keep her alive because they loved the king, and they keep the Huntsman alive because she likes him. In the fairy tale, the Queen disguises herself and tries to kill Snow White thrice, here, it’s just once, with a poisoned apple (and not as an old lady, but as Snowy’s friend William). Finally, the end is an awesome climactic battle, not a dance of doom. So, when you think about it, this is what we’d call a “loose adaptation” of the story.
Now, let’s address some of the common critiques of this film:
1: Kristen Stewart isn’t more beautiful than Charlize Theron! Well, to you, no. But beauty is subjective. Personally, I find them both to be rather attractive. Besides, one could interpret the idea of Snow White being “fairer” than Ravenna to mean more than one thing. There is a possibility that the talking mirror isn’t real (Ravenna’s brother sees her talking to herself when she speaks to the mirror, the same lines are read differently when we see through his perspective, and Charlize Theron said in an interview that the mirror scenes depict the start of her descent into madness) and it’s just her insecurity that says this. It’s possible the mirror-man is real, and he’s referring to the fact that Snow White’s always pretty while Ravenna loses her youthful beauty if she hasn’t consumed a soul recently. In fact, there are points where she looks positively ugly. Finally, the mirror might have been lying.
2: It’s too dark! It’s a story about an evil witch trying to kill her adopted daughter because she’s jealous of her prettiness, and good triumphs when a guy forces himself onto an unconscious woman. In the original story, you can add the fact that Snow White is a child (pre-pubescent in some versions of the story, as young as SEVEN) for added discomfort. If you think of that as a good “light-hearted” romp, there’s something wrong with you.
3: KRISTEN STEWART ZOMG TWILITE SUX BAWLZ! Look, I hate Twilight too, for better reasons than “sparkly vampires“. But the movie sucked because the source material is awful and the director doesn’t seem to understand the concepts of “emotions” or “romantic chemistry” or “making things interesting”. Kristen Stewart isn’t as good an actor as, say, Academy Award Winner Charlize Theron, but she is pretty good at what she does.
Now, onto what works. Firstly, this is a beautiful movie, visually. There are plenty of scenes that are simply stunning, like the first scene in the Dark Forest, and a few scenes where Snow White, the Huntsman and the Dwarves are in the forest. There are few movies that give the audience the sense of wonder that the scene with the White Hart does. Also, the acting was just superb for the most part. While Charlize Theron does chew the scenery, the fact that she’s playing an insane character does mitigate this a bit. Special consideration should go to Chris Hemsworth, who is amazing in this movie, and easily the best character.
As for the bad, well, aside from the whole Little People thing, there are quite a few inconsistencies in how their world works, and some plot holes. Ravenna and her brother Finn are both immortal, yet Ravenna (I LOVE that name!) was the only one that had the immortality spell put on her. Yes, Ravenna does heal Finn’s wounds with magic, but does she heal old age? And why does Queen Ravenna, who has mastered dark magic, have no power in the Dark Forest, which is chock full of the stuff? While they did properly set up why Snow White is the only one able to kill Ravenna, they never explained why a kiss from the Huntsman saved her, and why William’s kiss didn’t. Or why a kiss saves her at all. There was no throwaway line about “true love’s kiss” or anything, just…a moving speech, a kiss, and she’s OK. Also, how did Snow White become a badass warrior without any training? Why did she throw away her shield? Seriously, just before the climactic fight, she just tosses it away. It makes no sense! There are probably other things, but I can’t think of them right now. The fact is, these are not nitpicks, these are legitimate issues.
All told, the movie is enjoyable as all hell. The plot issues do keep it from being an 8 or a 9 out of 10, but a 7 our of 10 is a pretty good score. On a related note, the end credits (the visuals of which were eerily like those of the Avengers movie) had this song playing. It was such a good song I went and looked it up right after seeing the film. Don’t be surprised if this is on my “best songs of 2012” list.