The second of this year’s Snow White-themed releases, “Snow White and the Huntsman,” is a far cry from March’s “Mirror Mirror,” a happy family comedy. “Snow White and the Huntsman” is a decidedly darker, aesthetically richer and more thrilling retelling of the classic tale. Or at least, so it was billed. In reality, “Snow White and the Huntsman” was an underwhelming bit of movie magic.
Valiant efforts coalesced into a mockery of an enchantment, the result so formulaic it’s no wonder that the climax of the film was interrupted by a loud snore from my neighbor. As if having bitten the poison apple, the woman next to me had fallen into a disenchanted slumber.
In “Snow White and the Huntsman,” Kristen Stewart plays Snow White, whose skin is fair as snow, lips red as blood and hair black as night or ravens or probably the Queen’s (Charlize Theron) heart. Perhaps part of the problem lies in the fact that the plot of “Snow White” is so deeply ingrained in the American psyche that no attempt to make it fresh resonates. Going into the theatre, we know the basic structure of what we’re about to see — beautiful girl suffers under the iron fist of a vain and power-hungry queen, beautiful girl escapes, beautiful girl is hunted for her beauty, beautiful girl makes friends with creatures of all shapes, sizes and species, beautiful girl must confront her pursuer. Expect a poison apple, expect dwarves, expect a touch of romance — because what’s a fairytale without a little love? — and expect a happily ever after.
But don’t expect to be surprised. Try as “Snow White and the Huntsman” might to bring something new to the fairytale, it fails. In a futile attempt to add depth to its characters, the film attributes a slew of backstories to its central characters — we learn of Snow White’s parents, the Evil Queen Ravenna’s origins and even get treated to an anecdote of the Huntsman’s (Chris Hemsworth) deceased wife. Yet none of these stories incite more than a faint stir of the heart in the viewer. It’s hard to care about Snow White’s dearly departed daddy when even the princess herself can’t seem to feel very much about it. Stewart’s inability to emote is frustrating enough but what aggravates the situation is the fact that every character seems hell-bent on convincing the viewer he or she needs to love her.
There are numerous exasperating references to Stewart as the “destined one” and when the dwarves swear fierce allegiance to her inexpressive majesty — “Wherever she leads, I’ll follow.” — one almost sighs. Yet even that response seems like an extravagance to pay on the film.
This is not to say the movie is irrevocably unsalvageable. Theron’s recent role as the dethroned high school queen bee Mavis Gary from “Young Adult” showed her as an vain alcoholic. In a few ways, Queen Ravenna is similar: She’s an actual queen who never grew out of her troubled past and she’s insatiable but her wine of choice is unadulterated and unquestionable power. For all of her heinousness, Theron as the Queen might be the film’s saving grace.
She embodies her backstory more than any other character, using it to flesh out a Queen that, in spite of her unforgivable malevolence, is sympathetic in a way that no other character is, least of all Snow White. When the Queen lashes out in anger, her fury and fear is almost palpable. Theron makes every twitch of the lips and sustained red-eyed glare cringe-worthy. A particularly gruesome scene of her writhing as an oily mess upon her chamber floor sends chills through the audience.
Another notable performance is that of Chris Hemsworth, whose recent role as Thor in “The Avengers” thrilled audiences. Hemsworth plays the titular Huntsman with a swaggering bravado that serves to mask the pain of a man who has lost the light of his life.
Yet even the Huntsman’s purity is undermined by Stewart’s insidious, lackluster performance. She is the consummate damsel in distress to Hemsworth’s portrayal of the burly protector. But rather than have the match be endearing, there is a lack of chemistry between the two that makes for incredulous viewers. Time and again we are left wondering why in the world the downtrodden victims of the Queen’s malice are so fiercely attached to this uninspiring heroine. What are we missing?
The truth is, not much. “Snow White and the Huntsman” offers a poor retelling of the classic fairytale; you’re better off reimagining the classic story in your own mind and maybe swearing off fairytale rehashes entirely. Take a cue from my neighbor, and sleep on it.
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