Given the saturation of Hollywood blockbuster films that are based on super hero licenses, I hope that Snow White and the Huntsman does well enough to get producers onto the fable bandwagon instead. There is an absolute goldmine of material with fairytales and fables that I think could be well served with a big screen adaptation. The tale of Snow White is not a bad place to start.
Snow White and the Huntsman is made by first-time director Rupert Sanders. It is a bold and ambitious film for a directorial debut. In many ways, I can’t believe Sanders landed this gig. A quick glance at his IMDB page shows that he has no prior connections to Hollywood, no foot in the door as an actor or a producer. Here he is, a guy making his first film and its a project worth $100,000,000 and has some of the biggest names in the industry attached including Chris Hemsworth and Kristen Stewart. In an interview with the Guardian he cited Christopher Nolan as his biggest influence for doing a blockbuster film ‘right’.
The film starts at a brisk pace. Snow White is a princess and daughter of King Magnus, a benevolent ruler. When his Queen passes away during a particularly harsh winter, he engages in a war with an invading army of otherworldly soldiers that appear to be made of glass. He rescues a prisoner during one campaign – a beautiful woman named Ravenna. Unfortunately for Magnus, Ravenna’s arrival is a trojan horse. She marries Magnus, kills him on the night of the wedding and takes over the kingdom, ruling alongside her brother Finn. All of this happens in about four minutes.
Ravenna’s primary motivations are punishing men for their treatment of women and maintaining her fragile self esteem as the fairest lady in the land. To that end, she uses a magical mirror which conjures a humanoid form covered in cloth. She seems to get faulty intel from this Magical Mirror Man. He tells her with a straight face that Kristen Stewart is a more beautiful woman than Charlize Theron and that Ravenna must consume Snow White’s heart if she is to maintain her power and attain immortality.
All these years, Snow White has been imprisoned in Ravenna’s keep. When Finn is sent to kill her, she escapes Harrison Ford style, by dashing through the sewers and leaping out of an aquaduct. On the other end, she is introduced to some villagers as a ‘Fugitive.’ Heh.
Ravenna begins to realize that Finn is about as helpful as Skeletor’s henchmen and sends for The Huntsman to track her down instead. The Huntsman is a drunkard, struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife. He reluctantly agrees to help Ravenna when she offers to resurrect his wife.
From there the pieces are place to tell an interesting and bombastic adaptation of the Snow White fable that includes dwarves, poison apples and a fight for the kingdom. Rupert Sanders wears his inspiration on his sleeve, with many shots directly lifted from The Lord of the Rings and Princess Momonoke. There is also an unexpected and curious Christian subtext to the film.
I don’t believe the film ever explicitly states where the events are set but Snow White says the Lord’s Prayer, bringing a ‘real world’ element to the film. For whatever reason, Snow White is Catholic. As she gradually comes to understand her destiny as a saviour to the people, her dwarves become more like disciples, she heals the sick, she walks on water and then momentarily dies, only to be resurrected days later. Kristen Stewart transforms into Jesus Christ.
I’ve got to be honest and say I didn’t enjoy this film very much. Snow White and the Huntsman is certainly not the worst film of the year but it is probably the most wasteful. The special effects in this film are fantastic. The foundations of the storyline are full of promise. There is a cast assembled that any production would be envious of. You’ve got two bona-fide A-Listers in Hemsworth and Stewart and then you have a supporting cast of wonderful character actors like Toby Jones, Nick Frost and Ray Winstone. How could this possibly go wrong?
A turgid and lifeless script for starters. The film is all exposition and no character development. The whole thing is just people reacting to whats happening around them without giving us any reason to care. The Huntsman should be a far more entertaining character. He should have some cracking one-liners, some chemistry with Snow White and some eye-catching moves with his axe. Sadly, he is given none of these things. You can tell what Sanders had in mind for the character – he initially attempted to cast Johnny Depp in the role.
Consider the scene in which The Huntsman teaches Snow White how to use a short-sword to kill someone. This scene is just crying out for a lingering moment of contact between the leads to tease a romantic development. Or a chance to show some swagger from The Huntsman. Or a witty retort from Snow White to show that she’s no pushover. Instead the scene plays out as a perfunctory way of showing the audience how Snow White will kill someone later in the film. It is purely instructive and an opportunity wasted.
This absense of charm carries on right through the film and taints virtually all the cast who are given next to nothing to work with. Charlize Theron was apparently instructed to do nothing but shout her lines of dialogue. The dwarves lurch awkwardly between solemn warriors who want to restore order to the kingdom and comic relief. Rupert Sanders clearly has seen some great ensemble fantasy films like The Lord of the Rings series but I don’t think he quite understands why they work so well.
At the end of the day, Snow White and the Huntsman is a gorgeous-looking film with top shelf special effects but it ultimately disappoints. The ingredients were there for something special but it just didn’t quite come together. I think as a directorial debut, Sanders has put together a great concept here and he may well be someone to watch out for with his future projects if they continue on this scale but as it stands, his first film is a bit off the mark. Keep the effects guy, find a new writer.