With the promise of two Snow White tales in theaters this year, it seemed inevitable that one would turn out disappointing and the other would rise above and get everyone excited about the possibilities that fairy tales still offer film. Following the tragedy of Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman was perfectly poised to be “the one” audiences had been waiting for.
Long story short: we shouldn’t have gotten our hopes up. Because the problem with the movie hinged on a crucial, maddening mistake — the screenwriters of this film had clearly never created a fantasy world in their lives, and made no effort to figure out how they should go about it.
You saw the trailer and you were excited, so let me first explain that what you saw in that beautiful teaser is nothing like the movie that ended up on screen. That trailer was created by someone very clever who obviously knew what the world wanted more than the filmmakers did. But the myriad of ways in which this movie falls on its face are so unbelievable that we’re going to need another blow by blow. Prepare yourself.
Snow White’s mother wished for a girl with skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, hair as black as a raven, and a spirit strong as a rose in winter. We’re later led to believe that this wish she made was somehow magic, even though she cast no spell. Snow White grows up spirited all right... though we don’t exactly know how she’s spirited. We’re simply told she is through a long, arduous monologue delivered by Chris Hemsworth in a spectacular new brogue. (Honestly, his non-Thor accent may be the only worthwhile part of the film.)
Her mom dies, her dad is seduced by a new woman who he decides to marry the day after meeting her (because it’s a fairy tale, I guess, and we should suspend our disbelief?), and she becomes queen. She’s Charlize Theron! And she tells little Snow that she thinks they are bound in their hearts. The tiny princess likes her new step mommy. Aw.
But then step mommy (I’m sorry, her name is Ravenna) has her first night of wedded bliss with the king and lets him in on a little secret: in the last kingdom she resided in, she got rid of the king’s old wife and then stole his throne. She sucks her new king’s life from him while explaining that men use women until they’re not pretty anymore, and so she will prevent that. She murders him, lets in her army — which appears to be about 40 guys with crossbows — and takes over.
Interesting, you might say. Is this tale a commentary on how women often feel used for nothing more than their beauty and therefore chose to think of it as power? Good try. But mostly it just gives the queen a reason to be crazy. She’s secretly paranoid that every handsome guy is just an evil heartbreaker, and punishes everyone as a result. Then she screams at them a lot.
The duke’s young son William wants to go back for Snow White during the battle, but the duke runs with his boy while there’s still time. Snow White (now Kristen Stewart) grows up locked in a high tower, the whole kingdom thinking she’s dead. She prays around tiny fires that she makes in her cell while she clutches little stick dolls. (I think the dolls are supposed to be her parents?) Another awkward misstep: we’re never given any indication as to what the heck Christianity is doing in a world like this. And it is flat out Christianity, not some special hybrid created for a new world. Snow White uses Bible-perfect prayer, but this is a land that clearly has magic in it. How does that go together? We’re never told.
The queen keeps using up young women — sucking the life out of them to stay young — but she has a magic mirror thing (that came from somewhere, I’m sure) that has a figure in it that only she can see (for some reason), and it tells her that now Snow White has come of age, she’s prettier. Because she’s prettier, she can defeat the queen, but if the queen kills her and holds her heart, then she’ll be immortal. ...Right. Time to kill the kid. One wonders why she kept the girl alive in the first place.
We get background on Ravenna later in the film and find that her mother was a sorceress who cast a spell on her daughter to keep her alive when their tiny village was ravaged by some mean king. The spell indicates that her beauty is actual power and will keep her safe, and only “fairest blood” can undo the spell. But apparently she only gets to keep her beauty power if she stays pretty by sucking life out of people like a Youth Dementor. Is this magic system convoluted enough for you yet? Mind you, most of this is not actually explained, you have to infer it. It might even be something entirely different that’s equally difficult to understand.
The queen sends her creepy brother (Sam Spruell) to fetch Snow White for reaping, and just to make sure you know what kind of movie they’re trying to make, her brother does indeed want to rape Snow White. Because Game of Thrones does it, so we should be equally gritty! But Snow White magically found a rusty nail right outside her tiny window moments before his visit — yes, magically, a magical bird showed her it was there — so she stabs him in the face and escapes!
...into the Dark Forest, where hallucinogens in the plants make her terrified and then make her collapse.
The queen has no powers there (natch) so it’s time to get a guy who knows the area to take them there. Enter the Huntsman. He’s an alcoholic because he’s a widower, and definitely has nothing to live for, so why not go into the woods? He also happens to be the only character in the story with an explained emotional arc, even if it is the most clichéd one they could come up with. He finds Snow, realizes something is up, turns on the queen’s brother and helps her escape the forest. So the creepy forest wasn’t really important, it just got him to the party. He also gives the princess exactly one piece of fighting advice, so clearly that will be important later.
A moment for Kristen Stewart as Snow White. No, you know what, let’s not give her a moment because she spends the entire film caught between two facial expressions and couldn’t make you care about this character if the director had tied injured, mewing kittens to her ankles for the duration of her journey. She also manages to have no chemistry with either love interest set up for her. (How someone can act opposite Chris Hemsworth and not know how to make eyes at the guy is beyond me, no matter how scruffy the makeup department made him. Actually, the scruff works for him, so it’s even more confusing.)
About that other love interest: the duke’s son, William (Sam Claflin), finds out that Snow is alive and runs away to find her because he’s never forgiven his dad for leaving her. Daddy duke has an army that has been trying to fight the queen all these years. William joins the queen’s brother in the hunt for Snow White, posing as a mercenary. Caught up? Good, because it’s important somehow.
The Huntsman almost leaves Snow White with a community of women (who scar their faces so the queen won’t kill them) because he’s full of angst and manpain and can’t take it, but then the queen’s brother attacks and he comes back to rescue her. They flee and get caught by dwarfs. The band of seven includes the likes of Nick Frost, Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, and Bob Hoskins. (Hoskins is a blind dwarf who has magic truth-sight powers! Shock!) And they do absolutely nothing for this movie. It’s so depressing, it’ll make you cry. They might as well just meld into one dwarfy character. Mega-Dwarf? Or better yet, we should trade them for the dwarfs in Mirror Mirror who deserved more screentime, and were all unique characters in their own right.
The dwarfs somehow know the Huntsman (in fact, most people seem to know him for no reason at all,) and they take the two into a happy enchanted forest full of fairies and butterflies and bunnies. Note: this is not an exaggeration. In fact, the film is full of crazy magic visuals that are never addressed to assist the audience in understanding the world better; at one point, the queen takes a plaster bath that has no named function in the story whatsoever, but boy does it look impressive. I would praise the movie for not shying away from fairy tale magic and silly fantastical environment tropes, but after trying to make the world look so gritty, I can’t tell what we’re supposed to be taking seriously. (Answer: EVERYTHING.)
So the happy forest gets even prettier and Snow White finds a White Stag who bows to her and Head Dwarf Hoskins realize that she’s “life itself” and is healing the land, which is why she’ll defeat the queen and—
Whoa, HOLD THE TELEGRAPH.
Snow White is life? What does that mean? Is that was happens when queens wish for babies in this world? Was there a really important prophecy about this that we missed somewhere in that five-hour prologue? Does that mean she’s God, since they all practice Christianity? Does that mean that Ravenna literally encapsulates death then and, if so, why?
Ugh, you know what, this just isn’t worth it.
The queen’s brother comes back to bug them, the Huntsman kills him, one of the dwarfs is killed, and William joins the merry band. William and Snow talk on their own and flirt, and Snow kisses him. He hands her an apple (he used to tease her about apples when they were kids), she takes a bite and it’s poison! And William is actually asleep at the camp with the boys — this was the queen. Which means that the only romantic scene in the film thus far actually takes place between two women. Which would be interesting if that move was intentional, but it clearly wasn’t. The Huntsman and William disperse the queen before she can get Snow’s heart, and she turns into a swarm of ravens! (Get it? Ravenna? Ravens? Never mind.)
William kisses Snow White’s lifeless body and they take her back to the duke’s fortress. She lies there in a white dress, and the Huntsman gets drunk and talks about how she reminds him of his dead wife who made him a better person, and he’s so sorry he failed them both. We never find out exactly how he failed his wife, but he does kiss Snow White and he cries, and she cries, and he leaves the room, and—oh, she’s alive! Obviously. Because of the whole crying thing.
I get it. They thought they were cleverly subverting the story expectations — true love’s kiss was a drunken commoner with a heart of gold, not a prince! But we’ve been given no romance to latch onto. They’ve spoken about ten sentences to each other total, most of them involving running and hiding. I find myself desperately reaching for some emotional impact by staring as hard as I can into Chris Hemsworth’s sorrowful blue eyes, but it’s just not happening.
Snow White does know how to defeat the queen now, though. Somehow, through being Mostly Dead all day. (I think what she actually meant was that she magically saw that she was only one who could kill the queen, but she doesn’t say that.) So she goes out to talk to the duke’s men and galvanize them into a fight. The people subdue their shock at her resurrection and are treated to a monologue that was clearly meant to go down in history books as the one time we allowed a woman to give the Eve of War speech. We’re supposed to be thinking Aragorn, maybe, before the final battle in Return of the King. But it doesn’t come off very well when the gist of the whole thing is, “Iron can melt, but iron will writhe inside itself, but iron can forge swords too, so we will forge iron swords and I’m here to be your sword, and who will ride with me?”
The speech is literally that incoherent. I can’t believe those words made it into a final draft of anything.
So the army gets together, and they go to fight the queen’s forces (now about 40 guys on 60 guys?), and Snow makes it to the queen and decides it’s really smart to throw her shield on the ground before facing her. And they fight, and the queen rages, and then Snow White uses that special one move the Huntsman taught her at the beginning of the film to knife the queen in the chest, and we’re all good. Then Snow White gets coronated and looks out over the throne room to all her friends, and the Hunstman enters at the back eventually, looking much cleaner. And... that’s the end.
Nope, that’s all, folks.
I guess they felt that Snow White proved she had all that spirit and could definitely lead an army to war. At least, that’s what everyone in the film kept saying, even though she spent most of it scared silent and letting handsome men help her across brooks. Shame on the producer of Alice in Wonderland (2010) for thinking that this was any kind of follow up. Regardless of how you felt about Burton’s take on Carroll, there can be no doubt that Alice stepped into that armor with purpose, and actually had a character to speak of.
Snow White and the Huntsman is depressing on so many levels, the worst one being how hard certain actors are trying to make it work. (Hemsworth, Theron, Hoskins, I’m mainly looking at you.) Sure, the movie would have benefitted from some humor, maybe a little less random trekking through the mountains and a whole lot less CGI badgers, but what it needed more than anything was the most basic world-building and a marginally clever plot that wouldn’t make the original Disney cartoon look genius by comparison. These things shouldn’t be so difficult. I find myself in the position of having to give Mirror Mirror more credit than I did before — at least it was entertaining. This was truly not.
It looks like we’ll be waiting at least another decade before a screen treatment of Snow White attempts to awe us again. 2012, you’ve let us down.