Snow White and the Huntsman
In his cinematic debut, Snow White and the Huntsman, first-time director Rupert Sanders delivers a visual spectacle, and that’s about it. This is the latest in the recent string of fairy tale revampings — remember Mirror Mirror? And while Evan Daugherty’s screenplay starts to add something to the basic story it never really follows through on any of the interesting ideas it brings up. But, ironically enough, the most disappointing parts of Snow White and the Huntsman are Snow White and the Huntsman.
This time out the queen has been given the suitably dark moniker of Ravenna (Charlize Theron). She has taken over the kingdom with the help of her brother (Sam Spruell) and she holds Snow White (Kristen Stewart) prisoner in a tower. She subsists on bird hearts, milk baths, and sucking the life out of anyone who gets too close, maintaining her youth and beauty.
As we all know, the queen’s magic mirror tells her that Snow White is destined to surpass her, but if Ravenna consumes her heart it will not only prevent this but secure the queen’s immortality and power. Before this can happen, of course, Snow White escapes into the Dark Forest. The queen’s brother enlists the unnamed Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to go in and bring the girl back. But things don’t go quite as planned, and the huntsman becomes Snow White’s protector and mentor in her campaign to return and rid the kingdom of Ravenna’s curse.
Hemsworth meets his low expectations, turning from a big dumb guy with a hammer into a big dumb guy with an axe. The problem with the Huntsman isn’t really his; the character should have been more like Sean Connery’s Ramirez in Highlander, but instead he’s been completely low-balled into a stock strongman. The one actual bit of mentoring he offers is a clear telegraph of the climax.
Theron does well, never smirking to the audience how clearly above this material she is. And, in fact, she does start out in an interesting direction. Ravenna seeks to maintain her youth and beauty because — as she astutely points out — those are a woman’s power in society, and as they fade she is cast aside. This would be a great setup for an allegory where Ravenna’s flaw is in working within this patently misogynist system and thus perpetuating it, and her overthrow follows from an attempt to actually change the system, or something like that.
But one thing that approach would require is a competent actress opposite Theron, and Stewart is far from it. Yet again, all she seems to be cut out for is looking pained as stuff happens to her and mouthing a hackneyed call to battle towards the climax. At one point she’s clearly meant to be beatific, and yet she has the same vaguely-confused expression as when she’s being chased through the woods. There is no allegory in her character; she survives because a man cares for her and succeeds because she is younger and, the script tells us, prettier.
In fact there’s a lot of the script that doesn’t seem to make sense. It’s Daugherty’s first screenplay, but it’s been punched up by the likes of John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini. And yet over and over we are told and not shown. Characters simply know things, which they speak aloud, and there is no indication of how they are known. It wouldn’t entirely surprise me if they had started with a far more coherent story and sections were cut, rewritten, or otherwise mangled to try to accomodate the abilities of the actors that producers insisted on for their supposed ability to pull in the target demographic.
But underneath all that I come back to Sanders’ images, backed up by James Newton Howard’s score. Sanders may have spent his time until now shooting commercials, but he has a visual sensibility that may yet stack up against the likes of Tarsem or Guillermo del Toro. It’s clear that Sanders will make a fantastic movie some day, given the right opportunity with the right script. But it’s also clear that this is not it.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: pass.