Once upon a time, director Rupert Sanders and his band of writers set out to create an updated version of the classic fairy tale, Snow White. It was a noble quest. For decades, that which had once been so very Grimm had been Disney-fied, full of helpful woodland animals and dwarfs in desperate need of housekeeping services. This new tale would inject the story with the darker tone that had long been missing (though the animals are still helpful). To that end, an impressive cast of actors and an equally impressive special effects crew were gathered. A few years later, Snow White and the Huntsman was born.
Unfortunately, this particular newborn has not turned out all that pretty (no matter what the parents say), falling short in that most crucial of fairy tale fortes—being a story well-told.
Pretty much from the opening, extended prologue/narration, Snow White and the Huntsman sets a jarring, uneven pace. One moment, it’s unnecessarily rushed—one transition in the opening prologue elicited mutters of derision from the audience—the next, it’s strangely tedious, as Snow White (Kristen Stewart) and the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) stagger around in the Guillermo Del Toro Memorial Hallucinogenic Forest for what seems like days. After that, some stuff happens and—hey, dwarfs! Things liven up as Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Nick Frost and other somewhat less recognizable actors demonstrate the pros and cons of “dwarfing” technology since the Lord of the Rings trilogy. (None of John Rhys-Davies’ face was hurt in the filming of these scenes.)
From there, it’s on to the Glade Scene Shamelessly Lifted from Princess Mononoke, which probably would have been more exciting and wondrous were it not such a reminder just how much better the scene (and the story-telling in general) was in Hayao Miyazaki’s classic by comparison. Thinking about Princess Mononoke comes in handy as Snow White and the Huntsman dutifully presents the rest of the key moments from the classic fairy tale—“Don’t eat the apple!” “She ate the apple.” “She’s better now!”—before a final battle between Theron’s hot evilness and Stewart’s earnest attempt to pass a kidney stone ends in victory for all those things we’ve been told over and over Snow White represents.
As Ravenna, the evil queen, Charlize Theron does all she can to imbue some pretty bland dialogue with the appropriate level of passion and malice. (The attempt to give Ravenna depth as the vengeful embodiment of the woman scorned is also of note in a “I’ve chosen my essay topic in my Feminist Studies 101 course!” sort of way.) As the titular huntsman, Hemsworth brings as much of a Madmartigan/Val Kilmer swagger to the proceedings as the script allows (which is not much)—his performance suggests he has the chops for more than just wielding a hammer and commanding thunder. Stewart is the only real casting misstep. Though her signature emo-goth dourness fits plausibly enough with some of the stated traits of this particular Snow White—“strong-willed,” for example—Stewart’s aura of muted surliness just doesn’t mesh with the purity of spirit and beauty referred to ad nauseam by different characters in the movie. But, really, the award for most egregious casting in the film goes to the blond pageboy haircut inflicted on Ravenna’s brother and head henchman, Finn (Sam Spruell). Villains shouldn’t evoke pity and derision. (I just hope he wasn’t picked on too much by the other cast members.)
Ultimately, Snow White and the Huntsman is the latest reminder that, just as a human body is more than some skin stretched over bones, a film is more than just a succession of images (no matter how striking they are). In both cases, without something more keeping the various parts in proper relation to each other and the whole—that foot bone had better not be connected to the neck bone, after all—you’ll be left with a mess.
That doesn’t mean Snow White and the Huntsman won’t have its admirers, and even fierce defenders. Fans of Theron, Stewart and Hemsworth will find plenty to enjoy, and viewers for whom a beautiful image or sequence can atone for sins of pacing and dialogue will likely forgive all. As for me, I’m off to watch Princess Mononoke again. Now that’s a tale well-told.
Director: Rupert Sanders
Writers: Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini (screenplay); Evan Daugherty (screen story)
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Sam Claflin, Sam Spruell, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost
Release Date: June 1, 2012