When you think of “Snow White,” do you think epic fantasy adventure with massive medieval battles and giant monsters? If so, I guess this is the movie for you. “Snow White and the Huntsman” is that in a nutshell, a big-budget action retelling of Snow White, for those (such as me) who didn’t feel like seeing “Mirror Mirror,” the family comedy version of the story that came out a few months ago. So the question was, does “Snow White and the Huntsman” deliver what it promises? For the most part, it does. Stunning visual effects and overall production design result in, at the very least, a very impressive movie on a technical level. However, on a storytelling level, it’s just mediocre. Snow White (played by a cardboard Kristen Stewart) is a really empty, boring character, and a movie centering entirely on her isn’t all that fun to watch.
The kingdom is ruled by the evil queen, Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who has kept Snow White prisoner in her castle ever since she arrived and overtook the palace. Ravenna is a witch whose main power is sucking the life out of others, allowing her to live longer and look far more beautiful. She can do other things too, like heal people and turn them into crows, but what she can do is never really defined. Her mirror (which in the movie isn’t really a mirror, it’s more so a golden ghost that comes out of a plate and talks to her) tells her that Snow White will become more powerful than her unless she takes her heart. Before she can, Snow White escapes the castle and is chased by guards into the dark forest, which they don’t dare enter.
The queen hires the apparently nameless Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to track her down, as he knows the dark forest better than most. He does so reluctantly, and so of course ends up teaming up with Snow White to try and take down the queen. The story is pretty basic, but that would all be fine, if it wasn’t for the focus on Snow White.
Here’s the thing: The first half hour or so focus almost exclusively on the evil queen, who is easily the best person in the movie, thanks to a great performance from Charlize Theron. Theron is playing, essentially, pure evil, and does an incredible job. There’s a point early on when she’s pretending to be nice where you can see the layers of Theron’s performance. Unfortunately, after that first half hour, the film almost completely forgets about the queen, and focuses entirely on Snow White and the Huntsman. That shouldn’t be a problem, they are the two characters in the title after all, but both are just so bland and boring, especially compared to the queen.
For Snow White, if you learn anything about her, it’s from others; voiceovers describing her white skin and black hair, dwarves calling her “the one,” and everyone else raving about how beautiful she is and what an inspiration she’ll be to the kingdom. The character herself gives you absolutely nothing to go on, and Kristen Stewart’s performance doesn’t help that either. It’s not necessarily bad, it’s just not really much of…well, anything. It feels like you’re watching Kristen Stewart, not another person. Chances are, if the queen wasn’t so evil, I might have been rooting against Snow White, as there’s almost nothing to root for.
The Huntsman, on the other hand, has character, but it’s a character we’ve all seen before: the tough guy, who gets in bar fights, cracks jokes here and there, but is a badass. He really does near nothing in the movie though, fights a bit here and there and leads Snow White through the forest, but in the end isn’t all that present either. Chris Hemsworth does give it his all though, being very charismatic and likeable, things Stewart could have used.
All that’s a bit harsh though, the movie still is very enjoyable. First time director Rupert Sanders does a great job at building a whole fantasy world (one that does however owe a big debt to the Lord of the Rings and Narnia movies), but most of all creates some really fascinating and unique visual effects, with creatures and landscapes and fight scenes. The queen’s army is made up of what appear to be graphite soldiers, as during fight scenes they shatter into shards when struck. They’re just one of many cool visual ideas Sanders brings to the table, and they’ve all got me really interested in what he does next.
“Snow White and the Huntsman” is still better than most blockbusters of its kind (although who knows if it will be, as I’m not sure exactly who the audience for this movie is). Yes, it has a lot of problems, but the faults don’t ruin the great parts of the movie. It’s worth seeing for Charlize Theron alone, so the visuals are like a bonus. Sure, you’d be better off with a Lord of the Rings movie, but if you want to see something fun on the big screen this weekend, you could do much worse. (Piranha 3DD anyone?)