Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
Let me tell you a story…
It’s a story about a young princess named Snow White (Kristen Stewart). After her mother dies, her father is called to wage war against a mysterious dark army. After defeating the army, he frees a beautiful woman, Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who was their prisoner. He’s so enchanted by her that the next day he makes her his queen. Little does he know this will be his undoing.
His new queen turns out to be an evil sorceress hell-bent on taking control of his kingdom with her dark army. First, she kills the king, then has the royal guard murdered. Snow White’s closest friend William, son of Duke Hammond, barely escapes with his father. Snow White is imprisoned in the tallest tower for many years, watching with dismay as the queen abducts young women from the villages and sucks the youth from them to keep herself an ageless beauty. Outside the castle, everyone assumes Snow is dead.
The kingdom is plunged into darkness. The natural world is poisoned by the Queen’s presence and the land begins to rot.
Until one day…
Snow White breaks free from her prison and escapes into the Dark Forest. The Queen is furious and sends her brother Finn to find someone to hunt her down, and he soon finds himself a huntsman, played by Chris Hemsworth.
But once he meets Snow White, the Huntsman befriends her and together they navigate the dangerous Dark Forest. At one point, they’re accosted by a gang of dwarves. However, once they realize that Snow White is the princess and rightful heir to the throne, they decide to join her and the Huntsman on her quest to find William and the rest of her father’s army.
William hears the news that Snow White is alive, and infiltrates Finn’s guard to find her. Meanwhile, Snow White and her comrades come across a village made up entirely of women who have ritualistically scarred their faces to keep themselves safe from the Queen’s jealousy. They give them shelter. But once night falls, Finn’s guards raze the village and Snow White narrowly escapes.
The dwarves lead Snow White and the Huntsman to the land of the fairies, where a magical white deer gives her its blessing to become queen of the land. Now it’s up to the Princess to lead the army as they take back the kingdom from the evil Queen Ravenna.
As of right now, Snow White and the Huntsman has a 47% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Honestly, I think this is unfair. Because despite my best efforts, I really liked this movie. And don’t think that doesn’t piss me off, because it does. I went in expecting to hate it, and I just can’t. It does too many things right, and what is messes up feels so insignificant in comparison. Really, the most damning thing about this film is a character who isn’t even in it: Bella Swan.
Let’s be clear: Kristen Stewart is not an amazing actor. But she’s also not Bella Swan. She isn’t the simpering, blank-faced wastrel who tainted young adult fiction by romanticizing abusive relationships. But that’s basically how people see her. The Twilight Saga, for good or ill (wait, what am I saying?… entirely for ill) made a huge impact on her career, and when this film came out in 2012, we were all still reeling from it. Twilight Trauma had not yet been fully processed. We needed more time.
The casting of Stewart feels like an attempt to distance her from the vacuous cardboard cutout that is Bella. But the director seems to acknowledge that first, some reparations must be made. Catharsis must be had. So in the first few minutes of the movie, during her escape, she is: imprisoned, attacked, dragged through a sewer, covered in mud, and poisoned with violent hallucinogens. She might as well have come on screen and said, “Hi, I’m Kristen Stewart. I played Bella Swan and I’m really, really sorry. I will now get my ass kicked and then blossom into a strong, independent woman.” But of course, there’s more to this movie than just Snow White.
Charlize Theron plays the Queen. I’ve heard other critics say she was over the top and bizarre. I disagree wholeheartedly. Theron is an amazing actor, and she’s insane as Queen Ravenna. Both insane as a measure of how good her acting is, and insane as in totally nanners. The other Snow White movie of 2012 played the evil queen as a spoiled, trash-talking jerk. She was one-dimensional and boring. But Ravenna…
Queen Ravenna gives the evil queen archetype new depth. She has a troubled backstory which helps us understand her complete hatred of men and the events that brought her to her current obsession with youth. She’s isn’t evil just because they needed a villain. She’s complicated and manipulative, and above all, absolutely bonkers. And speaking of amazing actors…
Have I mentioned yet how many “Oh shit, it’s [famous actor’s name]” moments there are in this film? Including:
“Oh shit, it’s Charlize Theron!”
“Oh shit, it’s Bob Hoskins!”
“Oh shit, it’s Ian McShane!”
“Oh shit, it’s Nick Frost!”
I was surprised at how many actors of normal height were playing the dwarves, Hoskins and Frost among them. But fortunately, simple tricks of editing were all that was needed to make this seamless. Nothing would be more awful than Nick Frost’s head digitally pasted onto a tiny dwarf body.
The film is not without its flaws. The beginning is riddled with several moments where things happen because they need to happen for the story to progress. Snow White happens to grab a nail in the wall to use as a weapon against Finn, which she never noticed before, even though she’s been imprisoned in this room for ten years. She happens to see birds and decides to follow them to safety. Then, she happens to find a horse waiting on the beach for no reason. It gets pretty ridiculous. But once she’s out of the castle, things start to make a lot more sense.
Really, the main issues seem to have been caused by important scenes/dialogue getting cut. For example, Snow White is brought to Fairy Land and stands before a great white stag with tree antlers, and everyone makes a huge deal out of it. The way the scene is shot, the stag is like Aslan. Light pours in from the background, and a choir fills the soundtrack, and then… nothing. The scene ends, and none of this is ever spoken of again. It was only a device to prove that Snow White is Neo. Or Jesus. You’re a princess, Harry.
This movie also has a bizarre tendency to reference other fantasy movies in less than subtle ways. Some are small things, like how Ravenna seems to channel Queen Bavmorda. Others are not so small.
Surprisingly, the other subplot that suffers from the editing is the love story. The Huntsman (we never learn his name) and William have a modest amount of tension about them both being in love with Snow. They both kiss her, but only one breaks the death spell. She doesn’t know who, nor does she seem to care, because she immediately walks straight out into the courtyard to deliver a rousing speech to the troops. No time for romance, I have a bitch to slap! And my honest reaction was… fuck yeah! It’s too often the case in films with female protagonists that the plot will come to standstill because of less important relationship stuff. Luckily, Snow White is too busy saving her kingdom.
After generations of helpless princesses, finally we’re getting somewhere. Even if we’re getting there with Kristen Stewart. Okay, her acting is mediocre. But she’s so present in this story. She frees herself from the castle, she fights the guards, she earns allies, and charges headlong into battle against her captors, all with nary a midriff in sight. There are no scenes where she’s forced to wear any sort of sexy outfit. Amazingly enough, Snow White, the epitome of fairy tale passivity, is unapologetically gender neutral here. And that is just too rare not to respect.
This movie really does get a bad rap. It’s unfortunate that Stewart’s previous association with the Twilight franchise and her scandalous affair with director Rupert Sanders overshadowed the genuine quality of his film. Due to the scandal, the planned sequel is reportedly going forward with a different director. I can only pray the new director, whoever he/she is, allows Snow to continue being a badass.
So, much to my surprise, I highly recommend Snow White and the Huntsman.