Commercial director Rupert Sanders makes his directorial debut with Snow White & The Huntsman (or SWATH), and there are certain moments in which his flair for visual effects pay off in this gritty take on the classic story. But mostly this movie seems like producer Joe Roth’s baby. Roth has become the go-to guy in Hollywood for fairy tale movies after the billion-dollar success of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, and he’s got Oz: The Great and Powerful and Maleficent also coming up in the next couple of years. By mixing some of the hottest stars of the moment with expensive-looking effects, Snow White & The Huntsman never quite shakes the feeling that it’s more of a “movie by formula” than a story that truly needs to be told.
I won’t recap the plot, because it’s essentially the Disney version you grew up with but this time Snow White is apparently some sort of Joan of Arc, a 90 pound girl capable of wielding a sword and slaughtering grown men on a battlefield. Riiiiight. There’s a weird unevenness to this film, in which half of it attempts to be a gritty, realistic portrayal of this story (as opposed to Tarsem’s whimsical Mirror, Mirror, the other Snow White story to hit the big screen in 2012), and the other half wants to be a fantasy film filled with supernatural creatures ala Lord of the Rings. Some elements of each style work OK, but combined, it’s kind of a mess.
The performances are adequate at best, with Kristen Stewart at least putting a bit more life into her role than what I’ve seen of the Twilight franchise (which, granted, isn’t much). I’ve been hearing good things about her work in the upcoming Jack Kerouac adaptation On The Road, but her Snow White is just sort of…there, and Stewart never does anything to embrace the iconic character and really put her stamp on it. Chris Hemsworth is essentially an overblown Han Solo here, which, again, is adequate and nothing more. The dwarfs, played by solid character actors like Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, and Nick Frost, are fine but never have much of an impact on the story. Charlize Theron is the only one who does anything interesting, and she ends up devolving into an absurd Nic Cage-level performance, screaming about 80% of her dialogue (most of which involved the most surface level analysis of how men use women as sex objects).
I didn’t actively hate anything about this movie, but even with its fairy tale backbone, there are plenty of cliched and stupid moments. At one point, magic fairy birds lead Snow to a giant white horse that’s just sitting in the forest waiting for her. It doesn’t appear to be a fairy horse, so why was it there, and for how long? When the Queen promises the Huntsman she can resurrect his dead wife if he retrieves the escaped Snow White, her weaselly brother (who is like the mini-boss villain of the movie) mockingly tells the Huntsman that the Queen won’t keep her promise, causing Hemsworth to fly into a bout of rage, kick the brother’s ass, and murder some other random guards. Why would he tell him that? There are countless other examples of questionable writing, and it’s no wonder this script isn’t that great: it started as a class project for the screenwriter when he was in college.
The production design was great, the costumes were well-done, and most of the movie was at least coherent and well-shot. I actually enjoyed the inevitable “trekking through the mountains” montage thanks to some haunting female vocals (cliche, but effective), and there’s a subplot about women in the kingdom who scar themselves to avoid the Queen’s jealousy that was interesting for about half a second. Excessive narration in the beginning of the movie bogs it down, and though a character from that prologue ends up returning to the movie later in the game, not too much happens there, either. It’s pretty clear from the start who the love interest is (hint: it’s in the title), and no amount of uninspiring battle speeches or magic bad guys getting sliced into pieces of black lava rock can make up for what is ultimately a pretty boring movie that’s clearly intended to be thrilling. Until next time…