Just before the third act of Snow White and the Huntsman, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) asks, “How do I inspire?” The line carries an unintentional irony because, well, Stewart is mostly a bore in the role. Her inability to inspire is indicative of the film’s most significant flaw; for the most part, the storytelling comes up short. This is a shame, because, visually, Snow White is often stunning. Yet, while Sanders delivers quite an imaginative world to look at, his story lacks coherence. Too many loose narrative threads make for an uninspiring retelling of the classic German fairy tale.
Just married to Snow White’s father, King Magnus, Ravenna disrobes the fact that she’s an evil sorceress ruling over the Dark Army by killing the King on their wedding night and subsequently locking young Snow White in the castle dungeons. Maintaining her status as the fairest of them all by draining the youth from all of the beautiful young women in the kingdom, Ravenna discovers that she must devour Snow White’s heart if she is to obtain immortality. Eventually, Snow White escapes from the dungeon and is left to fend for herself in the dark forest. That is, until the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) who is employed to capture her is converted to the cause of her protection. From there, it’s a classic battle between good and evil: Ravenna must defeat the pure Snow White, while the young Princess is the only one capable of ending her stepmother’s reign.
For both monetary and tonal reasons, it’s understandable why Stewart was cast. Her Twilight fame is sure to attract quite the crowd, and her moody image would seem to fit well with Sanders’s dark take on the fairy tale. Ultimately, though, Stewart’s Snow White is totally overwhelmed by Charlize Theron’s successfully campy turn as the evil Queen Ravenna. Whether staring anxiously into her magic mirror, screaming with terrifying shrill, or plucking and eating the hearts of birds, Theron is a delicious temptation. Meanwhile, Stewart gives little indication that she’s capable of anything beyond a couple variations of a blank stare, surely not enough to keep us from preferring Theron’s bad apple.
More disappointing than Stewart’s performance is the storytelling. Several interesting ideas and themes never receive proper treatment or development. For instance, in the beginning of the film, Ravenna’s murder of the King is fueled by her disdain for the use and abuse of women’s beauty at the hands of men. And then, for the most part, the feminist motif disappears until the third act when Snow White’s desire to inspire and lead men is fulfilled, and Ravenna is trumped by Snow White’s best Joan of Arc impression.
Another example is when Snow White escapes the castle dungeons and stumbles upon a white horse (at just the right time) that she must discard rather abruptly; the whole scene feels . . . off. Though, a minor defense could be offered in that Snow White is the antithesis to Ravenna, who, we are told, has caused “nature to turn on itself and people on each other.” Snow White, on the other hand, will “heal the land” and, apparently, not have enmity with untamed animals, either. Yet another narrative thread that needed fleshed out is Snow White’s relationship with life-long friend and love, William. There should be more foundation for a love triangle here, even if it’s being saved for a sequel.
Perhaps the most interesting undeveloped theme is the Christological allusions. We first meet Snow White while she is saying the Lord’s Prayer. We are told on separate occasions that she will “heal the land,” that she is “life itself,” and that those who don’t recognize that she is the one “have eyes, but do not see.” At one point, the Huntsman even references the fact that she is “not that heavy” in the sense that her burden is light. And, it felt as if this all should have been centered around a scene in a wonderful fairy land, when the dwarfs discover that Snow White is the “chosen one” after a mysterious meeting with a spiritual (of some sort) white stag. But the particular moment trails off, feels ambiguous, and, in the long run, unimportant. Commenting on the scene in an interview with the Huffington Post, Sanders says outright that the stag represents “all that is good in nature” and Snow White is brought there to “be blessed by him.” Sanders’s description is representative of the sense in which this particular narrative thread is confusing. The scene seems coincident with some of these more Christological elements, but Sanders’s comments suggest yet another trace of a theme.
The most consistent summation of Snow White that I’ve seen is that it is a “missed opportunity,” and this seems an apt description. From the ocean by the castle to the Dark Forest to the magical fairy land, the landscapes in the film are often spellbinding. I wish the film had kept its focus on these more folkish settings and themes. When it transitions into a Lord of the Rings meets Joan of Arc epic, it actually becomes anticlimactic, perhaps most evidently in Snow White’s bland rally speech. Given a more focused narrative, Snow White might have been an inspired reimagining of a classic tale about good and evil. Instead, it mostly meanders–not sure enough of itself.