Review: ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ is Kind of a Mess

Hey, it’s a review! I’m as surprised as you are, man. I definitely thought that moving would kind of get in the way of this whole “blogging” thing. Huh. Go me.

Universal Pictures

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012):

The Plot: When an Evil Queen (Charlize Theron) takes over a magical kingdom through cunning and witchcraft, she imprisons her young step-daughter Snow White, on the grounds that the child will one day become both beautiful and inspirational, and something something prophecy. Ten years later, when a twenty-ish Snow White (Kristen Stewart) escapes from a grimy castle dungeon, the queen orders a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to find the girl and cut out her heart. Action, dwarves, romance, drama, and PLOT ensue.

Snow White and the Huntsman is visually impressive and fairly enjoyable. These are both good things. Unfortunately, it seems content to hold back its own characters for the sake of moving the plot forward. That is a bad thing.

This is a film that’s fallen victim to its own branding. However modern and engaging Snow White and the Huntsman may try to be, and however fresh it attempts to make certain backstories, this is still a Snow White film. Making the main character a revolutionary leader doesn’t work if she still has to be flighty and useless, still has to bite that damn apple, only to be resurrected by the kiss of an apparent necrophiliac. So, Snow White doesn’t work if she’s Snow White? Kind of. To be honest, Snow White has never been a really interesting character on her own. The story has always taken center stage. Even modern fairy tales tend to focus more on themes of burgeoning sexuality and corrupted innocence instead of, say, creating a character that resembles a human being. Of course, the best ones manage to do both: push the story in an interesting direction and add depth to the characters. Snow White and the Huntsman tries to accomplish these things, but lets its adherence to the original tale get in the way.

The attempts to update the classic fairy result in the expected gritty backstories and dark plot points. The Huntsman is an alcoholic, trying to numb the pain he feels after the loss of his wife. The Queen grew up in poverty, an orphan stranded with her weird-looking younger brother. Her whole beauty obsession shtick is a cynical understanding of what she needs to become in order to gain power in a world of men. It also has something to with a prophecy and magic, but that isn’t really important.

While Hemsworth and Theron are given the most to do out of the cast—many scenes with Snow White barely give her any lines, and the ones she gets are largely bland—the film doesn’t go anywhere with their stories, instead opting to stick with the standard fairy tale structure. As a result, there are some interesting characters that get smothered by a story that really just needs broad archetypes. Even worse, the movie fails to deliver a clear protagonist. Now, that’s not necessary for a good film, but Snow White and the Huntsman treats several people as the main character while somehow totally failing to actually have one.

Snow White is more of a plot device than anything else. She just seems to be there because she was already in the story, and why get rid of her? That is a stupid way to justify the main character of a movie. Yes. Yes it is. It’s like if Raiders of the Lost Ark had been about the Arc of the Covenant, instead of Indiana Jones. Actually, that’s a pretty apt comparison. It is. The good guys need her to take down the empire, and the empire needs her to keep thriving. Snow White is a MacGuffin. When your main character serves the same purpose as the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, you know you’re doing something wrong.

Warner Bros.
I’ve had a hard life, you guys.

The cast does the best with what they have, but that isn’t much. None of the writers seemed to realize that backstory does not equal character development or depth. Things that happened to characters in the past are only so interesting. What matters is the way those events have shaped them, determining actions even now. But the Huntsman and the Queen just do what they do because the plot requires it. Hemsworth and Theron manage to liven things up a bit, but their efforts are ultimately thwarted by a pretty weak script. Kristen Stewart, who I’ve always thought was pretty underrated, doesn’t really bring much here. Other people have said that a “better,” livelier actress could have made the role more memorable, but that just isn’t true. Stewart isn’t miscast—in fact, I appreciated that Snow White lands on the plain side of pretty—she’s just tragically underwritten.

This is a script that doesn’t make any of the hard choices necessary for its “realistic” characters to work. Being imprisoned for ten years has somehow had no effect on Snow White’s personality. What should probably be a case of major arrested development ends up being just a slightly more subdued willingness to help everyone. The Queen, on the other hand, seems interesting—a product of a hard life. But the script won’t let her win, or even do anything worse than draining the life force out of some virgins. She doesn’t get to kill any of the main characters. Actually, the only dead character we get to know is a superfluous eighth dwarf. He seems like a decent guy, but his death doesn’t exactly have a big impact on anyone but the required characters.

20th Century Fox
The Snow White that should have been.

Ultimately, the attempt to put gritty characters in a fairy tale plot comes across as half-assed, rather than innovative. At the very least, the script needed more wit if it wanted to get away with the amount of cliché it has. Somebody should have watched The Princess Bride before making this.

Snow White and the Huntsman looks nice enough, but ranges from bland to stupid when it opens its mouth. It’s unfortunate that the last sentence is also a fairly accurate description of most incarnations of the character.

One thought on “Review: ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ is Kind of a Mess

  1. Oh, wow. I finally found the comment button! It would be good if you could somehow make it stand out. Anyway…great review! I haven’t seen the movie, but it sounds like you nailed it and I couldn’t help but think of your “A Charmed Life” — it’s too bad the script writers hadn’t figured out the role of “the story”!

    And I’m really impressed that you wrote while moving. Bravo

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