Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
“The Fairytale is Over”
Director: Rupert Sanders
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron
Synopsis: In a twist to the fairy tale, the Huntsman ordered to take Snow White into the woods to be killed winds up becoming her protector and mentor in a quest to vanquish the Evil Queen.
First-time feature director Rupert Sanders’ update of the Snow White fairy tale is one of a crop of modern movies that have plundered the works of the Brothers Grimm, and is probably no more successful than the others in recreating that brooding atmosphere of terror for which the Brothers’ works are noted. The tone is dark, with much of the story filmed in de-saturated colours that reflect the grimness of the medieval era in which the story is set, but it fails to grip its audience in the way that the Brothers’ fairy tales could hold us in their spell. While most of the components of the fairy tale are there — the magic mirror, the poisoned apple, and even a bonus dwarf (eight instead of seven when Snow White first meets them) — the makers felt the need to make certain changes, so that the Huntsman, a minor character in the original story, becomes a hunky hero and romantic interest for the heroine in the form of Chris (Thor) Hemsworth.
The story remains true to the original in the opening scenes, with the young Snow White’s father marrying Ravenna (Charlize Theron), a beautiful but wicked woman, shortly after the death of Snow White’s mother. Ravenna quickly murders the King and imprisons Snow White in a tower. Years later, Snow White (Kristen Stewart), now fully grown, escapes from her prison just as Ravenna is about to use her heart to ensure her everlasting beauty (instead of having to go through the tiresome routine of sucking the breath from understandably unwilling virginal maidens) and flees into the Dark Forest. Ravenna tasks the Huntsman with the job of going into the forbidden forest to retrieve the girl, which he quickly does, but his allegiance shifts when Ravenna’s brother Finn (Sam Spruell) rather stupidly reveals that she has no intention of resurrecting the Huntsman’s dead wife as a reward. Snow White and the Huntsman make their escape with Finn and his men in hot pursuit, and it’s during their flight that they come across the dwarves.
At more than 2 hours, Snow White and the Huntsman’s running time is way too long, so that around the ninety minute mark even the most patient of viewers will start growing restless. It wouldn’t have been difficult for Sanders to tighten things up, but he seems to lack the discipline to do so, and allows long stretches in which little of importance happens to disrupt the pacing of the movie. It’s a shame, because the opening half-hour or so shows promise. The fact that the producers decided to go for a 12A rating also prevents the movie from being as dark as it could — and should, given the movie’s tagline ‘The Fairy Tale is Over’ — have been. It flirts with the darkness every now and then, but never really dives in, leaving the majority of its adult audience dissatisfied.
The highlight of the movie is undoubtedly Charlize Theron as Snow White’s wicked stepmother. Her beauty truly is staggering — she even looks good when the virginal maidens’ rejuvenating qualities are starting to wane — and the juxtaposition of evil and beauty is compelling. Theron may chew the scenery at times, but that’s how it should be in a fantastical story in which witches and dwarves dwell. By contrast, Kristen Stewart is pretty insipid as Snow White. She might have a healthy fan base thanks to the Twilight series, but I can’t help feeling their support will fall away pretty quickly now that she has to rely on the quality of her performances rather than the in-built attraction of the movie franchise for which she’s known. Frankly, she clearly lacks the star power necessary to maintain movie star status, and the best she can hope for five or ten years from now is supporting roles.
The other notable aspect of Snow White and the Huntsman is the use of recognisable, full-size actors to play the dwarves, a trick made possible by digital wizardly which enables the makers to draft the actors’ faces onto real midget’s bodies. This practice may or may not be questionable; some have argued that real midgets could have been used, and I suppose they have a point, but that’s like complaining about animated movies which deprive human actors of work. It’s a novelty, and it’s quite amusing for a few minutes before you forget that the faces that are speaking belong to regular height actors. It at least adds something different to an otherwise disappointing movie that fails to achieve any momentum no matter how hard it tries.