Snow White is my favourite Disney film of all time (well, at least over the span of my life thus far). As a child, I loved watching the evil witch. I was drawn to her coldness, her wardrobe, and the transformation from young to old while surrounded by crows. As you can imagine, I was fairly excited to see Snow White and the Huntsman and its dark twist on the Disney version I knew so well. Although the film was not disappointing, it was not fantastic either.
While walking into the cinema, I was conflicted. Charlize Theron cannot be compared to Kristen Stewart in any way-- in fact, it is insulting to even attempt to compare the two. With that said, it was difficult to acknowledge that Stewart rivaled Theron in terms of being “the fairest of them all.” The tension in the film arises from their relationship and as director Rupert Sanders sets up a contrast between the pure Snow White and the evil witch, it soon becomes evident that Theron, Queen Ravenna, is the more interesting of the two. Theron does something very interesting with her character, establishing that the evil nature of the queen stems from a violent past that develops into madness rather than simply presenting the queen as innately evil. We notice that she speaks to an image of a robed man who escapes from the mirror and stands before her to answer her questions. However, this little piece of information is only granted to the audience. The man in the mirror is not visible to any other character; they simply see a mad woman speaking to her reflection. We get glimpses into the queen’s past, and we see that her cruelty results from a traumatic childhood and a spell cast by her mother. From this violent past, she adopts her mother’s mindset that confuses youthful beauty and power. I was intrigued by these snippets of a younger Ravenna that hinted towards a more indulgent story, one that does not simply set up a stark contrast between good and evil, but one that looks at human nature and even entices the audience to sympathize with the queen. Theron does not base the character on the stereotypical evil queen from the fairy tale genre, but seems to be more focused on the psychology of the character. However, she walks the very fine line between dramatic and comical. The intensity with which she plays the character borders on the melodramatic, and if played by a less experienced actor, would not have seemed genuine. Theron was the strongest part of the film.
There were a few plot choices that did not work for the film as a whole. The film tried to be something it was not, setting up the conventional tale of Snow White and immersing it in the Lord of the Rings, Beauty and the Beast, and The Three Billy Goats Gruff. In other words, it was working with an amalgam of fairy tales and fantastical stories (Snow White being the dominant one), and consequently, in trying to do too much, accomplished very little. If Snow White and the Huntsman had been written out as a fairy tale, I would have been more inclined to accept that things simply magically appeared when needed, such as the scene in which Snow White escapes Ravenna’s castle and suddenly encounters a white horse who is sitting in the woods waiting for her. This type of simplicity does not work for a film that is attempting to present a darker take on the traditional tale. The film needed more time to explain plot twists (such as the horse), but seemed to be too caught up in its artistic design to bother to fully develop the story. I am also confused as to what happens to that white horse since the last time we see it, it is sinking into a pool of mud and struggling to escape. The horse was needed, and then disposed of in order to fill the gap between Snow White’s escape and her arrival in the dark forest.
Although the plot needs tweaking, the visual effects, artistic design, and cinematography were fantastic! The visual interpretation of the mirror, the dark forest, fairy land, Ravenna’s castle, and the wardrobe were extraordinary and it is for this reason I recommend the film. Ravenna’s wardrobe adds to the evil character she reveals herself to be, but also captures that weakness that the film gestures towards. I was in awe of every single one of her dresses, particularly the one made of the wings of crows and the one she wears in her final show-down with Snow White. The final battle scene seems somewhat rushed, and for this reason, it is disappointing. Ravenna’s death scene, however, is beautifully conceived and beautifully acted.
The strengths of the film are in the visual interpretation of this magical realm, and in Charlize Theron’s acting. The biggest weakness (and you knew this was coming) is Kristen Stewart. The facial expression she makes in her introductory scene is the same facial expression that we see throughout the film, one of frustration and confusion. The story is decent, but the film itself tries to do more than what it should and subsequently, the plot is sacrificed. There is a beautiful story to be told; it is just forgotten, buried beneath an array of side plots that are never fully developed.