You have to wonder if there’s some kind of race being run in Hollywood. How often do two different movies dealing with the exact same source material come around at once.
I am of course referring to the movies Mirror, Mirror on the one hand, and Snow White and the Huntsman on the other. Two different takes on the same classic fairy tale.
Perhaps against my better judgement, I sallied forth to see Snow White and the Huntsman last night. Ladies in armour, dark magic and castles seemed reason enough to give it a whirl. Lots of people took the mere presence of Kristen Stewart in the title role as a warning sign. Probably they were right to do so. Fair-minded as I am (or stupid, depending on your viewpoint) I reasoned that Stewart has been judged and damned principally because of her part in the abominably written Twilight. Furthermore, that low quality was laid in by writers and producers before the question of the cast even arose. Shall I then force the actor to endure alone the ignominy of the role they had inflicted on them?
Wouldn’t I love to know, because it turns out that Snow White and the Huntsman is not going to provide Ms. Stewart much chance to spread her wings, if indeed she has any.
We find ourselves in an anonymous kingdom, usurped by a witch-queen who sucks the life force of the land’s fair ladies to maintain a spell of eternal youth. For years the daughter of the murdered king, once renowned for beauty and kindness, has endured imprisonment at the queen’s hands. When she escapes, the queen’s magic mirror warns her that the fleeing princess is the sole one whose pure heart and beauty can break her power. She hires a huntsman to, oddly enough, hunt her down so that she can take the princess’s heart, which promises to make her power permanent.
The huntsman finds the princess, but, captivated by her, aids her instead, and they make their way over troll bridges, through fairy realms and through many a trap and pitfall to find allies to overthrow the queen and retake the kingdom.
If that sounds like a dangerously standard plot, you couldn’t be more right. The plot lacks for twists so desperately that I got bored in no short order. It has a number of interesting and amusing setpieces, but no plot momentum to back them up. It’s more of a bad guided tour than a movie in a way.
Let me put it this way: you remember that in the story of Snow White, there are a certain group of supporting characters? About, oh, seven of them? A bit on the short side?
They don’t show themselves until nearly two thirds of the way through the film, and are little more than comic relief. It’s especially jarring considering that veteran actors of the likes of Ian McShane (lately Blackbeard in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) and Ray Winstone are among them.
Likewise, there’s a subplot concerning the princess’s childhood friend and potential romantic interest trying to find her, but it does nothing to aid the main story, and can barely sustain itself. Furthermore, the crisis of the apple, which most of us likely remember in the Disney version, is treated as hardly more than one more speed bump on the way to the end of the story, wherever it is.
The villainess is likely the most interesting character, with a clearer motivation than the heroine. The huntsman is a far more interesting character on the hero front. Our leading lady scarcely has any lines, and (as is often said of Stewart) only one facial expression. She’s a Messianic Macguffin and little else.
And that touches the reason why I feel this story suffers in its relevance in modern experience. The Princess (we have it in the prologue that Snow White is her name, but she’s never actually addressed as such) is exactly as you’d imagine in the story, and that just doesn’t work. She’s too perfect; everyone loves her instantly, and she’s supposed to possess all this wonderful quality that neither the performance nor the writing can back up. So far, they adhered to the letter of the original story, but this kind of meandering, over-idealized story simply doesn’t work anymore.
And indeed, the writing does not do enough work to back up the ideas the movie wants to communicate. It seems to say, “Here are our heroes. Just root for them,” and then do little work outside of it. When the Princess actually does speak, the lines have an unpolished, incomplete feeling. While the dwarfs and the villains are actually fairly interesting, their lines give no life to their potential.
My main interest in this film are in its visuals, which are impressive, and its value as a study in the death of the classic fairy tale. I think that modern sensibilities are savvy to the simplicities, narrow-mindedness and unrealistic ideals that many fairy tales uphold. I almost think that the writers knew that in some way, and it shows in the weakness of their efforts.
The movie could still have been fun, at least. Better dialogue could have saved the clichés, and the introduction of the dwarfs alone, my friends and I agreed, would have added and variety and momentum to the story that it simply doesn’t have.
On the bright side, if we are let down by the iconic seven dwarfs, we have only a few months ere a certain thirteen Dwarves will come to save those ancient style of stories for us!
To dungeons deep, and caverns old…