The year’s second dalliance with the Brothers Grimm fairy tale is a thoroughly more sombre affair than the light-hearted japery of Mirror Mirror. Director Rupert Sanders is a newcomer to feature films, having plied his trade previously in the world of advertising, and while that experience stands him in good stead in terms of the movie’s impressive visual style, it’s ultimately a rather flat fantasy adventure.
The plot is of course primarily based on the classic tale of Snow White, but this time there’s a few minor extras added along the way, such as some extended wicked-witch backstory and a full blown bloody revolution. Thrown into the mix are the sweeping landscape shots and swordplay of The Lord of the Rings, the tragic horse death of The Neverending Story (*sniff* oh Artax) and the distinctly creepy brother/sister relationship of Game of Thrones.
An opening prologue sets up the premise nice and neatly. Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is a young Princess whose mother dies tragically while she is very young. Her father ultimately remarries a beautiful prisoner of war called Ravenna (Charlize Theron), only to be dispatched by her hand on their wedding night. Queen Ravenna seizes the kingdom, and imprisons Snow White in a tower, thus ushering in a period of darkness and fear across the kingdom. Years later, the Queen consults her magic mirror and is told that not only will Snow’s beauty one day eclipse her own, a big no-no for this queen who thrives on her vanity, but that should she eat her step-daughter’s heart it will render her young and beautiful forever.
With surprising ease, Snow White escapes the Queen’s clutches and high-tails it into the surrounding forest. The Queen sends out a Chris Hemsworth’s drunken, lovelorn huntsman to recapture Snow White – but sure enough he doesn’t go through with the deed. What follows is the story of how Snow White attempts to retake the throne which is rightfully hers and overthrow the evil Queen. She will try to do so with the help of the rugged Huntsman, eight (eight?) surly dwarves, her childhood boyfriend Prince William (Sam Clafin) and a fairly handy army of well-trained knights.
Snow White and the Huntsman clearly wants to be a sweeping and grand film, equal parts enchanted fairy tale and fantasy epic, but sadly doesn’t quite live up to its own expectations. Visually it’s stunning, with scenes such as Snow’s flee into a haunted forest and her arrival in the far more picturesque fairy wood being perfect examples of the director’s keen stylistic eye. The sets are great, the characters all look superb and the battle scenes are in particular mightily impressive. But underneath the window dressing, it’s just all a little lacking in substance.
The plot meanders along for whole stretches, appearing to be padding out a fairly short fairy story by throwing in extra expository plot conveniences here and there. Far too much of the film is just spent with Snow White and the Huntsman trekking through the wilderness; in general the film’s pacing is a problem.
Various plot strands are introduced and then never really properly resolved. A prime example is the central love triangle between Snow White, Prince William and the Huntsman. Now there are rumblings that a sequel could be on the cards, but regardless of this, the fact that Snow has two men in love with her, and that she clearly holds a candle for them both, is never really addressed. It’s first just left to simmer and then just forgotten. In fact, Prince William is a fairly redundant character overall, who adds little or nothing to the proceedings other than to complete said love triangle. It’s almost as if he was added in at the last minute when somebody remembered that there is meant to be a Prince Charming in the story somewhere.
The central thrust of the whole movie is the idea that Snow White is so innocent (though not so innocent that she strings two men along…), beautiful and pure that she can rid the kingdom of evil, bring light where there is shade, walk on water, communicate with animals, heal the sick of their ailments and alone kill the evil Queen. Clear Christ-like allegories aside, this all gets a little convoluted after a while and is never really given the explanation you would expect. Why does she have this power? How can she put it to use?
The dwarves were also a little disappointing for me, especially given the calibre of actor playing them. Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost, Toby Jones and Eddie Marsan should be stealing every scene they are in, and yet despite presumably being intended as comic relief in an otherwise fairly po-faced movie, they just simply aren’t that funny. They also come into the film fairly late on and don’t get much time to be properly characterized. I realise it’s slightly silly to criticise them for not being funny and then saying I wanted to see more of them (“the food here is terrible” “yes, and such small portions”), but with a bit of extra screen time maybe they could perhaps have been fleshed out as characters and be allowed more time to banter and bicker amongst themselves.
All that being said, and leaving Chris Hemsworth’s wildly uneven Scottish accent aside, there are some definite positives to take from Snow White and the Huntsman. As mentioned previously there’s many a feast for the eye, and the climactic battle scene is really well done. Charlize Theron is on fine form as the despicable, man-hating witch, yelling and snarling her way through the movie, chewing up the scenery as she goes. Kristen Stewart as well is decent enough as Snow White – she makes the transition from threatened maiden on the run to determined revolutionary leader well, and makes a decent fist of putting on an English accent.
Snow White and the Huntsman is by no means a bad movie, it’s just a distinctly average one. It’s got the aesthetic sorted but just not the plot to go with it. It’s also not able to go quite as dark and edgy as you would like it to at times, perhaps suffering from the need to get a 12a rating. Sanders tries to produce something truly epic, but ultimately it just doesn’t all quite hang together as a coherent whole.