Snow White and the Huntsman – Review
June 25, 2012 3 Comments
Review by FilmFellaDarren – 6.2/10
If Disney’s first ever feature, Snow white and the seven dwarfs were a person, it would be an elderly person now, given that it was made seventy five years ago – thus the Evil Queen’s worst nightmare would have been completed. But it’s fair to say that, somewhat ironically, time has been far kinder to the Evil Queen than Snow White herself. Snow White’s purity wholesomeness and innocence is at odds with the dark, cynical and hardened modern world. Whereas the Evil Queen’s rampant vanity, out-of-control narcissism and indulgent image obsession are really just the average attitudes promoted by advertising companies. Discount the apple poisoning and mad mirror muttering for a second and the Evil Queen would be just another vacuous and superficial celebrity. If she was a real person and not a fictional character they’d probably have her fronting an Oil of Olay commercial or something, spouting lines like: ‘use Olay and you too could be the fairest one of all’. Either that or she’d work for a company like Ikea endorsing mirrors for a living with a forceful philosophy of: ’buy a bloody mirror or I’ll poison your apples’.
In a way, The Evil Queen’s crippling self-doubt would allow her to slot into the modern world. Any modern reimagining then has to have the Evil Queen as the focus point. What is interesting about this obviously darker take on the old Brother’s Grimm fable is that the Evil Queen absolutely provides the central story, whilst Snow White becomes a bland peripheral character whose role is to be tormented by the Evil Queen and be chased around the (not that) enchanted or enchanting forest. It’s a bleak version of the story and because of that, despite its many problems, it is somewhat engaging. Charilze Theron’s Queen is so powerful and omnipresent that she looks like a God to the mere mortals around her; she’s like a tiger toying with ants, which is an oddity that curiously makes her sort of sympathetic.
Our reimagining begins when the wily, cunning and manipulative (destined to be Evil) Queen seduces a King and inherits the throne. Like a female Black widow spider devouring the male, her instincts prove too sharp for the naive monarch and she ruthlessly kills the unsuspecting high profile honey-trap victim. Her beloved mirror tells her, ‘her beauty will soon be surpassed by Snow White’s’. Driven by an insecure rage, she soon declares a war on beauty, rounding up all the attractive women in the realm – and also Snow White – then locking them in a dungeon. But look at that! Snow white is now resourceful – so she escapes into the forest and lives happily ever after with some dwarves and some cute woodland creatures….
Not really, the Queen is incensed, so she sends out a huntsman to track down Snow White and kill her. But the Queen picks her brute un-wisely, making the mistake of hiring Chris Hemsworth aka Thor – we all know that he is bound to be a good guy with a big heart, he’s an Avenger after all. The two try to work out a way to overthrow the Queen but can they stir up a peasant revolution to rebel against such an intimidating tyrant when everyone lives in fear?
This version of Snow white, although far grimmer in tone and sufficiently different in style from the Disney cartoon, would be entirely forgettable and perfunctory if it wasn’t for the colossal presence of Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen. Theron is absolutely mesmerizing in this film – her Queen is a force-of-nature, she’s mercurial, menacing and mesmerizing. The South African actress adds such depth to the old character. Her Queen is wound rather tightly, edgy and unsettling, prone to ferocious fits of rage. Theron is genuinely frightening at times in this and she often rediscovers the intensity that won her an Oscar for her terrifying turn in Monster. When she launches into a turbo tantrum, be prepared to scoop your popcorn bucket off the floor. To justify the potent threat of the character though – which has always defined the story of Snow white – you’d need a mighty strong presence in the role of Snow White. Casting the bland figure of Kristen Stewart then was a misstep. Charilze Theron is infinitely more attractive and charismatic than Stewart. This has the effect of making the story arc seem ridiculous as you just wonder all the way through way such a powerful figure as The Evil Queen would ever be threatened by an inconsequential girl next-door type like Stewart. When the film reveals its version of the iconic mirror scene, and the mirror tells the Queen that her beauty and fairness will one day be surpassed by Snow White’s, you half expect Charlize Theron to not be incandescent with rage, and instead fall to the ground rolling about with laughter at the absurdity of the suggestion. If anything would cure her of her unstable insecurities, it is surely being told that this version of Snow white is more attractive than she is. Theron’s beauty and charisma dazzles in this, whereas Kristen Stewart is so bland she practically blends with the peasants. And because she has to be a moody modern version to entice the Emo crowd – who have been conditioned to like her through countless chapters in the Twilight saga – she’s sullen and morose throughout; she’s a dreary presence, not exactly a figure to root for – they might as well have renamed her Sullen Grey.
The other reimagined aspects of the story too are underwhelming. After Snow white and The Evil Queen the next part of this age old story you remember are those dwarves – or vertically challenged people, or whatever the correct pc term is for them now. Now they’ve cast some massive names to play the dwarves. They must have spent the budget to get Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan and Nick Frost as the dwarves. Admittedly, there is something novel and amusing about seeing the digital effects reduce these big names to pint sized figures. Look closer however and you start to see that the actors are drafted in to disguise the fact the filmmakers didn’t really know how to use or reinvent the dwarves. They are really just seven variations on Dopey and all they do is a bit of walking – Lord of the rings style. Debutant director Rupert Saunders thinks he’s pulled off some offbeat Time Bandits like Gilliamesque comedy but they really aren’t nearly as amusing as the roguish rascals from Time bandits – the character that this film tries so hard to emulate. Despite the star names, these dwarves do nothing to further the story. They also reveal that all Saunders is doing in this film is taking scenes that you remember from other fantasy films and welding them to a strange version of Snow white and the seven dwarves.
The last act is of course absolutely ludicrous. Having built up The Evil Queen to be some ubiquitous, formidable, wicked Demigod, the director has to quickly do something to reduce her statue as the film draws to a close, or else they’ll have a story where Evil prevails – which is totally against the ethos of fairy-tales – even dark ones. Suddenly, Sullen Grey transforms from a mopey teenage girl into a strong Joan of arc type figure – totally in-line with modern girl power attitudes of course but at odds with the grain of this story. The showdown between Stewart and Theron is maddeningly stupid.
Snow White and the Huntsman is worth seeing for Theron’s tour-de-force performance. She is a convincing and genuinely threatening villain. She shows up everyone and everything around her as un-cinematic, insipid and pointless. So strong is her magnetism that alongside such an average actress as Kristen Stewart, the story of Snow White becomes so distorted that it absolutely begs to be parodied as you can’t help but will the Queen to succeed. It’s a film that makes you sympathize with tyrants – something has gone wrong if you’ve made a film and your audiences can relate to the evil tyrant over the central heroine. You could have some fun watching Snow White and the Huntsman ironically, poking fun at how badly conceived the story is.