Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) starts, as many of these adaptations of fairy stories do, with a portentous voice-over explaining how, in the midst of deepest winter, the queen came across a single red rose growing in the snows of the castle garden. She reached out. A thorn pricked her finger and, with a suitable gravity in play, three drops of blood fell significantly and stained the snow. Shortly thereafter, albeit presumably with the assistance of the King and the usual passage of nine months, a baby was born and named Snow White (notice the subtle use of imagery). With a swift cut to summer, we then have the child wandering through the fields with a bird in her hands. She’s into the rescue business. With her heart overflowing with goodness, she vows to nurse it back to health. Then before the voice-over can complete the next sentence, her mother is dead and the inconsolable King is lured into battle when a dark army unexpectedly appears. The army is witchy and easily vanquished but, behind the lines, chained in a wagon, they find and liberate Ravena (Charlize Theron). With a smile of gratitude, she captures the heart of the King and they marry in haste (so he wasn’t that inconsolable). This fulfills the primary rule that all fairy stories shall have an evil stepmother. This one wastes no time. She stabs the King on their wedding night (a more positive form of coitus interruptus is hard to imagine) and admits her army to the castle. This takes everyone by surprise — except the waiting army, of course. The evil minions slay all the loyal courtiers and lock the princess away in the tower. There’s no knowing when royal blood may come in useful. The only one of importance to escape the castle is her childhood friend William. Time for another voice-over to signal the passage of time and we come to the required crunch.
Now grown into a woman, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) escapes the tower and enters the Dark Forest where she meets the Huntsman (not a surprise given the title and played by Australian beefcake Chris Hemsworth with heavy 6 o’clock shadow). In another part of the kingdom, the remnants of the old court and young William (Sam Claffin) are now playing the part of guerrillas in the style of Robin Hood, stealing where possible and keeping the people alive. While the Huntsman does his dark and broody best to impress the Princess with his dour savoir faire, William goes undercover and joins the hunt for the Princess. Now everyone has the chance to stagger around in woody darkness for a while. Thinking ahead, the Woodsman tries to teach Snow White how to kill in self-defence. She thinks with her heart and has no stomach for killing (sic). This is just as well because when a troll starts flaming on one of the wood’s forums, she’s there with in her caring moderator role to keep the peace. I may be missing the seven little folk but you can’t beat a good troll, particularly if there’s a bridge for it to hide under and gnaw on bones.
Then we’re off to a riverside community comprised entirely of women and children. A ruthless queen kills the men on the off-chance they may threaten her. Anyway, the villagers tell the Huntsman who he’s helping. He seems to think she’ll be safer with them and disappears into the night. Fortunately, the evil minions (and William) set fire to the village. The film was getting more than a little dull. Anyway the fire brings back the Huntsman and he’s able to whisk her away before William can reclaim his lost love. That leaves us with. . . At first sight, I thought it was Ewoks in an unexpected flashback from Endor — a place famous for its witch. Who? What? I now understand a small disreputable group had wondered over from the nearby set where Peter Jackson was filming and offered their services as extras. But caught up in the thick of the action, they decided to give up being elves and become dwarves instead. Fortunately, they had some caves to run into — sadly, no-one sang “Hi Ho, it’s off to work we go.” I miss these little flourishes and references to the Disney original. So then they all go walkabout in the New Zealand style until she meets the proper elves and one of these rather pleasing majestic animals who are rulers of the forest. It’s all very twee with bunnies and a green turtle. Great CGI tree branches cum antlers sprouting out of the head of this monarch of the glen. The leader of the Jackson renegades then gives it to us straight. “She is life. She will heal the land. She is The One!” Now all we have to do is wait for her to choose between the red and green apple and for them all to live happily ever after.
And, in a way, this sums up the problem. For all the evil minions shoot at the stag and do bad stuff, there’s no real sense of menace in any of it. It’s even second-rate as an action film. The team behind this film obviously decided, come Hell or High Water, they were going to make a two-hour (plus) epic. Overlook the fact the traditional plot is never going to stretch that far and hold any kind of suspense. Modern audiences apparently want spectacle even though it’s soulless and empty. The result is, I regret to say, tedious beyond measure. Even my usual sport of mocking the afflicted can’t save me from total boredom. Once we get past the initial taking of the castle and into the forests, this film dies a slow and terrible death. I can’t even raise a smile as the dwarves try to do an Ewok and defeat the evil minions (but not William who’s just hanging in there trying not to look conspicuous to anyone). Then Snow White sleeps, wakes and there’s lots of CGI fighting at the end as the Dark Army rises again, reconstituted from broken mirror fragments. Charlize Theron does her best but she’s not allowed enough time to develop an interesting character as the evil stepmother. Indeed, she’s almost completely missing from the central section of the film except when her brother gets killed. The idea of saving her for the big ending is completely misconceived. Without a fearsome adversary, the pallid Snow White and grunting woodsman are never going to carry the film. All they do is run around and look fairly helpless. Even worse Kristen Stewart is revealed as wooden. There’s no spark or animation about her. Even when she’s supposed to be scared, she’s not clearly emotionally involved. Chris Hemsworth stomps around, muttering darkly in any accent that comes to mind, and looking “grim”, if not darkly romantic. I suppose he has the looks, but the lad can’t act to save his life. So Snow White and the Huntsman is definitely a film to miss.