April 2024

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

DIRECTOR: Rupert Sanders


Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Sam Spruell, Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan


What one makes of Snow White and the Huntsman might hinge a lot on expectations.  Don’t be fooled by it sharing a title character with the Disney cartoon; this is not a movie for small children.  In fact, it might have more to offer for fans of The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones than those longing for dwarves singing “HI HO, HI HO”.  The dark fantasy tone and some visual aspects (and even occasional scenes) bring to mind The Neverending Story and especially Willow as probably its closest cinematic cousins.  With its battle scenes and Snow White suiting up in armor and chain-mail, it undeniably plays fast and loose with the Brothers Grimm story, but in fairness, so did Disney, and its darker, more dismal tone is probably more accurate to the original, if not many of the story particulars.

While the tone is markedly different from what many will expect from a movie with “Snow White” in the title, the initial set-up is familiar.  Snow White (Kristen Stewart) has been a prisoner in the north tower of her father’s castle ever since childhood, when her father married Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who murdered him on their wedding night.  Since then, Snow White has languished anonymously while Ravenna employs black magic to maintain her youth and beauty by draining the life forces of the kingdom’s women.  When an opportunity arrives, Snow White escapes and, pursued by Ravenna’s brother Finn (Sam Spruell) and his soldiers, flees into the dreaded Dark Forest, populated by strange creatures, where ordinary men fear to tread.  Fearing a prophecy that Snow White is destined to be her undoing, Ravenna recruits Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to hunt her down, but Eric’s mercenary intentions falter, and accompanied by a group of dwarves (including Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, and Ray Winstone) and eventually joined by Snow White’s childhood friend Prince William (Sam Claflin), he and Snow White become part of a rebellion against Ravenna’s rule.

Snow White and the Huntsman starts out a little awkwardly, with choppy editing, some goofy dialogue delivered in over-the-top ways, and some scenes that feel too rushed.  There’s a perfunctory feel to the set-up scenes involving the details of Ravenna’s tyrannical rule, Snow White’s escape, and her pursuit by Finn and Eric.  Around the midway point, as Snow White and Eric stumble onto a secluded village, the movie hits its stride, and settles more smoothly into a groove.  The somewhat stumbling first half is not enough to derail what comes after, though it does slightly reduce the movie overall.  The Dark Forest is suitably eerie and looks and feels straight out of The Neverending Story or Willow.  In fact, the overall tone is so dismal that the arrival of the dwarves almost two-thirds of the way in, and an interlude through the “Sanctuary”, a bright oasis populated by fairies, is needed for relief.  Then our band hooks up with an army of rebels against Ravenna’s rule, and the movie gets its Braveheart on.

The one area where Snow White and the Huntsman is impressively accomplished throughout is in its visual style.  The journeys through the Dark Forest and the Sanctuary are evocative and memorable; in fact, at least from a visual standpoint, the interlude in the Sanctuary is the most impressive sequence in the film.  There are mushrooms with blinking eyes, snakes and turtles that seem made of moss, and tiny fairies who ride rabbits and foxes.  There’s a little of the wonder in this scene of the first journey into the forest in Avatar.  A shot of the Queen turning into a flock of crows is also striking, as is an earlier eerie image where she submerges herself completely in a milk-filled bath.  Its storytelling prowess is a little shakier.  Between the overall dismal tone, the comic relief bickering of the dwarves, and the climactic large-scale battle scene, the movie suffers at times from not quite making up its mind what it’s trying to be.  It includes various elements from the fairy tale, most prominently the dwarves and the poisoned apple, and makes it biggest divergence in the third act when Snow White becomes a warrior princess leading an army to storm the castle walls.  Various things are vaguely explained at best.  Everyone from Charlize Theron to Bob Hoskins talks in hushed whispers about how Snow White is “destined” or “The One”, without elaborating what exactly this is supposed to mean.  What is her connection with nature that allows her to calm a massive troll threatening Eric?  What is the massive stag she touches in the Sanctuary?  Is he some “King of the Forest” figure, or a God representation?  The movie isn’t really clear.  The movie also makes a halfway effort toward making Ravenna a tragic villainess, with fragments of a painful back-story, but this might have had more effect if it was more-developed.  Even less developed is the kinda sorta love triangle between Snow White, Eric, and Prince William, which is hinted at but never really amounts to much and isn’t given clear closure.  In fact, for the sake of narrative efficiency, it might have been better if the filmmakers had simply combined Eric and William into one person, with the Huntsman revealed to be Snow White’s lost childhood friend.  None of these issues stop the movie from being enjoyable, but they do hold it back from the epic fantasy adventure it could have been and seems at times to be aspiring toward.

The more movies go by with Kristen Stewart seemingly capable of one mode—looking nervously awkward, biting her lip, and stammering—the more I am forced to question her appeal.  Also, the very notion of Stewart being the slightest competition to Charlize Theron as “the fairest in the land” is difficult to swallow.  Acting-wise, Stewart is adequate but nothing special; she’s not bad to where she really hurts the movie, but she’s also not good to where the movie’s success has much to do with her.  Charlize Theron (who dropped out of J. Edgar to take this role, replaced by Naomi Watts) is suitably sinister, albeit occasionally over-the-top (and also dons some age makeup that renders her unrecognizable).  Ravenna is a wicked and cruel woman, twisted by a traumatic childhood, soul-sucking black magic, and her ruthless obsession with youth and beauty, but at times Theron does bring out her inner sadness; when she steals the life force of an innocent young maiden, she’s more sorrowful than sadistic.  One could argue that her brother Finn (Sam Spruell fills out the “loathsome henchman” role nicely) is more detestable than Ravenna herself, and an incestuous relationship between them, while not explicitly revealed, is heavily implied.  Chris Hemsworth, who can also currently be seen in theaters in The Avengers, is a good fit for the role of the rugged hero, although his Scottish accent sounds a little forced.  Hemsworth has screen presence and charisma, and seems at home in the part, and despite some surface similarities, avoids making it a Thor retread.  He’s equally effective kicking ass and taking names as he is in a late, low-key scene where he opens up about his grief from his own tragic back-story.  Sam Claflin is also suitably handsome and heroic, but gets less to do.    The dwarves, like Hobbits, are played by normal-sized actors (Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, and a barely recognizable Ray Winstone, to name the most familiar faces among them), made to appear smaller through camera trickery.  McShane, Hoskins, and Jones make the most impressions, McShane because he’s amusingly gruff, Hoskins because he’s the token “old wise man” who talks a lot about destiny, and Jones because he’s the most comic relief.

Snow White and the Huntsman is heavily-flawed, but an inventive take on a famous fairy tale with a dark and stylish execution.  The pace moves in fits and starts for the first half, but it hits a good stride around the halfway point and is a satisfactory fantasy adventure from then on out.  The dwarves’ comic relief, while limited, is effective and welcome.  The climactic battle scene, while less epic and more perfunctory than those in The Lord of the Rings, is visually well-done and has some exciting scenes, especially when the castle guards launch fireballs at the army charging down the beach, and Ravenna conjures warriors formed out of shards of glass to attack the soldiers.  The final showdown between Snow White and Ravenna is over a little quickly, but satisfactory enough.  The ending is too abrupt and almost seems to be leaving room for a sequel, but the story here is self-contained enough and seemingly wrapped up enough not to warrant one.

I’m not sure how broad of an audience the movie will find.  Some not forewarned what to expect will find the darkness on hand jarring and unpalatable, while others will welcome it.  In any case, while it’s not up to the level of Braveheart or The Lord of the Rings, Snow White and the Huntsman serves up enough visual splendor, dark fantasy, and action to make it an adequate, if not superlative, diversion for summer moviegoers.