Until the June 1 release of ‘Snow White and the Huntsman‘, the standard screen adaptation for the Brothers Grimm fairy tale was 1937 Disney version in which Snow White was portrayed as a beautiful and delicate princess fooled ultimately betrayed by her kindness, and hospitality. The “Huntsman” version assumes the difficult task surprising audiences with a story they have likely heard since their fetal stages. So, without spoiling the few elements that can be spoiled in this film I’ll tell you why this movie was just okay, and that’s probably as good as it was ever going to be.
Before I fully engage in film snob mode, I will just state what everyone over 16 already knows about this movie – Kristen Stewart is a horrible actress. Pick a muppet, any muppet, and I guarantee you there is a more dynamic range of emotion in a face of a puppet made of fleece and and wool than in Stewart’s face. Unfortunately for her, the same distressed face that she uses to represent sadness, anger, determination, confusion, and hunger, were not enough to portray a much more dynamic character than we remember seeing in the 1937 Disney version.
Worry not fairy tale fans, all is not lost. Snow White and the Huntsman does a great job of creating a tension between Snow White and Queen Ravenna played brilliantly by Charlize Theron (playing the villain always looks like more fun). Playing to a more mature audience, the film creates context, and complexity in the character of Ravenna. She isn’t evil for evil’s sake, she doesn’t hate Snow White because she is better looking (a beauty contest between Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart isn’t even close to being a fair fight), and doesn’t have some weird vanity complex. Her heart isn’t black or cold, but wounded and callus to the point where self-preservation is her only instinct. Her power is her curse; she absorbs life from everything around her.
Conversely, Snow White is not presented, as one whose only gift is beauty, but as one in whom divinity and life itself is represented. Nature doesn’t just stand in awe of her beauty, as in the Disney version, but responds to her purity. Life radiates from her being and all of nature responds to her; she is life itself.
All of these elements make for a far interesting dynamic between our heroine and villain. And, almost make her the allegorical salvation figure we are used to in fantasy and comic book films where the hero must come to realization that salvation will only come through self-sacrifice. Presenting a female as the allegorical Christ-like figure is a certain deviation from the norm, but the filmmakers could not commit to this archetype completely because of the one undeniable, untouchable element of Snow Whites tale, the deviation from which, could have legally prohibited them from using the name Snow White (if the story hadn’t been written about 200 years ago, and well beyond current copyright laws) – true love’s first kiss.
Having a woman discover her strength is not in her beauty but in her heart is nothing new, but it is her heart that betrays her and leads to her death in this version. The allusion of a love story makes Snow White fragile and vulnerable and it is not until she has returned from the grave that she turns into ‘Braveheart’ with boobs. Perhaps the intent was to have the woman save the day as independently as possible, or, the writers just couldn’t decide who the “true love” would be – the huntsman, or William, the childhood friend.
The problem then, is that she sacrifices nothing. Her strength is discovered after a death which came from a result of deception, and though I certainly don’t think every story has be this way, heroes and gods are created through selfless acts of sacrifice. Snow White was never forced to make a firm decision about her morality, what she believes about herself and life itself, in relation to her kingdom, is never tested. Her love is never really tested and the result is the absence of anything resembling a compelling love story, which, even to a fully functioning vessel of testosterone such as myself, is a huge omission. In its absence, we are treated to a lot of ‘Lord of the Rings’ style horse riding scenes, which no film, set in a time prior to Henry Ford’s Model-T, seems to be able to resist these days.
After watching this adaptation of the classic fairy tale, I realized just how dated, and politically incorrect the 1937 version is. If Walt Disney were alive today, he probably wouldn’t be allowed to screen that version, which makes it a great document of it’s time. Snow White was docile, domestic, and naïve. Now, however, she is depicted as not only strong, confident, and assertive, but practically divine.
The film stands on its own and the only reason it is compared to Disney’s version was because that was the standard telling of the story and though ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ won’t be remembered for achieving anything from a technical standpoint, it has offered a fresh and more nuanced interpretation of a story we already know, and will continue to tell and retell for generations to come. Despite being betrayed by a few useless scenes that drag the pace (the film could have been 15-20 minutes shorter), and the poor performance of Kristen Stewart (as was expected), the solid work of Charlize Theron, and Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman, along with the thematic richness and a few surprises, make it just good enough for me.
Will Ramirez is a burrito enthusiast, and self-proclaimed pizza connoisseur. He wears Chuck Taylor shoes, and enjoys Chuck Jones cartoons. Since graduating with a diploma in Digital Media in 2007, he has worked as an editor on animated and live action television programs for Teletoon, YTV, Disney and Nickelodeon. He is also co-founder and editor of www.SporttoNetwork.com where he offers a refreshing and comedic voice to the world of sports.