Well, I hardly know whether I like this movie or not: on the one hand, I enjoyed watching it, but on the other hand it has a lot of faults. Snow White and the Huntsman is a Hollywood-style variation on the well-known fairy-tale about Snow White and her wicked stepmother the evil Queen. Because it is made by Hollywood, it has plenty of expensive special effects, but lacks proper story-telling. Still, it is easy enough to follow and we all know the story at least roughly anyway so I hope none of the below will be considered ‘spoiler’ material.
The wicked Queen, played excellently and too melodramatically for some viewers by Charlize Theron (Aeon Flux, Prometheus, The Devil’s Advocate), marries the King and, justifying it by commenting that men just use women and dump them, murders him so she can take over his kingdom. She keeps the King’s daughter, Snow White (Raffey Cassidy as a child, Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame as an adult) prisoner in case she might be a useful bargaining chip at some time. Now the wicked Queen has actually had a spell cast on her, so she cannot be killed easily, but she can only stay young and beautiful by sucking the life out of young virgins (and, it seems, the landscape and people of her kingdom generally). But eventually her magic mirror warns her that Snow White can kill her, and anyway, Snow White is now “fairer” than her. The Queen of course decides to do away with her.
Snow White, however, is helped to escape by magical means and a chase ensues. Eventually, the Queen has to hire the Huntsman of the title to find her (Chris Hemsworth – Thor, The Avengers). Having found her, he helps her to escape and further chases ensue, and some dwarves help, and they hide out for a bit in a magical fairyland called Sanctuary… and so on to the battle at the end and Snow White being crowned queen (I hope I’m giving nothing away here).
This is Director Rupert Sanders’ first feature film, and maybe it shows, although it can’t all be his fault. As an adaptation of the fairy tale, it actually isn’t bad, but with $150 million to spend on a movie, it really shouldn’t fail due to very poor characterization, lack of character development and interaction, pacing, and a general feeling of flatness or ennui. The script just doesn’t give the audience enough information about the characters for us to feel anything much for them. Indeed, in some ways, the wicked Queen is perhaps the most sympathetic character in the film, for at least we learn something of her difficult background: how would you or I turn out if we had to suck the life force from virgins to stay young?. This gift from her mother was a definite trojan horse and one can only feel sorry for the poor woman. All the other characters just ‘are’ with no real rhyme or reason, or above all, background. The Prince in particular (Sam Clafin) is a quite useless character with nothing much to do. OK, he fights and whines a bit, but really he doesn’t get a chance to become much of a love interest for Snow White. This isn’t Sam Clafin’s fault: the script simply gives him no latitude: she spends most of her time with the Huntsman, after all. There is supposed to be (in the movie version anyway) a bit of a love triangle with Snow White, the Prince and the Huntsman, but really only the Huntsman’s love is developed properly enough to be believable, and Chris Hemsworth does a good job of it.
The pacing of the story fails many times as well. For example, Snow White escapes and ends up in a dark and evil forest, where she manages to hide out. The wicked Queen hires the Huntsman by persuading him that she can bring his dead wife back to life, and so he, the Queen’s brother Finn (Sam Spruell, Foyle’s War) and a bunch of soldiers including the Prince head to the forest… and find Snow White almost right away. And then the Queen’s brother points out to the Huntsman that the Queen was lying about his wife anyway confirming the Huntsman’s doubts, so the Huntsman changes sides. Duh.
The most egregious example of poor pacing is probably Snow White’s ‘battle speech’ near the end. Having been roused from a magical slumber caused by her being tricked into eating a bit of the queen’s poisoned apple, she wanders outside and rallies the troops with a somewhat weird but anyway, supposedly rousing speech. But… there has been no build-up to this. There has been no precedent in Snow White’s story so far for us to expect her to be able to do this. She has gone around following the Huntsman, helping little girls make dolls, patting magical deer and stuff like that. OK, she did fight a bit when a village of women was attacked by those chasing her, but it really just seems to come out of nowhere. And it is not entirely convincing, partly as a result, and partly because Kristen Stewart is probably not so well suited to this role anyway – although with a better script, it might have been made to work. In general she was not very expressive, and a lot of other reviewers have been very critical of this, but it didn’t really bother me while watching the movie. I understood that she was supposed to be an archetype of innocence and love caught up in a difficult situation, and that others would be the main movers and shakers in the story. As such, her role really was to remain a bit magical and distant and she did this.
Again, at the end, when Snow White is crowned Queen, the script or the director just has her standing there for a while, and nothing happens. The dwarves decide to fill the empty moments with a cheer. Why is it like that? We can see that this is supposed to be a glorious moment, a bit like the end of Star Wars, but it doesn’t work properly. Oh… and the love triangle is not sorted out. Nobody gets the girl – but there’s a sequel in the works. There are many other minor incongruous moments in the film, such as Snow White reciting the Lord’s Prayer while clutching a couple of dolls made out of sticks in her prison cell. The fairy tale has no religion in it, and neither does the rest of this film. What’s going on? What are the dolls? Voodoo? Brownies? Pagan gods? Her parents? We are not told.
The seven dwarves (eight, in fact in this film). Short people played for laughs, as usual. Why? It’s such a cliche. And I found it irritating. Even so, they were better characters than some, although we learned almost nothing about their backgrounds, as usual. They provided a bit of light relief for what had been a moderately dark movie up to this point (PG-13 for scaryness and violence, after all), but they also reminded me too much of the dwarves in The Lord Of The Rings. They also explained that Snow White represented Life itself, and that her presence has cured their various ailments. Of course, a good script would have shown us this, but that would have been too much to ask of this one.
This brings me on to the archetypal background to this story. Because it is a fairy tale, more than in most other films, the characters do not represent people as such, but archetypes: Snow White is life, love, wisdom, humanity and balance – the good and strong sides of the human character. The wicked Queen represents the bad side: mortality, lust, selfishness, vanity, lack of balance – in other words, human weakness. They are, in fact, two sides of the same person. The archetypes are qualities that co-exist in individuals – in all of us. Archetypally speaking, Snow White and the wicked Queen are the same young woman, struggling to find a way to integrate these disparate and conflicting feelings and develop into a strong, balanced adult woman.
In our society, and indeed to varying degrees since time immemorial, young girls find themselves pressured to value their looks above their true hearts. Look at the representation of women in the movies, on adverts, on the TV, pretty much everywhere: they are depicted as sex objects, primarily. See the way they are made to stand – off balance, vulnerable, scantily clad, and compare it with the way men are depicted: strong, serious, in control… And it is effectively implied that if the women lose their looks, their worth is that much less. Some women have spent so much of their lives acting it up for men that they forget their original selves. The wicked queen is caught up in this trap, having suffered a broken heart and saving her self-esteem by valuing her beauty above all else. Snow White, through innocence, love and a pure heart, is her only escape: only Snow White can kill the Queen – or conversely, the Queen can kill Snow White by consuming her ‘heart’ – by making her forget her true self so the weak and vain side can take full control. Correctly, Snow White does not hate the Queen: she knows those are just her own weaknesses. She has to integrate the Queen’s power into herself, so that as a mature human being, all these feelings are under her conscious control and direction. In the stories, when this happens, when the character ‘matures’ (wins), the bad character disappears or is killed. The strengths of the bad character are given to the good (Snow White becomes the Queen), and the weaknesses, although in fact still there, are understood and their needs met in more mature ways, or are simply controlled or compensated for, or otherwise become non-issues.
The actual clash between Snow White and the wicked Queen in the film wasn’t handled very well. I was hoping for something a bit more imaginative than a knife in the guts from the archetype of love, after all…
Some people may notice that the wicked Queen is really quite sexy, while the supposedly “fairer” Snow White is perhaps rather more ordinary looking. Remember though, that the wicked Queen is in part a representation of lust, while Snow White is love. The Queen is the type for a one-night stand (which perhaps explains the broken heart), while Snow White is the normal girl with a good heart that you would prefer to marry. As such, Kristen Stewart plays that role admirably.
Similarly, the Huntsman and the Prince are the same person in archetypal terms. The Huntsman is the rough, uncivilized, brutish, immature and possibly dangerous male, additionally weakened and saddened by the loss of his wife who civilized him previously. The Prince is the cultured, self-controlled, mature, strong, in control, positive male (or is supposed to be). The story does show the Huntsman becoming more civilized as the film progresses, so well done on that. The Prince remains somewhat insipid throughout. In the end though, Queen Snow White should marry the true man, represented by the Prince (royalty represents the viewer, the special position of these characters in the story, as we humans all tend to feel that we are special in our own stories (lives)), and the Huntsman (the commoner) should fade into the background or disappear from the story in some way, but the film stopped short of this. And indeed, the Prince character wasn’t fleshed out enough for such a wedding to be convincing anyway.
So… overall, the film is a bit of a mixed bag. Younger viewers, above the age of 13 or so, should find it entertaining and enjoyable. There is plenty here for both boys and girls, but the Snow White fairy tale is primarily a girls’ story so girls will probably appreciate it more. Adults too will mostly find it entertaining if the above irritations don’t spoil it. It runs for 2h 7m, so it quite a marathon if you don’t like it. However, I think most viewers will actually enjoy watching this move, so I give it 7/10 overall. It is worth more for the cinematography and CGI, and much less for the script and direction.
Get the Movie