Is it so much to ask for a cool live-action Snow White film? After all, with three of them being worked on not too long ago, the odds were favorable that at least one of them would get it right. MIRROR MIRROR came and went, hardly claiming the throne as “the fairest of them all” and Disney’s plan came to an abrupt halt after The Mouse realized there’s no need for another entry into the Snow White arena. That leaves Universal’s attempt with SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN as the last and probably best chance for this idea to succeed. It doesn’t.
That’s not to say SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN is a bad film. It’s not particularly good either, but there is enough here to like that it just leaves you with the bitter taste of disappointment over what could have been had they been able to piece the whole film together. SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN could have been the epic action-adventure first-time director Rupert Sanders was aiming for. Unfortunately, there’s plenty not to like as well, and that is what really winds up overshadowing some of the more positive elements. SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN ends up as a middle of the road fairy tale retelling with far more ambition than it’s able to execute. That’s what happens though when you have serious story issues and character problems that are too much beautiful visuals to overcome.
SWATH starts off with a strong enough build. It establishes the dynamic between Snow White (Kristen Stewart) and the evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), following the death of the king. Stewart, at least at the outset, exudes a quiet strength that helps keep Snow White alive, even as she faces the threat of the queen who needs her innocence and purity for her own salvation. What feels like the story’s prologue does a wonderful job of getting Theron across as our deliciously evil villain. She’s just a shade beneath over the top, but, in walking that fine line, Theron creates a nemesis for Snow White we know will go to whatever lengths necessary in order to maintain her power and keep her beauty. All of this is done with the use of her magical powers which saps strength and youth from the hearts and souls of others, even though that’s all based on assumption, because between her taking powers from a traitor’s heart nearly Mola Ram-style or sucking the breathe out of a young girl’s mouth, it’s never quite explained how either affect her standing as a woman battling age. Does she need hearts? Does she need oxygen? Which does she need more? Are they both the same? Is it a matter of preference in the moment? That’s really just nitpicking on an otherwise magnificent character, because every time Theron sets foot on the screen, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN springs to life. No wonder there’s interest in doing a Sleeping Beauty film from the side of Maleficent. The bad is easily more fun to watch, and I wouldn’t have had a problem seeing something far more extended with Theron’s Ravenna at the center of it.
Yet Ravenna winds up being a big part of why SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN has such major failings, because frankly there’s just NOT ENOUGH CHARIZE THERON!! After a healthy serving of her to open the film, we’re only treated to her presence sparingly throughout the rest of the film, and, when you have a character as fun to watch as her, the rest of the movie winds up paling in comparison when it’s filled with characters lacking her charisma. Theron clearly is on another level with her character work here that when her badness isn’t involved directly, the movie becomes plodding and unexciting. If you’re going to cut back on her scenes, then don’t give us a lot to whet our appetite in the beginning. It just leaves us wanting more the further the movie progresses, and receiving crumbs along the way isn’t going to cut it.
We do get a lot of the queen’s brother Finn (Sam Spruell) though, which hurts the film, because it completely renders the titular Huntsman useless. After Snow White escapes the Queen’s clutches and escapes into the Dark Forest, Ravenna sends her brother out to find someone who isn’t afraid to venture into this dangerous place in order to find and recover her former prisoner. Enter Chris Hemsowrth as the widowed drunkard who’s given a proposition that’s tossed aside rather quickly in order to do the job. Only it’s not solely the Huntsman’s job. Finn comes along for the ride, in addition to a few other henchmen… so if the Queen’s brother was capable of going into the Dark Forest himself, why is the Huntsman necessary? Taking it one step further, after the Huntsman and Snow White team up and do their best to move ahead to safety, to find the Duke who still finds under the banners of the long dead king, Finn and his crew continue to track down the pair every step of the way, in every location they stop, lazily recycling the same action beat over and over when the story needs a pick me up. I get that there still needs to be some sense of peril for this newly matched duo after the Huntsman turns, but to have a character that serves the exact same purpose as what the Huntsman was originally intended for, who winds up doing it better as well, severely undercuts why the Huntsman is even a part of the story.
He’s not the only extraneous character tacked onto the film. Snow White is given a childhood friend in Sam Claflin, who plays the Duke’s son William. After abandoning Snow White to the Queen, the Duke’s son hangs around the periphery, waiting for Snow White to one day come back into his life, so he can join her fight as Legolas. No, seriously… that’s about all he’s good for. SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN makes a valiant attempt to do something LORD OF THE RINGS-esque with its sprawling landscapes, fantastical interludes and ideas of “The One” fighting dark forces to once again bring life and prosperity to the kingdom… but it’s not even close to matching the storytelling quality of Tolkien’s classics, particularly Peter Jackson’s adaptations of them, and having a cheap knock-off of Orlando Bloom wielding a bow and arrow isn’t going to bring you nearer.
Let’s talk Kristen Stewart though, because, with all the rest of the film’s weakness, she could be the redeeming quality that winds up saving SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. But it’s not to be as Stewart is ridiculously overmatched and is like trying to find a round peg in a square hole. Maybe in some other universe, Kristen Stewart would have made the perfect Snow White, but, after an opening that had me believing she could pull this off, she was required to do a lot more in the role that she just wasn’t capable of. I will give her this… there is none of the lip-biting and very little of the deep-breathing that she’s been criticized for in the past, namely in THE TWILIGHT SAGA, but her expressions are mostly limited to this open-mouthed look of constant concern that Snow White at times feels like Kristen Stewart’s parody of herself. She must go from this beautiful yet vulnerable prisoner to someone capable of leading an overthrow of the Evil Queen in the course of two hours, and the story doesn’t do her any favors in getting anyone to buy into that transformation. She’s never given any training to fight or lead an army, outside of one awkward lesson on defending herself from an attacker, a far cry from entering into a massive battle. And when it is her turn to take command, something she hasn’t shown even an inkling of being prepared for during the film, as she’s always following or being taken care of, she gives the most uninspiring inspiration speech to get her troops fired up for combat. I’ve gotten more chills from the pep talk in LITTLE GIANTS than from this truly flat portrayal of Snow White.
If SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN does anything right, it’s the look of the film. SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN really does look quite incredible, from scenery to the creature design. Sanders is able to make the most of the film visually, which doesn’t sound all that far-fetched from someone who got their career started by helming commercials. New takes on the Mirror and the Dark Forest manage to work creatively, but they’re nothing more than fancy dressings on the film’s deeper wounds.
The dwarves wind up being the perfect representation of everything that’s right and wrong with SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. When they’re first introduced, they show so much potential, not relegated to their individual characteristics as those in the Disney version, and their chemistry as a rough and tumble group of dwarves, capable of taking care of themselves bravely with a hint of humor, make them a welcome addition to a film that continues treading water towards its resolution. But just as quickly as they spring onto the scene in a serious manner, they’re suddenly and inexplicably played for laughs in the third act. That’s just like SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. For every one thing they do well, they follow it up with quite a few not so good.
Overall, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN is a tremendously wasted opportunity. Somewhere, among all of its faults and flaws, problems and missteps, there are parts that could have made one exciting SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. It’s too bad parts don’t make up a whole movie. The film winds up being fairly easy on the eyes, but is yet another reminder that things looking cool just isn’t enough.
"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"
Follow me on Twitter.