2012-06-01

Snow White and the Huntsman – This Isn’t Disney’s Snow White

by Yo Snyder

Disney recently decided that two Snow White movies in one year was
more than enough. Although the classic fairy tale pretty much put Disney
on the map and help birth an entertainment empire, contrary to popular
belief, Snow White is not just a Disney story. While it would have been
interesting to see the studio put a new twist on the one that “started
it all” for them, I have to agree that two films on the same subject in
one year was plenty; even if they were radically different. Mirror, Mirror was The Princess Bride version of the Snow White tale; light, fun, witty, funny and none too serious but quite enjoyable. Snow White and the Huntsman
is on the opposite end of that scale; it’s dark, twisted, very serious,
rarely funny and a version of Snow White we’ve never really seen
before. But is it good?

If J.R.R. Tolkien were to have had a nightmare about Snow White and
her adventures, I’m pretty sure this is what that would have looked
like. Now for some, that’s more than enough of a reason to go see this
film, and I don’t blame them. It’s an intriguing idea to turn the Snow
White fairy tale into a sprawling, epic saga ala The Lord of Rings.
There are times where this film certainly captures that spirit, and
times where it tries far too hard to be Tolkienesque, which ruins
things. However, that’s not the only thing this movie wants to be. It
also wants to be a gritty, realistic take on Snow White ala Batman Begins. Or, it wants to be a gritty, fantastical take on Snow White ala Pan’s Labyrinth.  Or, it wants to be a dark and serious feminist take on Snow White ala The Mists of Avalon.
In short, it tries to be so many different things that it can’t quite
do anything really well. There are flashes of a truly great and unique
spin on a well-known fairy tale, but far too often it all gets muddles
under the crushing press of too many aspirations.

Perhaps the biggest problem is the movie is never quite bold enough
to fully embrace some of the themes or ideas introduced and hinted at. There
are some really dark and truly twisted suggestions and hints made in
the movie whose implications are rather disturbing; but then it pulls
back and refuse to explore them any further. This could have been a very
bold, and a pretty tough to view, version of a classic fairy tale, but
in the end it takes a more traditional and safe route to tell its story.
That’s coupled with the fact that far too often things just happen
because, well, they need to. They’re not an organic part of the story or
a character’s natural development, they’re just tossed in because of
necessity; no preamble, no context, stuff just happens.

Speaking
of which, early in the film Snow White, while imprisoned in the tower by
her evil step-mother, says the Lord’s prayer (see Luke 11 or Matthew
6). It was an unexpected way to introduce the older version of the
character of Snow White, although not all together surprising as this
fairy tale has long had a history of Biblical parallels (the classic
Disney version in particular is ripe with them).  But again, nothing
really comes from it. This pious expression is quickly forgotten. I once
had a writing teacher tell me when writing a story, if there’s a gun in
it, it better go off. So here we have Snow White saying the Lord’s
prayer as way of demonstrating her purity and how different she is in
character and beauty than her step-mother; the problem is, when the
climatic battle arrives, this source of purity and character isn’t
represented or even mentioned in any way, shape or form. The gun never
goes off. Instead, Snow White finds strength from the “inner light”, and
encourages others to fan that flame. Well
if that’s where she’s going to find the purity and goodness to overcome
evil, why bother introducing her with the Lord’s prayer. Is she rely a
goodness from within herself to defeat evil (which is never really good
enough), or on something higher, purer, and completely outside of
herself for purity and goodness? The later would have certainly made for
a bolder, far more interesting unique take on things, whereas going
with the former is the safer, well-trodden path the film chooses to
follow instead. Too bad.

Speaking of good versus evil, Charlize Theron is evil
in this movie. There are times where it goes a little over-the-top, but
most of the time its a disturbingly effective portrayal of evil
incarnate. Oddly, there are some attempts to make her character more
sympathetic that come far too late in the movie and don’t really add
anything to the character. She’s
bad, and she has a good reason to be bad, albeit one that’s been taken
to an extreme extreme; they just should have left it at that. In any
event, it’s a good performance by Theron. As for Bella, er, Kristen
Stewart, she doesn’t stray too far from what she’s done in the Twilight
films. There are flashes and glimpses of possibilities beyond that
character, but far too often she’s just Bella in armor. Chris Hemsworth
does what he can with what he’s given, but like some much of this movie,
the possibilities for a rich and complicated character after truncated
for what’s more expedient in getting the story where it needs to go. 

Snow White and the Huntsman
is certainly a unique take on the classic fairy tale, one that can’t
quite decide what it wants to do with this very familiar story; and
that’s it’s downfall. It’s a good movie that could have truly been
original and great, but shies away from that by often playing it too
safe with some pretty choppy story telling. The previews are intriguing,
I know, and the movie itself is rather intriguing, but more so for what
it could have been and almost was instead of for what it is. Also, just
because the name Snow White is in the title doesn’t mean this is a
kid’s movie. It’s dark, gritty, twisted and sometimes even a bit
disturbing; a Disney fairy tale this ain’t.