Snow White and the Huntsman
What It Is
And again: The Wicked Queen, here named Ravenna (Charlize Theron), maintains her youthful beauty by evil means, until she meets the girl who is “fairest of them all,” Snow White (Kristen Stewart). The two women act out a kind of battle between good and evil, if not precisely dark and light, and the nicest one wins. In this case, that one is also a decent sword and knife fighter, and a good horseback rider.
As the title Snow White and the Huntsman suggests, this latest screen version of the fairy tale features a romance. And Eric the Huntsman is as generic as his non-name suggests. Played by Chris Hemsworth (Thor in the Marvel Comics Movies franchise), he’s gruff and unhappy, a widower and a drunk when he’s initially hired by Ravenna to find the princess Snow White, after she escapes the prison where her stepmother has kept her locked away for years — this after, of course, Ravenna has seduced the child Snow White’s father (Noah Huntley), married him within a day of their first meeting, and then killed him (viciously, with a knife to the chest) on their wedding night, on their bed, no less.
This early indication of the queen’s brutality helps you understand Snow White’s fear of her, as well as the submission showed to her by her subjects, who mostly appear looking abject and impoverished, emblems of her effect rather than characters in their own right. The semi-exceptions to this dour mood are the lively, comical, and even witty dwarves, whom Snow White and the Huntsman meet in the forest — this after they have bonded together upon the revelation that Ravenna has no plans whatsoever to keep a promise she has made to the Huntsman, namely, to resurrect his dead wife.
It’s worth noting that the Huntsman’s agreement with the queen, based on such nonsense, doesn’t suggest he’s the sharpest tool in the shed: he is, however, and in keeping with his generic nature, a brave and sturdy sort, and very good at saving damsels in distress — or at least damsels other than his dead wife, about whose untimely demise he feels very guilty. It’s also worth noting that this bit of backstory has to do with the queen as well (as does everything in the plot that happens between her murder of the king and her effort to murder Snow White). Specifically, her brother Finn (Sam Spruell) helps her to maintain her youth. While a couple of exchanged glances and a moment of slightly-too-intimate tenderness in front of the magic mirror intimate the siblings might be overly involved, for the most part, Finn is on hand to do what the queen tells him, whether hunt for Snow White alongside the Huntsman or bring her pretty girls, from whom she then sucks life. More accurately, she sucks an unconvincing white gas from the victim’s mouth while grasping her throat.
This nasty ritual makes Ravenna seem especially creepy, a succubus and a parasite and a witch all at once; it helps this impression too that she does spend time with ravens, black and noisy with sharp-seeming feathers, and dresses up to resemble them as well. (In her fondness for black gear, she’s not unlike the Evil Queen of the Disney animated film, from way back in 1937.)
At least Ravenna’s meanness is something like a characterization. Snow White has none of this energy, but instead serves as an object for the men around her — the Huntsman, the dwarves (played by non-dwarf actors like Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Toby Jones, and Ray Winstone digitized to appear short), a childhood friend grown into a prince named William (Sam Claflin) — to wonder at and adore. For a brief moment, it looks as though Snow White will have to make a choice between the Huntsman and the Prince (a la Stewart’s best known character, Twilight Bella), but that precise moment of action is lost in a shuffle of non-action, when she does indeed, go to sleep, poisoned.
This nap doesn’t last long, however. Soon enough, Snow White is back on her feet (in a lovely white dress) and inspiring more men to ride against the Bad Queen. That Snow White takes the lead in this fight, wearing chain mail armor and wielding her own weapon, suggests that she’s not wholly passive. That said, she’s less independent than obedient, rising to others’ expectations more than she strikes out on her own.
Why It’s Fun
It’s fun in a foreboding and harrowing way, quite unlike most fairy tales made into movies. This film is not brightly colored, but boasts a grey and brown palette, with black-oily monsters in the woods, dark red blood and wine spills, fights that feature groans and grunts when someone inflicts injury. Caution: for some younger viewers, this might not be so much fun.
It’s fun to see the dwarves: they seem to be acting in another movie, even as they adore Snow White and vow to protect her forever — first, because she’s her father’s daughter, and then, because “She is life,” as the wisest dwarf Muir (Bob Hoskins) puts it (it’s not entirely clear what this means, but all who hear it seem impressed).
The Magic Mirror is odd, not so much a mirror as a mouthless speaker of cryptic, semi-truths. The reflective surface slides off the wall as a kind of molten metallish material and then the glob gathers to stand, as if wearing a shroud, with no face (played by a digitized Christopher Obi). It looks rather like a depressed cousin of the T-1000 from Terminator 2: it doesn’t make sense, in this context, but it’s a decent effect.
Who’s Going To Love It
Fans of the original fairy tale, before Disney got a hold of it, might appreciate the film’s unconventional darkness.
Fans of special effects, in a general sense, might be impressed by the tree roots writhing, branches grabbing, giant troll or muddy goo that afflict Snow White and the Huntsman during their first trip through the forest. Once they find the sunny part, though, the effects are much less convincing: fairies look two-dimensional, flowers look flimsy, and the rabbits and gophers look stuffed.
What To Be Aware Of
Early on, the little girl Snow White (Raffey Cassidy) discovers her father’s dead body and runs away in fear, before she’s captured by the queen’s men. She’s left behind by young William and his father the duke, in a scene that involves the camera pulling back as the boy rides away and the girl is carried off screaming by a villain. The sequence of this childhood trauma might be a little distressing for younger viewers. On the other hand, a brief flashback showing a child version of Ravenna (Izzy Meikle-Small), also in some anguish, doesn’t ask you to identify with her.
Creepy bugs and snakes in the woods frighten Snow White. Her first horse dies in the woods while trying to cross over a muddy bog that might be quicksand. She looks sad as she watches it go down.
Snow White and the Huntsman meet a group of women who live in the woods, hiding from the queen. They scar their faces and those of their young daughters so the queen won’t think their beautiful and suck at them. We don’t see the process, but the girls look sad.
The violence is sometimes hard and fairly graphic, with knife wounds and blood and bodies falling. Particularly violent scenes include a couple of clashes between the Huntsman and Finn’s men (arrows, swords, punches, and slams), as well as a climactic fight at the castle, between armies on horseback (flaming catapult balls, arrows again, heaving and bleeding). Some of this imagery might be considered over the PG-13 line for some viewers.
The final showdown between the queen and Snow White is harsh, with tears on both sides, a fairly intimate — literally close — moment of mortal penetration.
One of the dwarves is killed by one of the queen’s minions (the only black character in the movie, in fact, played by Joey Ansah). His moment of death comes slowly, with Snow White and other dwarves in tears as he gasps his last. Very sad.
Charlize Theron is downright grim as Ravenna. This makes for an enticing caricature (she roars and yells, throws herself onto the floor and makes terrible, tearful faces) but also a very dark character. She articulates her mission outright: she feels abused by “men,” decides that “beauty is power,” and does her best to maintain both (as the same thing).
But Snow White is considered pure, not needing to work so hard to maintain her beauty. This is a question worth pondering, as the movie suggests that youthful beauty — possessed by someone young — is also a form of power, as so many men rush to help Snow White. The primary trouble for Ravenna might be her heartlessness or selfishness, it might be her desire for vengeance, and it might be her cranky personality. It might also be aging in a world that values youth — quite plainly and cruelly.
6 out of 10
Snow White and the Huntsman
Director: Rupert Sanders
Cast: Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Sam Spruell, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone
Studio: Universal Pictures
US General Release: June 1, 2012
UK General Release: May 30, 2012