Review: Snow White and the Huntsman
It Might Just Be the Foulest in the Land
By Tom Houseman
June 4, 2012
I have so many good things to say about Snow White and the Huntsman that I almost feel bad that I have to discuss them in the context of the film. If one were to break down the various elements of Rupert Sanders' directorial debut and discuss each of them individually, on their own terms, the results would likely be an avalanche of praise, punctured by oohs, ahs, and nods of approval, with only a few specific aspects of the film being held up as poisoned apples unfit for consumption. And yet the film as a whole, all of those parts stitched together, is an overlong, melodramatic, boring mess that is simultaneously a joy to look at and a chore to watch.
I don't know who Rupert Sanders is (he doesn't even have a Wikipedia page), or how he managed to get behind the reigns of a studio summer blockbuster without a single feature film credit to his name, but he has created in Snow White and the Huntsman one of the most visually extraordinary films I have ever seen. Taking stylistic cues from Tim Burton, Timur Bekmambetov, and Tarsem Singh (who directed The Fall and the far less visually interesting Snow White adaptation Mirror Mirror), Sanders created a fairy tale world so magical, so stunning, that it flies past anything else anyone has done in the fantasy genre. Think Peter Jackson and James Cameron, and know that nothing they have done matches what Sanders achieved in his take on the Snow White story.
What makes the world of Snow White and the Huntsman so incredible is that we get so much more than just dazzling and beautiful imagery. There are some truly disgusting, disturbing, and genuinely scary scenes in the film. Watching Snow White wander through a desolate forest filled with terrifying creatures that pop up in truly imaginative ways is mesmerizing, and the diversity of sumptuous visuals is breathtaking. The battle scenes are similarly awe-inspiring; often neophyte directors stumble through their first few battle scenes before finding their footing, but Sanders hits the ground running. The battles range from small and fast to epic and sprawling, but there is always a clear perspective in the scenes that keeps them from ever getting sloppy or confusing.
And yet, despite all of the superlatives I can heap upon Snow White and the Huntsman, the final product is pretty terrible. The Snow White story is a difficult one to tell in feature-length form, since the conflict is so straightforward: Snow runs away, finds dwarves, gets poisoned, gets kissed, lives happily ever after. Wham, bam thank you Brothers Grimm. While Mirror Mirror effectively developed the plot and characters to fill itself out, Snow White and the Huntsman merely pads out the story with various set pieces and action scenes. Every individual scene is gorgeous, but strung together they grow tedious very quickly. The plot on which these events are hung is so flimsy that it cannot support the weight of the film, which quickly collapses and is never able to lift itself up again.
If you are entering the theater hoping to see a single good performance, I suggest you run run run as fast as you can (oops, wrong fairy tale). Society has given up on expecting Kristen Stewart to ever give a good performance, and while you get the sense that she is at least trying, she ends up being as damp and cold as her character's namesake. It does not help that she hasn't had chemistry with any actor since she drooled over Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild, but watching her play opposite Chris Hemsworth and Sam Claflin you would think they had just been warned about the dangers of forest fires, since they seem to eschew any sparks between them.
And yet as bland as Stewart is, she is far from the worst actor in the film, which is sadly and disappointingly a title that must be given to Charlize Theron. Perhaps it is just that she has never played a villain before, or she thinks affecting a British accent allows her to chew the scenery, but her performance is so over the top she is practically floating above the screen the whole time. Theron is a superb actress when given complex, grounded roles, but here she seems to feel that every line needs to be screamed. Compared to his female co-stars, Chris Hemsworth is practically a master thespian. Hemsworth's main talent seems to be picking his roles well; he has proven himself a commanding and charming screen presence when he is not called on to emote.
And that is for the best, because the less Snow White and the Huntsman emotes, the better. The scenes that are beautiful - or disgusting - but hollow are some of the best scenes in the film, and removed from the rest of the film are excellent. But the plot of the film is so weak, the characters so undeveloped, and the romance so awkwardly tacked on, that nothing about the film gels, and the result goopier than any sludge the evil queen excretes. In terms of visual appeal, Snow White and the Huntsman is easily the fairest in the land, but unfortunately, the product as a whole is overwhelmingly foul.