Glorying in Glass: A Movie Review of “Snow White and the Huntsman”
Length: 127 minutes
Maturity: PG-13 (for intense themes, scary images, and fantasy violence)
Cast: Kristen Stewart (Snow White), Chris Hemsworth (the Huntsman), Charlize Theron (Ravenna), Sam Claflin (Prince William), Sam Spruell (Finn), Ian McShane (Beith), Bob Hoskins (Muir), Ray Winstone (Gort), Nick Frost (Nion), Eddie Marsan (Duir), Toby Jones (Coll), Johnny Harris (Quert), Brian Gleeson (Gus)
Director: Rupert Sanders
Personal Rating: 2 Stars
Fantasy films are admittedly hard to produce. The real challenge is making them different yet the same as our own world, employing both originality and realism to achieve visual marvels and emotional intensity. Sadly, all too frequently the results of these efforts fall short of the goal. The temptation to splurge on CGI creatures and special effects often proves too powerful to be resisted by the studio geeks, and meantime the story is allowed to fall into a disjointed disarray. This is especially the case when trying to modernize a classic legend or fairy-tale, such as Snow White and the Huntsman.
Once upon a time, in an unidentified yet very scenic kingdom there dwells a beautiful queen who pricks her finger on a rose and seeing the blood against the snow, decides that if her infant daughter has pale skin and red lips, she will name her Snow White. (Yeah, kind of a macabre origin of the name, but anyway…). Such is the case, and little Snow grows up as a happy and mischievous child, spending her days with her best friend Prince William from a neighboring kingdom.
Unfortunately for all, things take a turn for the worse when Snow’s mother dies and her father becomes enraptured by a mysterious yet dazzling woman named Ravenna captured in battle after smashing her army of glass soldiers…yeah, it’s a rather complex relationship. Anyway, before you can say “really bad move”, the king marries her, and is subsequently stabbed by her on their marriage night! Then, lickety-split, she takes over his kingdom, wipes out most of the inhabitants, and imprisons his young daughter in a high tower where she will be left to rot. Or at least that was the original plan…
Time passes, and Ravenna learns how to use her dark powers to preserve her beauty by sucking the life out of beautiful young women via their breath, or else forcing them to disfigure their faces. Yeah, totally charming lady. But when Snow White has blossomed into a beautiful young woman, Ravenna’s magic mirror informs her that Snow is actually fairest in the land, and the Queen, clearly rather touchy about being top notch in the looks department, orders that the girl’s heart to be cut out. But Snow manages to escape her tower prison and takes shelter in the woods. Ravenna is not about to let her escape, and sends a disgruntled huntsman to track her down. But instead, he befriends the runaway and teaches her to defend herself.
Snow and the Huntsman also make pals with a bunch of Cockney dwarves (kind of akin to the incongruently Cockney stow-away on the ark in Noah) who realize Snow White is destined to fulfill a prophecy to save the kingdom and agree to help her on her quest. Meanwhile, in another part of town, a grown Prince William is trying to make his mark on society by becoming a Robin-Hood-esque figure, shooting arrows in the forest garbed in a super-cool hooded cloak and harassing Ravenna’s henchmen. Ultimately, he and Snow and Co. meet up…only to face an interesting hurdle in the form of the shape-shifting Ravenna who disguises herself as William and entices Snow White to eat a poisoned apple! (Sound vaguely familiar now?) But never fear…Huntsman’s here! Oh, what a smooch can do…
Snow White and the Huntsman could have been much better than it was. But sadly, it was lack-luster on multiple levels, mainly because the methodology of the whole production was off-base. If given another title, maybe it would have a better chance of developing its own sense of identity as a motion picture, but it just wasn’t Snow White, and the fact that it kept trying to be something it wasn’t prevented it from becoming something it actually could have been. Thematically, I do understand that the Brothers Grimm were pretty true to their names, so perhaps this variant is closer to the original dark mood as opposed to the Disney cartoon. But almost the entire tale is altered beyond recognition, with token fill-in characters popping up in order to maintain the title. At the same time, the plot did not feel original, but more of a randomized alphabet soup of other films and stories, including The Chronicles Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, Joan of Arc, The Hunger Games, etc. etc.
The acting was so-so, with telegraphed dialogue running throughout. Kristen Stewart is not my favorite actress by a long shot, and along with Kiera Knightly, carries a modern attitude into all the period pieces she embarks on. Also, the monsters and special effects were pretty silly. Like, the rock-monster-thing Snow and the Huntsman battle after getting out of the woods was on a par with the rock-monster-things in Noah…and don’t even get me started on those! Also, the glass army seemed like a vain attempt to reproduce the fright of the skeleton army from Jason and the Argonauts and later The Lord of the Rings. It was all a general computer generated hodge-podge.
To make up for that, though, I will admit that the scenery was pretty impressive, as the majority of the picture was shot on location in England. Part of me wonders if perhaps Germany would have been more appropriate given the origins of the original tale, but it had the right feel overall. The costuming was fairly good as well. Also, the music score is quite epic, especially accompanying Snow White’s inspirational speech after returning to life and the grand charge of the knights on horseback.
There were a few innovative visuals, including the way the mirror spills out in a molten liquid and takes the form of a hooded figure when the queen summons it. I also enjoyed the scene with the mystical white stag that blesses Snow White and convinces the dwarves that she is indeed destined to save the kingdom. I found this interesting because in Pagan and Christian mythology, this animal is meant to represent spiritual power, and Catholics particularly identify it with the Eucharist. Notably, Snow White is shown reciting the Lord’s Prayer in her prison cell, and it is emphasized that her purity of heart is the key to overturning evil and fulfilling the prophecy. The Huntsman comments, after her death, that she will no doubt be a queen in Heaven even if she could not be one on earth. For a mainstream fantasy film, these overt Christian references make it unique.
The downfall of Ravenna is based on her false assumption that beauty is the gateway to power and power to a meaningful life. She uses her dark magic to destroy the life of the king and the kingdom and suck the life out of beautiful women because of her own vicious insecurity. As a result she becomes the symbol of death itself, donning herself in dresses decorated with beetle shells and skulls. They symbolize the emptiness that she has allowed to befall her own soul, personified by her army of cold, unfeeling glass. Indeed, she glories in glass, as she derives assurances of her own supremacy from her ego-reflecting mirror…but even that ultimately betrays her vanity and speaks the truth. She thinks that by possessing the heart of Snow White, she will put an end to this threat to her supremacy. But in the end, she cannot conquer the spiritual heart of Snow White nor the love that restores her to life.
Despite these moments of thematic grace, the plot itself was awkwardly constructed, with multitudinous loose ends and concepts that are never properly fleshed out. For example, the love triangle between Snow White, the prince, and the huntsman drags on drearily but is left unresolved by the end of the movie. Also, there is a plot glitch with regards to how the evil queen finally meets her Waterloo. Hasn’t it already been established that she cannot be killed with a knife during whole scene in which the guy tried to stab her, and she just pulled the blade out of herself, unharmed? But then Snow White winds up doing her in using the very same method!
Furthermore, after Snow returns to life, she makes a rousing speech saying that through her death, she has been shown the method by which the queen can be killed, which indicated it was something extra special. Actually, the whole scene reminded me a lot of Gandalf the Grey from The Lord of the Rings, who dies and returns to life as Gandalf the White with enhanced powers to combat the forces of darkness. But there was never any follow-through on the part of Snow, who uses no new methods in overcoming Ravenna. I was half thinking she was going to have to go in search of a super-special sword or something to use as warrior princess, but none of thing ever came into play. I will admit, for all the inconsistency, her hyped-up speech after returning to life was probably the best part of the film.
The depiction of Ravenna herself was too gruesome for my tastes in this portrayal. There were some scenes I just had to fast-forward, like some of the life-sucking sequences, and when she bathes in that oily substance for her really obtuse beauty treatments. I mean, I know she’s supposed to be evil and ghoulish and all, but I think this depiction went over-the-top in its efforts to be visually disturbing and creepy. Also, we must wonder what exactly her relationship is with her brother. I mean it’s obvious he’s as blood-curdling as his sweet sis, but there relationship is…decidedly weird (*cough* Cersei and Jaimie Lannister from Got type weird *cough*). But then again, he does try to make advances on Snow White…maybe he just can’t make up his warped mind?!
Snow White as a Warrior Queen is woefully old hat as a plot twist and uncomfortably out-of-sorts for her character. Joan of Arc imitations are plentiful enough, from Turiel in The Hobbit to Guinevere in the 2004 King Arthur to Marian in the 2010 Robin Hood – as if the only useful things heroic leading ladies can do is wield a sword! Eowyn, Mulan, and Katniss are three femme fatales who manage to do their warrior thing with some originality and style, but after a while the repeat treatment is just trying to push a tired agenda about woman being as good at warfare as men. Frankly, I feel like…let the big tough dudes knock themselves silly in physical combat if they feel the need. As a woman, I don’t really care to compete in that field unless absolutely necessary to defend hearth and home. We can have all the power we could ever want by utilizing our feminine genius and intuition to heal the world through a union of heart and mind.
In short, Snow White and the Huntsman was simply cracked up to be more than it was, although I didn’t hold out much hope for it from the get-go. Instead of taking its place side-by-side beside a quality Tolkien-esque fantasy, the plot had the depth of a low-budget TV movie, and a very convoluted one at that. As with King Arthur, Robin Hood, and Biblical figures, this modern reboot of Snow White was pretty much up a creek without a paddle as soon as it set sail on its maiden voyage. However, it should be noted that there were some rays of light in the darkness, mainly the on-location shooting, music score, and message that true beauty is always found within…and love penetrates all, even the depth of death.