Director: Rupert Sanders
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Liam Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Sam Claflin, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Sam Sprucell, Ray Winstone
Plot: Snow White (Stewart) is imprisoned by the villainous queen, Ravena (Theron), intent on escaping. Meanwhile, Ravena decides taking Snow’s heart could make her eternally young.
Snow White is crying out for a dark re-telling. There is money to be made in these Disney remakes, especially the ones derived from dark Grimm tales. For one, a lot of the stereotypes are outdated. Snow White’s Disney incarnation is a bit of a wet sponge of a character, a shining pillar of nature and kindness, but hardly the role model young women should embody. The story is quite an important one, with key morals and fairy tale staples to carry on to even more generations. It seems silly to not retell the story with some of the finest modern actors, taking it away from its animated background and giving us a new version to embrace in the 21st century. That film is Snow White and the Huntsman. It doesn’t even need a particularly renewed script, able to copy and paste the original story, tighten up some the characters (especially Snow White and Prince Charming), and add some modern CGI. This makes it even more painful that Rupert Sanders’ effort seems to be making it up as it goes along.
The big draw seems to be the replacement of the Dwarves with the Huntsman in the title. True, the dwarves still make an appearance, some of Britain’s finest actors taking the chance to embody the roles, but they are cut to an afterthought. If it wasn’t for the actors playing them, each dwarf would be interchangeable with the next. They almost become cameos in the film, as if Sanders feels obligated to mention them, even if he doesn’t really want to. The problem I have with this notion is not the lack of dwarves. If Sanders feels the story will work better with less of them, that is his own call to make. My issue is that Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman never feels like a worthy replacement. He is such a small character in the animated version that his appearance in the title attracts attention. How has Sanders changed the fairy tale to give Hemsworth lead privileges. Other than the fact, the Huntsman is Chris Hemsworth, the decision is not clear. Hemsworth isn’t so much an exploration of the character (a desperate servant of the Queen, fascinated by Snow White’s beauty to the point he sacrifices everything for her), as a forceful effort to add Chris Hemsworth to the movie. He is asked to play Thor again, during his drunken rebellious phase, only this time with a questionable Scottish accent. His character strikes of the same reluctant hero we have seen in many other movies, dragged kicking and screaming into a war, only more awkward because he has to play second banana to Snow White. Certain moments scream clumsily squeezing into a spare space in the script, as the Huntsman sucks up traits from Prince Charming and the dwarves. His role steals from the dwarves and Claflin’s Prince Charming who don’t do bad jobs, but Hemsworth is always casting their characters in shadow. He steals the male eye candy job, serving as a mentor, love interest and unlikely ally, essentially becoming a Sparks Note version of the fairy tale itself. Aside from the accent, Hemsworth isn’t painful to watch, although he seems trapped in an unworthy character, hitting character beats he covered in other movies and never really flexing any acting muscle he hasn’t over-worked before.
Charlize Theron is also a mixed bag. I love the casting choice and appreciate that most of the early parts of the film focuses on her villain. Disney films do villains better than any other company, so it feels right that Sanders first port of call is making sure that Ravena is a memorable, nasty piece of work. Obsessed with youth, mistrusting of men and prepared to murder innocent townsfolk for her own cosmetic needs, she is just as interesting a monster as Walt Disney’s interpretation. The script also cleverly plays with the original text, one scene suggesting that the magic mirror is all in Ravena’s head, which makes her whole evil scheme deliciously pointless. It makes her all the more gripping a nemesis for Snow White to have. However, there is a director problem here. Theron is asked to overact every part of the character. While, Theron does her best to keep her take on the villain the focus of the show (and it probably still is the thing worth tuning in for), beats feel totally false. Sure, certain moments allow for a bit of hamminess from your lead villain, a gripping showdown in the throne room and one moment that sees her break down at the loss of her prisoner, but when every scene she is in involves screaming and bulging of the eyes, we get tired of this interesting villain very quickly. It is one of the more frustrating parts of the film, because one director’s decision pretty much mutes most of the unique selling point of the picture. Theron is probably looking at the final edit, burying her head in her hands in shame.
And then there is Snow White. The irony is that she gets drowned out of her own movie. Sanders is so fascinated with the supporting cast, breaking down the villain, adding to the Huntsman, that he almost forgets that Snow White needs some remastering too. People have criticised Kristen Stewart for turning Snow White into Twilight’s Bella all over again, but in fairness to the actress, she isn’t given enough time to do anything else. She is strangely muted for the first half of the film, a child actor summarising the origin story and Stewart’s first appearance being a prolonged prison breakout and chase scene that sees her speak very little or develop her character, beyond a simpering Disney princess. The Bella frown is the most logical way to add depth to scenes that almost refuse to try out characterisation. It is nice to see Sanders put some armour and a sword in her hand for the finale, proving that princesses still kick ass in this day and age, but as a character, Snow White is very bland. It is a shame, because without that central core, it makes Ravena’s over-direction and Hemsworth’s clumsiness feel like stray ideas, rather than the working cogs of a clever remake. I have yet to see the sequel, but if it is as messy as this film, I doubt it will be up to much.
Final Verdict: A few nice ideas, including an exploration of the villain, are ruined by poor choices and reckless script directions.