The second film about the fairy tale to premiere in 2012, “Snow White and the Huntsman” feels less like a movie and more like a two-hour-long ad for a fashion house or visual effects studio. All the familiar elements of the story are there, and any changes are uninspired at best. In an environment where most of the audience knows the story, and is, most likely, familiar with the fantasy genre, it is a mistake to simply repackage Disney’s “Snow White” in a darker, more violent setting. What could have been an interesting take on a classic is, in director Rupert Sanders’s hands, merely a visually-stunning summer snore.
If you have ever read the “Snow White” fairy tale, or seen the Disney version from 1937, you know the main plot of “Snow White and the Huntsman.” But the additions to the story – a battle against evil, a witch who eats hearts to stay young, a set of dwarfs who serve as mild comic relief – have all been pulled from other fantasy books or films. The battles have been borrowed from “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Chronicles of Narnia,” the witch is a direct rip-off from Neil Gaiman’s novel “Stardust,” there is a minor character any Studio Ghibli fan will immediately recognize from “Princess Mononoke,” and the medieval-y time period has been done a thousand times over (most recently in the wildly popular “Game of Thrones” series). What additions were made to the storyline were taken from other plots which are well known, so the story feels at every point like an unimaginative hodgepodge. The witch Ravenna, played by Charlize Theron, even has a brother who looks like Max von Sydow’s character from Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” – so not even the character designs are original.
The main premise is immediately laughable: there is no universe where Kristen Stewart (a very pretty young woman) is more gorgeous than Charlize Theron. And the costume designers and makeup artists have done nothing to address the imbalance between the two women, giving Theron elaborate, intimidating gowns featuring bird skulls and luminous, glowing skin, while keeping Stewart’s skin smeared with dirt and her clothes dull and ill-fitting. Theron’s character is more forceful and passionate, flawed but interesting, and her acting can be a little overblown at times, but even in this film she shows how skilled she is. Stewart’s character is timid and weak – hardly the type that could plausibly lead an army – and she relies on the men in the story in a way which is obviously reminiscent of her previous role in the “Twilight” films. Stewart’s acting in “Snow White” is also as dull as it was in that series of films and there are odd moments where she becomes almost a Christ-like figure. The advertisement of the movie was centered around Theron’s character, and, after viewing how much more interesting the scenes with her were, it is a disappointment they did not focus the story on the “evil stepmother.”
The one redeeming quality of the film is the perfectly executed visuals. The mood set by the “Dark Forest” where Snow White first encounters the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, in a well-played but limited role), is perfectly eerie and disorientating, and the design of the “Mirror Man” is jaw-droppingly stunning. After the viewer loses interest in the storyline, the techniques used to depict Ravenna’s magic and the artistic direction of certain scenes still hold an ability to intrigue and awe audience members. The script and story are messes that never achieve success, but the “look” of the film is a creative triumph. However, for a film with the message that looks aren’t everything, the imaginative visuals aren’t enough to rescue it overall.
Essentially, the film has nothing original to say. The main plot is exactly the same as the fairy tale (with very few adjustments), the other elements are borrowed directly from more original fantasy stories, and the entire film lacks any semblance of emotional complexity. The film is stylish, and Charlize Theron uses all of her substantial acting gifts to try and create a sense of tension, but even she cannot save this sinking ship. “Snow White and the Huntsman” will be remembered as the fairest movie of them all, with all the advertisement-driven promise of a great summer movie, but an execution that leaves viewers only with an impression of its superficiality.