In recent years, Hollywood has been searching far and wide for stories to update and turn into blockbusters. They take a classic, cast some big names, add a bit more action, darken a few of the themes and release it on the world–with mixed results. This time, the story turned film, “Snow White and the Huntsman,” is quite an attractively produced adventure. Any weaknesses of the film are not so much in what filmmakers updated but in what they seem to have forgot to strengthen.
The very basic story is what you might remember. Snow White, a docile but sympathetic Kristen Stewart, is a beautiful princess with skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood and hair as black as a raven’s feathers. Her mother dies when she is young and her father marries another woman. We all know to be wary of stepmothers and Snow White’s new one, played by a sharp Charlize Theron, is quite the wicked iteration. The Queen, named Ravenna, sucks the youth out of maidens to keep herself lovely and to maintain her magical powers. When Snow White comes of age, Ravenna decides to take her heart in order to gain immortality. But before she can the princess manages to escape to the Dark Forest. Enter the Huntsman, an endearingly gruff and muddy Chris Hemsworth, to whom the Queen promises the return of his dead wife in exchange for Snow White.
This is where the fairy tale backbone and the semi-realistic veneer the filmmakers have built begin to clash. In the world of Snow White one sees a recognizably Medieval kingdom, filled with knights in armor and castles that belong in history books. But the characters seem meant only to slot nicely into the roles dictated to them by the fairy stories. Talking with the Huntsman about her role as the savior of her people, Snow White says something like “They need more than a name. How will I become a leader of men?” And that, unfortunately, is a question I was asking as well. Destiny is in control in this world and, while it’s nice to know that the princess is the chosen one, this takes away a bit of the suspense and excitement. We already know how this is going to end.
Stewart is believable in her role of an innocent; she’s even quite sweet in her moments of curiosity. She also does a good job of balancing her appearance of youth with a hint of inner strength. But her character seems to be a figurehead rather than a true leader. Therefore she seems to be biting off more than she can chew when it comes to leading soldiers into battle.
Snow White simply doesn’t strike me as a fighter; she is still the fairy tale princess of the old stories. The characters who receive the most depth from additional backstory are the Huntsman and Ravenna. Both of them benefit greatly from this, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t supposed to be more interesting than the alleged protagonist. The dwarves–all of them pretty well-cast– and the loyal William (Sam Claflin), as well as the magical creatures we encounter, do however ensure that we always have someone to keep our interest.
The filmmakers spend three quarters of the movie telling the audience that Snow White is the healing force that the land needs so desperately. But because the audience is not privy to all that Snow White apparently knows about the Queen, her final confrontation with Ravenna does not include much pay-off relating to Snow White’s supposed power. Our only understanding of Snow White’s motivation in the end game is that she simply wants to stop Ravenna from causing any more pain to the people she cares about. I can buy this but it felt a bit too amorphous for my taste.
So in the last act of the film I cared more about where the characters were going emotionally than whether Snow White was going to win back her nation. I guess that technically means I cared about how the story ended, but it made the climactic fight less than climactic for me. This film is beautiful–the production value and costumes are stupendous–but it’s still just a fast-paced fairy tale. There’s nothing very new here, but the original story is good enough that it can hold together pretty well on its own.