Once upon a time, there was a story about a princess who cried for mercy and a huntsman who granted it. In 2012, women can’t be that passive because truthfully they never were, but this revision of the Snow White tale asks you to believe in an evil queen and black magic, as well helpless fairies and a Christian God. Director Rupert Sanders’ movie is visually stunning while the screenplay is emotionally stunted. Like Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” logic is a stranger here.
If you read the original Grimm tale, it’s easy to see why some kind of change was necessary. Snow White wasn’t the brightest candle burning in the forest. She was like a poster child for a “Don’t talk to strangers” or “Don’t let strangers in your house” campaign. In the original story her stepmother disguises herself and attempts to kill Snow White three times. Granted, Snow White is a child left in the woods by the huntsman who kills a wild boar and returns with that heart so the queen can salt and roast it, and she’s working as a housekeeper for seven dwarves because there are no female dwarves. But you’d think she’d learn the basic lessons: Strangers are bad news.
This movie gives us a superficial meditation on beauty and youth. Writers Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini showed promise here, but that psychological content is quickly shrugged off. The stepmother and evil queen has learned that men easily dispose of women when they get too old. That’s a lesson that hits hard in America’s youth-obsessed culture where women live well beyond the medieval expiration date. In the fairy tale, Snow White is 7 when her beauty surpasses her stepmother’s. Doesn’t that speak of pedophilia until you recall that Juliet was being married off (but not to Romeo) when she was 13.
In the movie, the stepmother is called Ravenna, although it might have made more sense to call her Ivana or Marla. It would be easier to hate the king or at least Ravenna’s first husband if he had a funny swept over ‘do, but let’s get back to the movie as is. Guided by her mother who casts a spell, the stepmother is forever young. She tricks the widowed father of Snow White, King Magnus (Noah Huntley), into saving her from a dark army of CGI glass soldiers. He’s bewitched (and much older). They marry, but their wedded bliss is even briefer than Britney Spears married life with her first husband, Jason Alexander, even though the king’s pad is a CGI marvel of turrets and twisted paths that could be the medieval equivalent of a high-rise beach property.
The movie never explains why Ravenna (Charlize Therson), having killed Snow White’s father on the very day they married, before they even consummated their marriage, didn’t take a long pointed dagger and do away with Snow White. Hasn’t she read from the monarchy chronicles of Richard III? Instead, like Elizabeth the Virgin Queen who pondered the conundrum of killing a queen and the logic behind the right to rule, Ravenna keeps Snow White locked away in the North Tower until the day when her magic mirror whose spirit melts from the golden bronze mirror and reforms as a faceless golden entity when he informs her that Snow White is officially prettier than her. This Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is most definitely over the age of 7, perhaps triple that age.
Ouch. Consider how much trouble Ravenna is going through to keep young. Instead of plastic surgery, she has to find young fair maidens and magically drain their youth as well as bathing in what looks like milk. Don’t worry. That milk doesn’t go to waste. She gives it with her exfoliated royal DNA and dirt to the masses to drink before spilling it on the streets.
During this time, the lovely Snow White has had time to learn about pants (because she wears them under her long dress), kept up her stamina by running in place, trained with the sword and worked on her horsemanship. We don’t see that, but we know it must be true because when she fools her uncle, Finn (Sam Spruell), the queen’s brother who sports a platinum blonde pageboy that makes him look like a major fashion faux pas (time to change that ‘do that did well by you when you were 10), Snow White runs up and down stairs (without getting winded or tripping on her long skirts), slides through the sewer drainage hole into the sewer and jumps out into the crashing waves (and can swim with those really heavy skirts that should be called drag-and-drown when wet) and miraculously finds a white horse. I’m pretty sure that the screenwriters have never run around in long skirts or at least are assuming you never have either.
With great confidence, Snow White mounts the horse, which had been lying down in the sand, and races off into the Dark Forest. The white horse which was I guess brought out for Snow White by the fairies can’t expect the fairies to save it because it sinks into the muck. Snow White doesn’t attempt to save it. No heroics there and she doesn’t even bother to say a Christian prayer. Wait, you say…why would she? This is a tale of dark magic, witches and fairies.
Snow White had learned the Lord’s Prayer while in the North Tower and was dutifully reciting it before she wounded her creepy step-uncle Finn (Is this name a snarky swipe at Glee?). Are you worried this is going to become a God-guided against pagan tale? Don’t worry. I think the Christian-theme was just to show us that Snow White was pure and good and so we could associate her with Joan of Arc. Don’t worry about that thing about stakes and fire. That doesn’t happen here. We need a happy ending after all–at least for Snow White and her prince.
In the Dark Forest, Ravenna’s magic fails. We’re never told why because there seems to be nothing magical in the Dark Forest and not even the kind of vermin you’d expect in any forest, even one that looks as if it was burned to the ground just yesterday. The best thing in the Dark Forest is a troll which Snow White defeats by being a brave girl. She doesn’t even have to supplicate God because we’ve already forgotten about Christ and Christianity at that point.
If you’re wondering about that Huntsman and the prince, we’ve already seen the prince. He’s William (Sam Claflin who played Philip Swift in “On Stranger Tides”), the son of Snow White’s father’s loyal lord, Duke Hammond (Vincent Regan). William and Snow White were friends and William escaped with his father after Ravenna murdered the king while Snow White did not. The script doesn’t give William much to do although he infiltrates Finn’s band because Finn’s not bright enough to know what the son of his sister’s biggest enemy looks like. If Clafin was the religious one in the pirate movie, he’s given much less to work with here. Look longingly at Snow White. Be a prince charming despite your scruffy look.
It works just about as well as those quick cut edits and shaky camera to give us exciting action. But what are we to think because there is that huntsman played by the Avenger’s Thor, Chris Hemsworth, and the film is about Snow White and the Huntsman not her prince.
The huntsman, Eric, has a back story. His wife was killed and his depression has made him the town drunk, but he’s still a hunky man and he knows the Dark Forest (and its hallucinogenic properties realized in creepy crawling CGI). Ravenna makes a deal with Eric: Find Snow White and bring her back alive and Ravenna will raise his wife from the dead. This could go wrong if you’re expecting a zombie movie and that might have been more fun.
Of course, you know that Eric will find Snow White. He’ll change his mind and they will bump into the dwarves. There is a lovely land where the fairies live but the fairies don’t have the kind of magic to help the dwarves or Snow White against the evil Ravenna. Even the magnificent glowing stag that appears and blesses Snow White seems powerless, although he certainly knows how to make an exit (I won’t spoil that CGI surprise for you here). Where is Aslan when you need him?
The queen will die, but not before that she gets to change into a number of lovely, detailed costumes. Snow White, courtesy of the Huntsman’s practicality, has her skirts cut in the Dark Forest and trudges around most of the movie dressed in a modernesque short dress over tight pants. She does get her Joan of Arc moment, leading a charge into the castle in armor and then seeking out the queen. The happy ending requires that Snow White kill the evil queen and return Ravenna to her true form–an old woman. Who loves an old woman? No one (especially in Hollywood). I guess that kind of ending is better than having a woman dance in red hot iron shoes. Just what did that meaningful glance between Snow White and the Huntsman signify? You’ll have to wait for the sequel to find out. If you’re waiting for a logical explanation, you might have to wait longer.