“Snow White and the Huntsman” (2012) Review

Snow White and the Huntsman has been regarded both in its marketing materials and by critics as “Snow White with a twist”. She’s been updated for today’s audiences and tries to reach out to a whole new generation. I guess that sounds appealing in theory. After all, Snow White has appeared in nearly 100 films and television programs since 1913 and counting this film, the classic Brothers Grimm story has been adapted four times in 2012 alone. Not to mention, Snow White is currently a prominent character on the ABC show Once Upon a Time and continues to appear in countless subsidiary media, such as books, games, and of course the infamous ride at Disneyland based on the 1937 animated film, where you can subject your child to three straight minutes of ambush by creepy witch puppets!

You know, for kids!

Films like Snow White and the Huntsman need to distinguish themselves among the sea of existing Snow White media texts and be edgy and different. How do we do that in Hollywood today? You guessed it – a gritty reboot! This film is certainly a much darker retelling of the story than most other films, complete with death, blood, torture, and poverty. It’s close to the original Grimm tale in tone, but with some obvious content omissions, such as at the end of the story where the evil Queen is reprimanded for her actions by being forced to wear red hot iron shoes and dance until she dies.

You know, for kids!

Where this film makes the biggest strides according to the reviews I’ve read is this new-found notion of “girl power” in Snow White. The damsel in distress is yesterday’s news. The charming Prince, who swoops in at the last minute and fixes everything, is obsolete. We’re looking at a new and improved Snow White, who calls her own shots, fights her own battles, and relies on no man, paving the way for theatres full of young girls to follow suit.

As a film, Snow White and the Huntsman is watchable. It’s certainly nice to look at, with expansive environments and impressive visual effects. The cast is also composed of beautiful people such as Charlize Theron as the wicked Queen Ravenna, Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman, and Kristen Stewart as Snow White. But its beauty is only skin deep. The film severely lacks substance in everything from its characters to its themes to even its promotion of the strong, independent woman it’s received so much recognition for.

The characters are generally bland and the acting does little to improve the situation. Stewart, who has become the butt of all “bad acting” jokes since Twilight, stays true to form in this film. Theron is certainly more lively as Ravenna, but I found her delivery to be very forced. She overacts throughout the whole film and I got the impression that she was simply trying too hard to be menacing. Hemsworth, who was clearly inspired by Jude Law’s 2004 career because he is now in EVERYTHING, probably delivers the strongest performance. As the film’s title implies, the Huntsman’s role is really beefed up from earlier adaptations, so there is a certain enjoyment to rediscovering a character we previously knew so little about. The “Prince”-figure in this film is a nobleman named William (Sam Claflin), who is Snow White’s childhood friend. He’s naturally stripped of all importance, but of course there’s still an awkward love triangle involving him, Snow White, the Huntsman because God forbid any woman should have to choose between Chris Hemsworth and this James Franco lookalike.

I’m personally on Team Huntsman.

The bigger issue, however, is character development. Long story short – there isn’t any. Snow White and the Huntsman is a highly plot-driven film and the protagonists are more or less just there to react to what’s happening around them. Sure, they’re all suffering at the beginning, but it’s because they’re victims of Ravenna’s oppressive regime, not due to any particular flaw in themselves. As a result, their actions in the film feel like they’re simply going through the motions rather than growing and developing as characters. There are no inner struggles, no challenges, no “one rule” they have to break in order to triumph over the villain, and in the end there is no learning, making it incredibly difficult for me to care.

The theme of “fairness” is very prominent in the film as it should be in any Snow White adaptation. All conflict stems from the desire to be the fairest in the land. But for such an important and established theme, the film does a poor job of explaining exactly what it means to be fair. It can’t be based on vanity because there is no universe in which Kristen Stewart is more attractive than Charlize Theron. The Magic Mirror tells Ravenna that it is Snow White’s innocence and purity that will be the undoing of the Queen, but I also have a hard time believing that. Over the course of the film, Snow White is imprisoned, seduced, has an axe held to her throat, watches a horse drown, watches loved ones die, threatens, mains, and even kills. You applaud her bravery and resourcefulness, but in film’s quest to “toughen up” Snow White’s image, they kind of missed the point of the character. She’s supposed to be the epitome of innocence and uncompromisable goodness. She’s supposed to be morally pure even if it renders her naive at times. This is what makes her so fair. Otherwise, John Rambo would be fairest in the land.

“Mirruh! Mirruh! On de WAWLL!”

I would hardly call Snow White and the Hunstman an empowering film either. The girl power message it tries to deliver is shallow and contradictory solely because the movie doesn’t explain what it means to be a powerful woman. The insignificance of the charming Prince and the countless promotional materials that feature Snow White clad in armour certainly imply that she no longer needs a man to protect and save her. Alright! Girl power! But wait, Ravenna doesn’t need a man either. In fact, she states several times in the film how men are just idiotic leeches that get in her way. This is presented as a major flaw in her character for she ends up completely alienating herself from everyone around her and it ultimately leads to her demise. So I guess that doesn’t work. Oh, I got! There’s a scene in the movie where Snow White and the Huntsman stumble upon a village populated entirely by women, who have mutilated themselves so not to be preyed upon by Ravenna for their beauty. They sacrifice their own vanity to ensure their continued survival and independence. Yeah, there it is! Making sacrifices for your own freedom. Girl power! Effin A! Oh, hold on. The villagers explain how all of their husbands are at war and that they live in a continual state of desperate vulnerability, which is almost immediately demonstrated when Ravenna’s army attacks the village and the whole thing burns down in five minutes. Crud, I’m back at square one again…

Snow White and the Huntsman isn’t intended for the young, impressionable girls it claims to reach out to. When I went to see it in the theatre, the audience comprised mostly of older – largely middle-aged – women. I’ll do my best to avoid inductive fallacy, but if this is indicative of the film’s larger audience, it’s very telling as to why this movie exists. This isn’t the audience segment that is meant to identify with Snow White and be inspired by her journey. These are the Twilight Moms, who need something to pacify them until next November. They whoop at Chris Hemsworth’s body and glare at Charlize Theron with envy. Nothing wrong with that, but it exposes the film for what it truly is – eye candy. This would explain why it often feels like little thought was put into anything outside of how the film looked. What you see is exactly what you get.

I give it 2.5/5.

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