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Review

Snow White and the Huntsman: Mediocrity is Equal Opportunity [Review]


What is Snow White and the Huntsman? It’s a pretty mediocre story about a hero who is more destined for the role than qualified, has a mythic journey, rallies an army with a single speech, and takes a castle back from an evil queen.

But it’s no more mediocre than many films bearing that description, regardless of whether the hero is a young woman or a young man.

Whether a story is well done or enjoyable, and whether it does right by women characters are two different, unconnected things, as any fan of The Lord of the Rings or Sherlock Holmes adaptations can tell you. And so one of the first questions I’ll tackle here is the basic “how’s the water” one. And the answer is “fine.” Snow White and the Huntsman plays well with the themes of beauty and power in its medieval fantasy setting. Like most movies where the hero is simply destined to save the realm, rather than being presented as having hard-won experience or skills for the job (the most recent and cast-relevant example might be Thor); the villain is really the best (and in the case of Ravenna the evil eternal-youth-seeking Queen, only) well-established character and therefore the most interesting.

But don’t expect those musings on beauty to extend much farther beyond external aesthetic appearances, despite some speeches leavied towards Snow White. She is the only character the movie states as having remarkable inner beauty (twinned along with her outward appearance, and established by wild animals liking her, ailments miraculously cured, flowers blooming, and other messiah tropes), apparently it couldn’t spare the time to make such a mention where it would be important in supporting the theme, such as with certain scarred river dwellers who we are told have abandoned beauty for safety, but who have really only abandoned beauty by Hollywood standards.

As to the movie’s value overall, it’s middling at best. There are a lot of little awkwardnesses to the movie, such as its two second act low points, which confused the pacing and left me wondering “So, are we not doing the apple thing?” a line of thinking that was said with about the same tone of voice I usually reserve for when I’m about halfway through watching The Two Towers and thinking “how have they not gotten to Helm’s Deep yet, I’ve already watched so much movie.” There’s also the Queen’s brother, who somehow manages to tap the conniving eunuch trope and the incestuous sibling trope at the same time. There’s also the weird “Make Sure Every Tiny Problem is Solved” ending (almost like R2-D2 showing up in the last scene of Star Wars: A New Hope, but more inexplicable), which clashes with the dark and serious nature of the Queen’s magic.

But by far the movie’s biggest problem is that it just hands you all of its characters as if to say “Here’s the Huntsman, you know who he is. Here’s Snow White; you know who she is. Here’s a noble born man of Snow White’s age, you should know who he’s supposed to be. Now I don’t need to spend any time making them into real characters.” A dead wife and a drinking habit are not enough to take a role out of archetype and into the realm of real, rounded characters. Most of the people in the film appear to come without names, most prominently the titular ones. Snow White is ostensibly the name of Kristen Stewart‘s character (who she plays to the best the role can offer, in case you were worried), but I’m pretty sure no one ever calls her by it to her face. It is most telling indeed, that the role of the evil queen is a named one, Ravenna, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.

You’d think that if the movie was going to expect us to already know the story so well that it doesn’t bother characterizing any of its participants, it would at least do something unique with the plot to subvert expectations, but that “apple thing” arrived shortly after I wondered whether it would appear at all, and from then on out I was simply waiting for the rest of the scenes I’d seen in the trailer to show up so that the credits could roll.

The movie does have its bright and interesting points, however. Ravenna, as the only role in the movie that makes the passage beyond archetype into fully-fledged character; Charlize Theron as Ravenna, apparently told that she could only speak in either a whisper or a bellow; its visual aesthetic (aside from a weird detour revealing that the art department had either never seen Princess Mononoke or assumed no one in the audience would have either); its messy, costly method of magic making; its use of katabasis for a female character (which, okay, was probably only exciting to me); its refusal to muddy the waters with a romantic subplot; and its very end, in which an armored Snow White, filled with pity rather than rage, conquers her foe.

Some will surely argue that Snow White’s bloody but tender victory over Ravenna is something of an anti-feminist statement, that the deeds of female heroes are too often softened by the requirement of calm emotion, that the assumptions that women are the more emotional, empathetic and peaceful gender create female heroes who don’t get to be righteously angry, who don’t get pithy post-kill one liners, who don’t get to simply “kill motherfuckers” and walk away triumphant.

But to me, Ravenna’s death scene served to show something that I wish more hero fare would on a regular basis, regardless of the gender of its protagonist. An acknowledgement on the part of the hero that evil doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Specifically for SWatH, an acknowledgement by the hero (and therefore the movie) that Ravenna’s fears and dreams crafted the evil in the story, and that those fears and dreams were crafted by people in her life that she should have been able to trust. Such an acknowledgement doesn’t make her less evil as a villain, but it makes her and the character who opposes her more interesting, and furthermore it makes culpable not just the single evil person who has been disposed of by the time the credits roll, but also the society that forged such a person in the first place, something much harder to stab in the heart.

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  • Erin Smith

    Man :-/ I really had high hopes for this film, despite my reservations about the casting choice of Kristen Stewart. I even overlooked the first few “bad” reviews, thinking that perhaps the reviewers were just too biased to respect the film since they disliked Stewart so much. But I trust you guys, and your reviews are always spot on, so I guess my hope was misplaced. /sad

    I just really hope that this doesn’t make Hollywood less likely to produce fantasy films with a strong female protagonist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kirsten.wood Kirsten Wood

    I was so excited for this movie and although I really had no faith that Kristen Stewart would  bring much to the table (and afterwards realized exactly how bad it could really be), I hoped that the rest of the movie would make up for some of that.

    I agree that the movie jumped around a lot and really didn’t have a solid story. I feel like a lot of things were just kind of thrown in there because they were expected in the story, as the author of the article has said. I can really only give Charlize Theron credit for making  her character seem more three dimensional than the rest of the actors did.

    I was irritated by the blatant rip off of Princess Mononoke as well. I am sure the creators knew exactly what they were doing when they put that scene in there because I highly doubt that just anyone comes up with such a specific scenario as that without a little help.

    Here’s to hoping for that our next fantasy movie offerings give more justice to the genre than this one did.

  • Christina Bradway

    Firstly, I enjoyed the movie. I really did. I absolutely noticed the two lulls, but funnily enough, I didn’t really notice until the second lull. It’s odd in today’s movies to have TWO lulls, but I was fully expecting the first. Secondly, and SPOILER ALERT****, walking out and discussing it with my husband, I mentioned that, while hindsight is 20/20, the bloody battle seemed unnecessary. She could have just sneaked back into the castle the same way the dwarves did, taken out a few choice guards and confronted the queen herself without all the loss of life. Or better yet, she could have just not escaped in the first place and run straight to murdering the queen. My husband thought this was ridiculous, because he felt she needed the collective strength of the rallied troops to succeed. In the end though, I felt in the end it was truly just her against the queen, so I didn’t see the point of all the bodies on the beach. Thirdly, I was really hoping, and I mean REALLY HOPING, that as Snow White stood after her victory and regarded herself in the mirror, that there would be some allusion to the fact that she could become just what the queen was – a lone monarch bent on power and not the welfare of her subjects. I think that was a serious missed opportunity for the story. It’s possible that her success is dependent on her generous heart, which was her only powerful tool helping her to succeed and the one thing she gave freely and therefore wasn’t hers. But having someone recognize the path of evil and choose to avoid instead of just relying on destiny would have been a commendable outcome, in my opinion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1117853531 Renee Ismail

    I really wanted to like this movie. As stated above, the characters (except Ravenna) were very one dimensional. The Huntsman was probably the best acted/directed character of the bunch. I love Charlize Theron but found her a bit over the top. Kristen Stewart was never believable as having “remarkable inner beauty”. There was nothing in her performance that exuded any of those qualities to me (probably because she made the same angsty face the whole movie whether the scene called for it or not). It really made me reminisce about Mia Sara and her performance in Legend, now she could relay inner beauty. I like overall what they did with the story and feel like it had so much potential. Just disappointed that it fell flat.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1117853531 Renee Ismail

    I really wanted to like this movie. As stated
    above, the characters (except Ravenna) were very one dimensional. The Huntsman
    was probably the best acted/directed character of the bunch. I love Charlize
    Theron but found her a bit over the top. Kristen Stewart was never believable
    as having “remarkable inner beauty”.
    There was nothing in her performance that exuded any of those qualities to me
    (probably because she made the same angsty face the whole movie whether the
    scene called for it or not). It really made me reminisce about Mia Sara and her
    performance in Legend, now she could relay inner beauty. I like overall
    what they did with the story and feel like it had so much potential. Just
    disappointed that it fell flat. L

  • Anonymous

    Okay, Kristen is NOT as bad as she could be. It was a poorly written script and the most in-depth her character got was muttering the Lord’s Prayer and clutching two dolls she made. She never prayed after that (I’m assuming they were trying to invoke Joan of Arc…but then forgot?) and she didn’t take those dolls with her when she skedaddled (or replace them?)

    She did cry a lot and the end was dumb. Even while crying, she still looked wooden. At least she didn’t tug on her hair while crying like in New Moon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1208921 Nikki Lincoln

    I actually disagree on the could-have-just-killed-her-in-the-beginning part because part of it was the journey of learning how to fight and getting the ability to kill evil. She used the technique that the Huntsman had taught her to finally do in Ravenna in the end even thought she originally thought she would never be able to do that. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=24404250 Margo Romanowski

    I haven’t seen Princess Mononoke in a while – what was the scene grab?

  • Anonymous

    Yes, I want to know, too. :)

  • http://booksforlunch.livejournal.com/ booksforlunch

    It was the (Spoilers!!)

    scene in the “Sanctuary” with the deer god.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=650387574 Erin Edwards

    I just came back from seeing this film and my impression was “meh.” I thought Charlize Theron was wonderful, and Kristin Stewert, true to form, looked like she was in a constant state of pain. I also got the feeling that after the apple scene, they just tried to hurry things up to end the film since it was starting to drag on. Everything afterwards was more underdeveloped than the first part of the movie. So, overall, meh.

    P.S.

    I totally thought “Oh hey, it’s the Forest Spirit!” Princess Mononoke ftw.

  • http://twitter.com/Riviare Riviera

    i09 actually gave it a fairly positive review. I’d at least give it a shot, since I’ve been hearing the opposite and everyone does have different opinions.

  • http://twitter.com/Riviare Riviera

    I rather liked it, but to each their own. I liked what they did with the story, and really felt that Charlize and Kristen both did their roles justice. :)

  • Anonymous

    Since this movie derailed when they chose Kristen Stewart to play Snow, why didn’t they just take the plot to its logical conclusion…she bites the apple and turns into a vampire.  Spend a lot of money + be as stupid as possible = make a lot of money.

  • Terence Ng

    Yep. Thought the EXACT same thing. What with the near touching, the blessing, the shooting. My friend thought it was a near rip off of Legend, as well.

  • https://me.yahoo.com/bteorl#ddbb8 Robin Zalek

    I enjoyed the film, but I didn’t nail down its problem until the post-film discussion with my viewing partner. We both had a nagging sense something was missing, but I was trying to describe it in terms of “2″, she was describing “3″ — we both wanted to say “5″ (hey, that’s the best analogy I could find, and I’m using it dammit!)

    For all we each and both liked about the film we both had the nagging sense of missed opportunities. We both knew it could have been great; should have been great. But they kept missing the bullseye, time and time again — and what was good nearly risked getting completely masked by disappointment.

    I see plenty of blame of varying degrees directed at Kristen Stewart in particular but I think the problems were there in the script, it’s impossible to tell if she’d have done better had she been served a better script.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alice.tordoff Alice Tordoff

    Okay, so it wasn’t the best thing I’ve seen all year but I’ve seen worse. The story jumped about a bit yes. (Slight Spoilers) I liked how it wasn’t ‘true loves’ kiss that broke her from her sleep but genuine love even if it was more brotherly than anything. They could have played up Snow’s ‘sacrifice’ bit that was mentioned earlier in the film with the scarred river women. I could have really seen that working as her sacrifice wasn’t her life or her follower’s lives but her innocence. If they’d played it so she didn’t kill anyone till the queen then made it a big thing it would have worked quite well, she scarred her inner beauty and innocence with blood on her hands. The lack of romance was a nice touch considering the original story. Would have liked a little better acting from our main ladies.

    Oh…. btw everyone going on about the Mononoke reference, yes I did see it, but I’m sorry the White Hart has been a legend for quite a long time and I think that was what they going for as opposed to the Ghibli film.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/5ZXIEGCAFZ4F7LBI6QTTN3YJCY Ashe

    I was so thrilled to see an epic, dark fantasy that actually put forth a strong effort on the big screen that I was a little more forgiving than I usually am with movies. However, now that I’ve had time to cool down from the ‘ooh so spooky’ and ‘wow a three-dimensional villian!’ and ‘chris hemsworth holy shi-’ high, I am seeing more flaws. 

    What I didn’t care for was the lack of characterization. We’re sent spinning into violence and creepy locations and running and hiding that the few bits we get here and there don’t feel sufficient. Mirror Mirror was a yappy cheesefest, but the dwarves at least had charm and camaraderie. Here they were tacked on at the last second, had a few comedic scenes, and we’re left wondering ‘so…what were their names again? why did the huntsman feel like he was barely in this movie? and just why did kristen stewart scare that ogre so bad?’

    The movie had a crazy amount of atmosphere, as well as fed the feeling of an ancient history fueling a complex and dangerous world. But even though it took its time (plenty of slow moments), it somehow felt very rushed. Lots of characters. Only a few to care about or be intrigued by. The unnecessary magical messiah qualities Snow White had (she was already bringing about change through her actions and yet that wasn’t enough?) and the really anti-climatic final battle also bogged it down.

    Strangely enough, I didn’t once think of Princess Mononoke, and it’s one of my favorite movies. Then again, that film is a masterpiece. This one isn’t, but I still enjoyed it, flaws and hiccups and all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michelle-Fitzgerald/100000045257462 Michelle Fitzgerald

    I don’t think the scene with the White Hart were THAT ripped off from Mononoke that they couldn’t have come up with it on their own. It was the imagery that told me that. The legend of the White Hart has been around for ages. It’s said that a true monarch will see one so I assume that’s where they got the idea of it from. Only when actually putting it on the screen did they take it whole cloth from Mononoke.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michelle-Fitzgerald/100000045257462 Michelle Fitzgerald

    Troll not an ogre >.> come on! It was even at a bridge!

    And she didn’t scare it. It was worse. She tamed it with her… mutter mutter something something pretty.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carey-Cawthorne/1295384953 Carey Cawthorne

    I thought it was fun. Of course I was mostly watching Hemsworth/The Huntsman, so I might have been distracted by a very handsome man. As long as you don’t expect anything deep, it’s a fun popcorn movie.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jill-Peters/747158381 Jill Peters

    Meh x 2.  I was disappointed and bored.  The previews were more exciting. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/5ZXIEGCAFZ4F7LBI6QTTN3YJCY Ashe

     Ah, a troll! My apologies.

    And yes, the something-pretty-whatever-thing. The secret weapon every pretty girl has at her disposal. I’m having flashbacks to Tangled now.

  • Carmen Sandiego

     I, too, was greatly relieved that Kristen did a decent job in the movie.   I found she had a much broader arsenal of facial expressions, for one.  I agree, that they were invoking Joan of Arc, also, again when she ‘instigated the masses’ after waking up.

    I wish the Huntsman had kissed her forehead though, even though the kiss was one of mourning and goodbye and not creepy necro-romance.  I also thought it would have been cool if she defeated the Queen by appealing to her humanity, the way she escaped death at the hands of the troll.

  • Carmen Sandiego

     Yeah, they even put that imagery in the Helen Mirren Elizabeth movie, “The Queen”.

  • maria albright

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  • Jonathon Ziegler

    I’ve never seen Kristen Stewart in a movie. I’ve heard she’s pretty awful but I thought she did just about as fine as any other actress of her type. As someone who usually goes for independent, foreign and classic films and rarely goes to see a Hollywood blockbuster I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this movie. The quibbles I might have with it are barely worth mentioning. It had a couple lulls, the accents were a little fake in parts, the obvious ripoff of Princess Mononoke, etc…I loved the dark effects. Most CGI these days is so dense that I feel like it just becomes a big jumble. Here all the effects were very clear while being complex and very satisfying to my eye. I liked this movie enough to recommend it to my friends for what it is and would probably see it again given the opportunity.

  • Frodo Baggins

    That’s so Ravenna!

  • Frodo Baggins

    Iron Giant, too. That scene’s all over the place.

  • Frodo Baggins

    Yeah, that was BS. A real troll would just say “LOL SHOW US UR TITS.”

  • Anonymous

    Okay, I got lost on the kiss. William wasn’t true love’s kiss, obviously. So was the Huntsman her true love? Or was that kiss a of loyalty and friendship that called her back from the dead? Because she looks for him after, right? So confusing…just like most of the story line, haha.

  • Terence Ng

    I felt that way, too. I recognized that what I was seeing was an earnest attempt to “do” the fantasy genre in a classic sense, which means all the corny things that come with it: A princess’ inexplicable affinity with nature, magic, magical creatures, a band of rough warriors, “lifting darkness”, and destiny. Even though the movie wasn’t great, I was a more willing to give it points for attempting to ambitiously “be” a true fantasy movie, instead of just doing a “gritty real-life take on a fairy tale” that seems to be much more common nowadays.

  • Anonymous

    As gingerhaze.tumblr.com put it: “Not pictured: CHEMISTRY.”

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  • Anonymous

    it’s… a lot like Beowulf… you don’t watch it because you think it manages to highlight a deeper truth about the tale through its deconstruction… you watch it because you’re curious about the characters.

    Like Beowulf, the only “interesting” character was the “evil great mother” / evil queen … and… well the only reason we try to accept her is because she is highly sexualised, instead of properly realised.

    But it did get me to question… as Beowulf had when it came out… /is/ the evil queen /meant/ to be sexualised this way? Is that the whole point of her character underneath the plot?

    As usual, the film seems to scream at my face that “YEAH DUDE THAT’S THE WAY IT IS, just BE A MAN AND ACCEPT IT.”

    And of course, because of said screaming, I can’t.

  • Anonymous

     she reminded me of Alice from Tim Burton’s fiasco… and yeah, as if admitting that her name;s “Snow – White” was a bad thing.

  • Anonymous

     that would’ve actually made the movie a lot better. It would’ve harkened back to a Demeter/Persephone conflict that would make the original story immensely relevant today.

    But… it’d also bring on hordes of fans screaming that Snow White i s not mean to be evil. (not that it helped the way it is )

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  • http://profile.yahoo.com/5ZXIEGCAFZ4F7LBI6QTTN3YJCY Ashe

    Oh, yes. Earnest fantasy movies seem so rare nowadays. I would attribute that to budget, since special effects and costuming are a bit pricier than just doing a live-action adaption of the latest romance novel, but I’m also tempted to blame it on the sheer number of ragingly subpar fantasy films.

    Thank god The Hobbit and Brave come out this year!

  • Anonymous

     I thought it was rushed too. I think they just had way too many concepts they wanted to get in there (hence us never seeing anyone but the queen getting more than one-dimensional).

  • Susana Rodrigues

    I just watched the movie and I was really disappointed :( 

    (I don’t think I’ll add anything new here, but i just need to vent out what I think)First, Charlize Theron was magnificent, portraying the drunk in power and revengeful queen that was only satisfied with other’s misery and suffering. The only thing she held dear was her beauty because she firmly believed that was the origin of all of her power. I, as well as many other people, feel that the movie was rushed. To be honest, until the queen’s brother appeared again (when William asked to be his bowman), I thought he had died on the dark forest (I think it would have been best, the whole scenes with him still after Snow White could have given space to other things and maybe we could have seen more of the Queen’s power, like hordes of magical creatures or something, while she weakened).Second I think the whole childhood friend thing was unnecessary, I think it would have played just fine with William finding her in the forest, helping her alongside the huntsman and falling in love with her during the process as huntsman did (and with them maybe teaching her some more battle techiniques, more credibly, i mean did you see how she killed those two soldiers oO wow like a pro!!! and with only seeing the technique once and never practicing it ;D maybe KS should do some martial arts movie lol!).Well now, I don’t like KS acting… also I do not find her that beautiful cough to be SNOW WHITE (either inner beauty or exterior one). I think the scene I was most shocked with her lack of emotions was when William told her he should have gone back to save her, and she just harshly told him, while frowning, that they were just kids o.o. I mean, maybe some tender love in her eyes while she hold his arm and told him in loving way “William, we were only children…”. That would have been snow white merit ;)! Plus that kiss scene, the way she was breathing was hoarsing right before she kissed him I though for a moment that she wanted to rape William like Bella wanted to rape Edward LOL.Not to mention she did not look sad at all when the horse died o.o where’s your inner beauty snow white!!! (yeah i know she had to run away, but at least some lip bitting and an “I’m sorry” to the horse would have been more credible as the SW)I was also disappointed in the battle scene, I expected the dark army fighting. I think that the scene with those women that were hiding was also unnecessary… It could have given space to wonderful battles.As someone else said I also fel that the movie was rushed after the apple part -_-. Concerning when she kills the Queen, I would have like to she SW maybe cutting her hand with her blood and then killing the Queen, a more literal translation of the fairness of her blood (kind of like a spell like when the queen’s mother cut her hand for her beauty to prevail). The ending itself in my opnion was pleasant, even though I fel there a little too much of silent moment. I would have liked Snow White to stay with the Huntsman, but I doubt that would happen, since he’s an hardned man by life and she’s is now the Queen and this innocent creature (that just jumps on William the second they are alone!!!!!!! unnecessary and confusing for the viewers… no kissing from her, and the huntsman speech of love and it would have been more clear and nicer)Uff :) wrote for my own pleasure, nice sharing :DAll in all, it was a nice popcorn movie (to see on sunday’s afternoon when there’s nothing to do…)