Home > Movie Reviews > Snow White and the Huntsman: on reimagination, beauty, and special effects

Snow White and the Huntsman: on reimagination, beauty, and special effects

Why do we have remakes and adaptations?  What is the point of hearing a story that we have all already heard before?  Some new versions have been lovely – just consider the Wicked reimagination of The Wizard of Oz.  It took an older story and examined it from the villain’s viewpoint, adding in a pretty impressive history and an original source of political unrest.  Snow White is a story that has been redone countless times, though not recently by Hollywood according to my memory.  Just this year, the 200th anniversary of the original Brothers Grimm tale, two remakes of Snow White have been released: Mirror, Mirror, a comedy with Julia Roberts, and Snow White and the Huntsman, a darker version with Kristin Stewart, Charlize Theron, and Liam Hemsworth.

While this film did introduce some original elements to the fairy tale, the film as a whole was unfortunately disjointed and undeveloped.  The film appeared to sway back and forth, unable to decide whether to be completely unique or more faithful to well-known versions, namely Disney’s 1937 hit.  SWATH’s eponymous Huntsman had a larger role, but with little meaning; Stewart again dallied in a love triangle, all the time expressing her emotions through heavy breathing (thank you, med students, for diagnosing her use of accessory muscles as COPD); the princess donned mail and fought for her kingdom, but will little lead-up and not enough screen time to seem natural.

Yet, despite all this, and despite the fact that everyone seemed to hate the movie, I sat through scene after scene of stilted Stewart and random mystical encounters actually enjoying myself.  It’s true that I went into the movie with extremely low expectations, but I couldn’t help smiling as Snow White met a white stag on a lake while fairies and mythical creatures swarmed around (did this remind anyone else of Princess Mononoke?).  I couldn’t help startling when the evil stepmother, an extraordinarily dynamic Queen Ravenna played by Charlize Theron, screamed at her servants.  And I couldn’t help feeling a rush of excitement when the princess rallies the troops with, “Who will ride with me?  Who will be my brother?”  When I sit down and think, I know that this was a terrible film; perhaps I have simply reverted to the naiveté of a young moviegoer in my current film-starved state.

I was most intrigued by the continued mention of beauty.  Queen Ravenna says to Snow White’s Father that men will discard beautiful women once they are old, and she is constantly consuming beautiful youth in order to stay young and magnificent herself.  In a flashback, it is revealed that Ravenna’s own mother cast the spell in desperation while their village was being raided, saying that only her beauty would save her.  Snow White and the Huntsman come across a small settlement of river women, who all have strange scars on their faces.  “This is a sacrifice we make so that we can raise our daughters in peace,” one of the women explains, “We are of no use to the Queen without beauty.”  I thought this thin line of exploration was interesting, and wished there was more contrast between the Queen and Snow White, but I think the directors were too busy making Stewart appear grungy and tough to massage out any details.  There were also several scenes when Snow White is forced to make sacrifices and run on – she first leaves her prison-mate while escaping the castle, she leaves her horse while running into the Dark Forest, then she leaves the river people behind.  I would have liked to see more of this idea explored as well – how does a princess feel, knowing that to save a kingdom, she must first save herself?

As a small note – I often don’t notice costuming and special effects, but here, I was constantly admiring whoever designed the Queen’s wardrobe.  The constant aging/rejuvenating effects on the Queen were especially well done, and I liked the image of a castle by the sea.  The hallucinatory effects were convincing, the sanctuary was calm and nature-y, and the Queen always had this sticky, liquid feeling to her. I also have to applaud whoever did the Queen’s Brother’s haircut, which was the most hideous thing I’ve seen since Javier Bardem’s floppy mop in No Country for Old Men.  It makes you wonder, since the Queen’s brother is so hideous, if she too wasn’t initially ugly, or why she chose not to make him look better.  Or maybe the film just needed him to be ugly because he was a villain.  One almost feels bad for him when he begs, “Sister, heal me,” but then he’s just too despicable for the feeling to last.

Overall, 2/5 – an enjoyable introduction to summer, but there is unfortunately nothing special to this new branch on the tree of Snow White tales.  Not even Theron and excellent special effects could save this movie from mediocrity.  There can be many versions of a story, but people will only remember the version that cannot be retold.  Snow White and the Huntsman, unfortunately, will be forgotten as soon as Prometheus comes out next week.



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