I don’t know about “fairest”, but this Snow White was by far the dullest and most disappointing movie I’ve seen all year. It may be difficult to give a new spin to a classic story that everyone already knows, but it’s not enough to simply throw familiar actors, fancy costumes and special effects at it and expect it to be good. In the same way that Charlize Theron’s evil queen sucks the life force out of young women to restore her own beauty, Snow White and the Huntsman leaves behind a grey and lifeless husk where once was a vibrant, timeless fairytale.
Theron’s performance might have been sufficient if she were playing a regular baddie (like a Beverly Hills gold-digger out to seduce and steal a rich man’s fortune) but she lacks the kind of sinful pleasure that a good storybook villain requires. Instead of enjoying how cruel and mean she can be, she seems constantly angry and yells virtually every line she has (which isn’t many, since this script is pretty short on juicy dialogue). Unfortunately, since this version of the tale is meant to be more “realistic”, it is important to understand more of her character’s motivations. We understand that she wants power because she was deprived of power, and she’s got an Amazonian level of man-hate, but she’s comes across more like the human embodiment of spite rather than an actual person with motives, plots, and schemes.
One of the changes in this adaptation that I found interesting (though they kind of squandered it) was a very plausible reason why evil queen Ravenna was so consumed by the question of who’s fairest. I mean, did it really seem to make sense before that the queen was so murderously vain that she would kill Snow White just to be the top beauty? In this version, the idea of being “fairest” is tied to the spell that gave Ravenna her immortality: “By fairest blood was it done, and only by fairest blood can it be undone.” So, whoever is the fairest, her blood can destroy Ravenna. Cool, right? It’s not just a parable about the vanity of women after all. Unfortunately, when they finally get to the part where the queen is defeated, it’s not done in a very magical or spectacular way. It’s actually quite a letdown.
As for the visuals and the special effects, most of them are around the queen and her magic (although there’s some inexplicably trippy scenes in the forest for the other characters as well). She’s got some fancy, cool outfits — all spangly and gold — but she’s also got some interesting spells. My favourite is when she’s being attacked: she shatters the black glass on the ceiling and sends it crashing down on her attackers. Then, on the ground, the shards whirl around into dragon-like creatures made of broken glass and go after the assailants. If you’ve seen the movie trailer, you’ve also seen how the spirit of the mirror comes out of it and looks like a figure made of poured gold. That isn’t a bad effect, but then there’s also a ridiculous scene where Ravenna rises out of a pool of white (which I assume is supposed to be milk) but looks more like she’s covered in liquid paper. Hilariously there’s another scene where the milk runs out of a spigot that pours out where the peasants catch it in baskets. She comments on how generous this makes her. I don’t know which is more pathetic: her delusions of generosity, or that peasants are eager to take home to their children milk that the queen has bathed in then sent down the drain. That is one of the many scenes which seem laughable.
Kristen Stewart (Bella from the Twilight films) plays Snow White in her usual charmless manner. She has virtually no chemistry with any other characters: not the dwarves, not her childhood friend William the duke’s son, and especially not with the huntsman (played by Chris Hemsworth, last seen swinging a hammer rather than an axe as the mighty Thor in Avengers). There is a painful scene near the climax of the movie when Snow White has to rally the troops to fight Ravenna, and it was so unmotivating that I felt like throwing fruit at her to get her off the stage.
Unfortunately, the huntsman character is no better. Hemsworth is getting a bit typecast as the handsome big lug, but maybe he’s not capable of much more. His character in this movie is supposed to be some kind of down-and-out hero who finds solace from self-inflicted guilt (he couldn’t prevent his beloved wife from being murdered) at the bottom of a bottle. I realize that this backstory is supposed to make him more complex, but it’s such a cliche that it ends up making him boring instead. I don’t know why the makers of this film wanted to increase the huntsman’s role so much. I would have thought they would have maybe told the story from his point of view, or given the whole thing a twist (there is a bit of a twist involving the huntsman, but see if you agree with me that it was completely unnecessary and added nothing to the classic version by changing it). When all else fails, story-tellers can usually turn to the dwarves for some much-needed vigour. While there were some well-known (you’ll know them if you see them) faces among the seven digitally-shortened actors playing the dwarves, they didn’t really stand out or have much character (in this regard, Mirror Mirror ran rings around this version).
I’m sure it’s very obvious that I found this movie to be an incredibly boring waste of a nice, hefty budget. I probably don’t need to mention an inscrutable scene where Snow White is greeted by a White Hart and little pixies in the forest; or Ravenna’s brother, the creepy, near-albino, extraneous villain with the page-boy haircut; or the extravagant scene where the good guys race to attack Ravenna on a fleet of horses galloping over the beach. I probably don’t need to mention any of those things to make it clear how off-the-rails this movie went. At a couple of points in the movie, my mind tried to make my thumb press a non-existent remote to fast forward the darned thing. After this adaptation misfire, let’s hope they lay off Snow White for a little while (2.5 out of 5)