Snow White and the Huntsman Reviews
Snow White and the Huntsman's actual story was not one which I expected to be interesting at all. It's just another film in the contemporary trend of rebooting stories popularised by Disney animations to be converted into live-action fantasy adventures with war as a key undertone. Such examples of this include Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010) and The Legend of Tarzan (2016), neither of which have made any major impression with critics. Perhaps the worst example of all these is actually The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016) which is actually the spin-off of Snow White and the Huntsman. In attempting to capitalise on its predecessor while stealing story elements from Frozen (2013) and giving its title the theme of Captain America: Civil War (2016), the genre managed to show its absolute worst side. Though it wouldn't be fair to judge Snow White and the Huntsman on the basis of its inferior sequel, it's certainly appropriate to know what low standard of filmmaking to expect when going in to the experience.
The mistake I made was hoping that I could hold Snow White and the Huntsman to a higher standard than its lacklustre spin-off. With slightly higher expectations, my disappointment remained all the same as both films proved insistent on carrying many of the same basic narrative flaws. The central difference is that The Huntsman: Winter's War was doomed from the start, yet Snow White and the Huntsman actually had potential. But from the instant the film begins, so does trouble.
The film's entire intro feels like it could not have anything less to do with the story of Snow White. By giving the formerly nameless Queen the identity of a remorseless sorceress who usurps the throne through the power of the Dark Army, suddenly the story becomes more of a dark fantasy version of William Shakespeare's Hamlet than anything Snow White-related. It could not make any sense why Queen Ravenna would lead the destruction on a kingdom and then expect to be considered "the fairest" in any sense, but that's just one of the ridiculous pieces of disbelief that audiences must sacrifice if they are to enjoy Snow White and the Huntsman. And before the intro is even over, any slight relevance that Snow White ever had to being a princess of any sort is destroyed so that she may be reinvented as an action hero. In doing so, Snow White and the Huntsman completely erases all traces of the Snow White mythology. And ultimately, director Rupert Sanders fails to compensate for this with even a mildly interesting action-adventure.
Snow White and the Huntsman is about two underdeveloped archetypes running across a repetitive fantasy landscape as audiences are briefly introduced to elements of fantasy mythology. These include trolls and dwarves, but the story doesn't care enough to stop and explore them at all. They are just token story elements which develop nowhere against the backdrop of a story which does the same with every other dynamic. The story does so little that the pace of the film drags on, and this is problematic given that the film already runs for beyond two hours. The film plays out on an array of convincing scenery and strong production design with occasionally brief moments of visual effects panache thanks to Rupert Sanders' keen eye for imagery, but they are ultimately too short and arbitrary to rescue the narrative. And the action scenes are always too brief and repetitive even though the film focuses its narrative around a war in the land. There is no drama to the war, and any attempt for there to be is as thoroughly cliche as the film's condemnation of love. The choreography is decent and the visuals really could have done something, but the action scenes are ultimately as underdeveloped as the characters and extremely few.
But despite all its heavy shortcomings, the cast in Snow White and the Huntsman manage to deliver some decent performances.
Kristen Stewart's leading performance as Snow White is not as bad as you might expect. The actress barely even says a word for the first 40 minutes of the film, spending the majority of the time simply running from one point to another while conveying terror in her facial expressions. Her physical engagement in the role is very committed, but it just serves to ensure there is no sense of characterisation in the part whatsoever. Out of the blue she finds herself a character of extreme physical strength, though it is never really all that believable. Put simply, Kristen Stewart is not a convincing hero. This is not in fact her fault at all, but rather because the story desperately wants to reinvent the classic fairy tale character as a re-imagining of Joan of Arc. When Kristen Stewart attempts to seize control over the character there is a clear intensity in her charisma which makes the role slightly more credible, but the lacklustre writing and lack of character development pay not help to the potential of her impressing audiences. She makes every effort she can during the sporadic moment that the film stops working against her, but it's overall the script is not one she can fully conquer. Kristen Stewart reveals potential in her role which is just worn down by the terrible story.
Chris Hemsworth is the real hero of the story though. Portraying the titular Huntsman straight off the back of his success in Thor (2011), Chris Hemsworth once again shines with a powerful sense of anger. He is far less glamourous in Snow White and the Huntsman and grittier, capturing a more savage side to the character. The film tries to make him a more charming hero with its lacklustre dialogue, but it's the more savage side of Chris Hemsworth that really shines. Chris Hemsworth conveys an angry obsession in the character of Eric, revealing a real weakness in his anger over the loss of his wife and giving him greater dimension in the face of a screenplay which works against it. Chris Hemsworth may be a cliche fairy tale hero, but he plays the role with a solid heroism and subtle elements of grit which makes him a welcome lead.
And Charlize Theron actually has very little screen time in Snow White and the Huntsman. Despite being touted as the central villain in the story, she actually drops in and out of the screen since her significance is spoken of by the other characters more often than it is shown. In actuality, she plays a glorified cameo in the film which betrays all expectation and proves disappointing. Yet the quality of her performance does not fail. In attempting to capture the obsessive vanity of the character, Charlize Theron equips two central states of mind for the characterisation of Queen Ravenna: Angry and Weak. When embracing the former, Charlize Theron unleashes a powerfully over-the-top performance which cries out the desperation of her character's villainy with psychotic melodrama, while in her weaker state she manages to convey a real sense of vulnerability in the character. Queen Ravenna is an insecure and obsessive woman who is overcome by a sadistic vanity, and Charlize Theron is electrifying in capturing it with a twisted melodrama. It's rather like Faye Dunaway's effort in Mommie Dearest (1981), but actually a good performance. Charlize Theron is a solid if diminutive villain in Snow White and the Huntsman, working the film to her credibility when it's clearly such difficult material can.
Bob Hoskins is also a welcome presence as with any feature, though I can see why he'd want to retire after doing a film like this.
Snow White and the Huntsman has moments of visual flair and a fairly talented cast, but its awkwardly misguided screenplay leaves audiences with a generic story of uninspired heroism, a lack of characters and a major shortage of action.