Review: Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

Snow White and the Huntsman is the kind of film that succeeds on the confidence of its visuals and its concept, not its emotions or ideas. I’m fine with this, if the execution is strong, as it is in this case.

It’s a Gothic revisionist fairy tale (parallels to Alice in Wonderland, the producer of which also made this film), but with a savvy visual style missing in Burton’s latter work. In fact, the film and its wondrous magical creatures are more similar to the creations of Guillermo del Toro in Pan’s Labyrinth than anything churned out by Burton in the last decade. The film ends up being the rare case where a Hollywood visual extravaganza carried solely by its visuals actually has strong enough visuals and aesthetics to carry it.

The story is essentially the classic Snow White fairy tale fleshed out a bit, and played completely seriously, as if it were a real story that happened to occur in a magical kingdom from the Middle Ages. I was surprised by how well this conceit worked, for the most part. For a film with no sense of irony in its self-serious take on a fairy tale, the result is surprisingly, well, serious. There isn’t much humour here, but the film’s tone rarely falters.

The plots follows Snow White (Kristen Stewart), imprisoned in her father’s castle by the villainous Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron, dominating this film with her performance), who used black magic to usurp Snow White’s father’s throne. She finally escapes into the Dark Forest and the Queen hires a drunken Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to hunt her down.

However, when the Huntsman finds her, he ends up joining her, and together they travel through the forest to make for the castle of Duke Hammond, last remaining ally of Snow's father. Along the way they come across eight dwarves (yes, eight), and various other magical creatures right out of the fairy tale, in their quest to stop Ravenna and take back the realm.

The plot is predictable, as all fairy tales are wont to be, but there are some clever variations on the classic story. The eight dwarves (played through the magic of CGI by Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost, and other popular British actors) are one such clever touch. Instead of being lovable miners who sing, they are highwaymen waylaying travelers. The most vital update is that Snow White doesn’t need the Prince or the Huntsman to save her from the Queen; she has to do it for herself. We have officially entered a time where it is unacceptable to have the princess be a damsel in distress.

The plot mainly serves as a vehicle to explore fantastic locations, of which a dark forest and a magical spring with their contrasting styles are the most intriguing. The magical spring seems stolen straight out of Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. I hesitate to call it either a homage or a rip-off; whatever it is, the film is stealing from the best.

The biggest issue I had with this film was its lack of emotion. Throughout its heavy 127 minute running time, I was hardly engaged beyond a superficial level. The viewer is kept at a distance where they can admire the visual strength of the film, but the distance is never bridged at the emotional climax of the film, making the payoff seem somewhat empty. It speaks to the inexperience of director Rupert Sanders that he can’t manage to tackle both the visual and emotional aspects of this film. Perhaps in later efforts, he’ll be able to more competently balance both aspects.

Snow White and the Huntsman’s appeal is purely visual. But for a film that could’ve easily been a disaster, it displays remarkable control of its tone and style, proving to be a mostly-satisfying update on the classic fairy tale.

6 out of 10

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

Directed by Rupert Sanders; written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini based on a screen story by Evan Daughtery; starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Sam Claflin, Sam Spruell, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Johnny Harris, and Brian Gleeson.