- Vancouver, British Columbia - This year may be a little oversaturated with the tale of Snow White. Earlier this year, I got the chance to view Relativity Media's Mirror, Mirror featuring Julia Roberts, Lily Collins and Armie Hammer, which amounted to a rather comic look at the famed fairytale of Snow White. It is funny the effect that Disney can have upon one's understanding of fairytales, since I had grown up with the impression that the Seven Dwarves were always intended to be among the main players of the fairytale, but apparently not. Now, however, Universal Pictures has released Snow White and the Huntsman just a few short months after Mirror Mirror, and I must say that one of the two studios should've blinked and delayed their release. I've had a little too much Snow White for one year, but nonetheless, I decided to put forth this review.
Snow White and the Huntsman tells the familiar story of Snow White (Kristen Stewart), but with a bit of darker twist. Snow White is deemed the most beautiful little girl in kingdom of her father, who is none other than King Magnus (Noah Huntley). Sadly, however, Snow White's mother, the Queen Eleanor (Liberty Ross) is afflicted by an illness, leaving her father inconsolable after her death, until he mysteriously comes across Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who so captivates him with her beauty, he marries her the next day. Ravenna, however, is actually a wicked queen from another kingdom, who is so consumed with her own beauty and her need to be the fairest in the land. She is hell-bent on using her own beauty to bring the destruction of others, particularly powerful men. When they marry, Ravenna kills King Magnus and takes the kingdom for her own, then imprisoning Snow White in a shabby tower in her palace. Several years later, she eventually escapes, leading to Ravenna enlisting the help of a grieving drunk huntsman (Chris Hemsworth). He refuses at first, but is eventually convinced by Ravenna.
Stylistically, there is a lot to like about this film, as the set pieces and CGI effects are quite strong. They help to create an atmosphere that is foreboding and dreary. We get the sense of how much the kingdom has fallen into darkness since Ravenna usurped the throne. And this is significant, because the rest of the film tends to fail in supporting this atmosphere. Ravenna as a character is particularly uninteresting, apart from the brief glimpse that we're given into why she has become the person she is. We should get more of this, but instead we're mercilessly beaten like a dead horse about how she must be the fairest in the entire kingdom. There is only so much that could be milked from this part of the plot, and quite honestly, it felt overdone, essentially since we're all very familiar with this fairytale. Also, I just don't find Charlize Theron particularly convincing in a villainous role either her or in Prometheus. Her relationship with her brother, Finn (Sam Spruell), is strangely lacking in context, which leads him to looking rather dull himself. Again, we saw glimpses where the filmmakers could've steered the film into more interesting character portraits of the individuals on the screen, but they missed the boat.
Among the most useless of characters was Duke Hammond's (Vincent Regan) son, William (Sam Claflin). He served as the childhood best friend of Snow White, but they were separated when Ravenna apprehended the kingdom. When William learns that Snow White is still alive many years later, he blindly pledges to go off hunting for her. This might be admirable, except his childhood character is far more likeable. As an adult, he is annoying, won't listen to anyone, and by the end of the film, he really doesn't contribute much of anything to the overall plot in this film, which leads one to believe that there must be a planned sequel in which he plays a greater significance to the storyline. Quite honestly, he was one of the most flawed insertions of a character that I've seen in a blockbuster film in quite awhile. He doesn't do anything and we're strung along believing that he will, but he doesn't. I hate that. And even the Huntsman, by the end of the film, his storyline resolution is deeply unsatisfying. He is introduced into the story in a very tired manner, in which, he is drunk, while getting his face beaten in for owing a debt before being dragged off to be seen by Queen Ravenna. We've seen this too many times before. Nevertheless, we understand his contribution to Snow White's storyline, but what we're provided with for a foundation in the Huntsman is left without significant resolution. The issues with these characters were greatly irritating from a viewer's perspective.
The saving grace for the film was easily the Dwarves, not just in the characters, but also the creative work by the filmmakers to use actors who were most certainly not dwarves. The way the filming was manipulated into making them to look like they were was a treat to watch. It brought back memories of the talented work of the filmmakers of the Lord of the Rings trilogy with bringing the hobbits to life. There is some great bit part work by a number of actors, who I've grown incredibly fond of over the past several years. There is Muir played by Bob Hoskins, Beith (Ian McShane), Gorth (Ray Winstone), Coll (Toby Jones), Duir (Eddie Marsan), Quert (Johnny Harris), Nion (Nick Frost) and Gus (Brian Gleeson). Their characters were capable of being both serious and silly, while never diverting the mood of the film into a comedy like Mirror, Mirror, which speaks to their talent as actors. Quality work by these gentlemen.
And finally from a feminist perspective, Snow White and the Huntsman was somewhat of a challenging, yet disappointing film. One might applaud the use of a female character as the chief protagonist, who is in charge of securing her own freedom, rather than waiting on a Prince to free her. In fact, there is no Prince in this story, but a lowly huntsman. Also noticeable was how Ravenna as the evil Queen, she wasn't created to be ugly, old, and aged. In the Disney version, she is noticeably older than Snow White and her eyebrows are often pointed in such a manner that she looks evil and unapproachable. Ravenna is focused on being beautiful, thus there is a deviation from this traditional characterization of female villains. But still, there is something frustrating with the chief concerns and praises of these female characters being their beauty. I realize that physical appearance is a significant concern for many women these days, who constantly feel the pressure from society that they ought to obsess with their bodies. Snow White captures the attention and the hearts of the people, simply because she is beautiful. She is not a particularly moving speaker or leader in this film, but she is beautiful, therefore the people love her. And with Ravenna, it is her beauty that makes her capture the hearts of men before she takes advantage of them and kills them off. I realize there are limitations in so far as how much the filmmakers could deviate from the original fairytale before it is no longer the story of Snow White, but many of these motifs just feel so tired. While I applaud the effort to have Snow White as the chief protagonist in charge of bringing about the change she desires, other elements of this story continue to propagate notions about where women's primary worth is: their bodies.
Snow White and the Huntsman is an interesting film, though not exceptionally well written. It lacks any charismatic characters that demand us to give them our allegiance, which is surprising, since we should all automatically feel attached to Snow White. Visual elements of the film are great, particularly the Bridge Troll, but he doesn't get enough screen time. In the end, however, Snow White and the Huntsmen feels like a film that we didn't need. Mirror, Mirror was better executed and possessed far more charm. The darkness of Snow White and the Huntsman possessed some great potential, but the film itself appeared to lack a clear and consistent vision.
Rating: 2/5 Sour Grapes