Snow White and the Huntsman
If it’s a darker, grittier Snow White you’re looking for, allow me to point you to the little-seen 1997 effort Snow White: A Tale of Terror, a justifiably R-rated version starring Sigourney Weaver as the complexly jealous wicked queen. Fifteen years on, we’ve now had two competing Snow White run-throughs in the same year: last March’s much lighter Mirror Mirror, and now Snow White and the Huntsman, though a more accurate title might be Charlize Theron Chews Every Available Scrap of Scenery (Also Starring Snow White). A Snow White, it seems, is only as good as its evil queen, and Theron gives an instant-camp-classic performance destined to be cloned by drag queens from sea to shining sea this Halloween. It’s a grand, startling turn in a grim, plodding movie that, without Theron, would be fighting Snow White for room on the slab by the end.
Not that there’s much perceptible difference even before Snow White officially points her toes up. (I am writing to a reader who knows the basic story, right? This isn’t a spoiler.) As Snow White, Kristen Stewart tries; occasionally she bestirs herself to smile and even laugh, which must’ve required a basket of kittens licking her feet off-camera. I do not hate this poor young woman, whose Twilight role has propelled her to everlasting fame whether she wanted it or not (I’m guessing she didn’t), but she’s such a tabula rasa I can’t see how she could arouse emotion in anyone one way or the other. When Snow White has to inspire the oppressed villagers against the queen, Stewart gets her voice up, but only to be heard in the back row, I think; there’s no passion in her speech (not entirely her fault, as the three credited screenwriters don’t come near the ringing poetry of the St. Crispin’s Day speech, but then who could?).
A first effort by Rupert Sanders, yet another commercial director, Snow White and the Huntsman tries and fails to hold our attention with a lot of hacking and hewing. Much of it is done by Chris Hemsworth as the semi-titular huntsman; Hemsworth seems to have a lot more fun as Thor, who doesn’t labor under a Sad Backstory involving a dead wife. At one point, our noble huntsman says he was a worthless brawler before his wife changed him, and now he’s reverted to form; suddenly we’re in Unforgiven Lite. We also have eight dwarves, all played by conventionally-proportioned actors (Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Bob Hoskins, etc.) digitally shortened and, I kept thinking, stealing work from eight actors of lesser height. Peter Dinklage is widely considered the jewel in the crown of HBO’s Game of Thrones, but he is a glowing exception; most little people have to make do with low-comedy roles like the guy who went around junk-punching everyone in Project X. At least Mirror Mirror employed little people as the dwarves (including the Project X guy).
There’s a good amount of dark magic and light magic: tree limbs made of snakes, a massive stag that turns into a flock of birds, various faeries capering about or riding on bunnies. It’s visually diverting but feels inorganic — just CGI demo reels plopped in for Kristen Stewart to attempt to look upon with awe. The best effect, aside from the magnificently seething Theron, is Sam Spruell as the queen’s viciously nasty brother with an equally nasty pageboy haircut. A better script would give Spruell space to gallop away with the scenes that don’t involve Theron, but he does what he can, right down to the obligatory bit where he informs the huntsman that his wife screamed his name before she died. And what name would that be? “Huntsman”? Oh, according to Wikipedia it’s Eric, though I don’t recall hearing it in the film. It could’ve been momentary deafness caused by intense boredom.
You know what has to happen: Snow White has to defeat the queen, especially in a movie that cost somewhere near $170 million. At the climax, when Snow White informs the queen “You cannot have my heart,” Kristen Stewart makes it sound as though Snow White is declining the queen the use of her Blackberry. The queen dies of wrinkles caused by intense boredom, and Snow White is crowned the new queen. There’s no king for her yet, though there is a William, a childhood friend who shows some vague affection for her, and there’s Eric the huntsman, and dear god, is this thing setting us up for a sequel in which Kristen Stewart has to negotiate yet another love triangle? Snow White and the Huntsman and Some Guy Named William, coming to a theater near you in 2014.