There is one unfortunate ingredient in the new version of the classic fairy tale, Snow White and the Huntsman, and that is the star. Kristen Stewart, I’ve decided, is not a good actress. She’s not a bad one, but she suffers from a total lack of charisma. While this handicap might be okay in a film like Adventureland, where her emo mysteriousness is what makes her appealing, but when called upon to lead a film she’s out of her element.
The reason this is unfortunate is that Snow White and the Huntsman is, surprisingly, a really good film. In fact, it borders on outright greatness. The thing bringing it down is Stewart. Sadly, she brings it down both in a direct way, through her mediocre acting, but also in the perception of the film overall. How can anyone take Snow White and the Huntsman seriously when the lame actress from Twilight is the lead? I’d argue that even with Stewart’s miscasting, the film is very much worth taking seriously. I’ve seen comparison drawn to the fantasy films of the 80s, like Legend, but Snow White and the Huntsman one-ups those films by actually being, well, good.
The basis of the story is the ‘Snow White’ fairy tale, and the film draws very heavily on the iconography created by the classic Disney animated film. That tale is modernized, though, and given a fresh, feminist re-write. It’s also much darker than the Disney version. Charlize Theron plays the Queen, and her magic is expansive and terrifying. There’s quite a bit of death in the film, and it all leads up to a big battle sequence. Re-appropriating the story into one of dark magic, battles and female empowerment is an interesting idea, and the film almost completely pulls it off.
Chris Hemsworth plays the titular Huntsman, and the relationship between him and Snow White is the perfect example of how this film does things very right. I kept waiting for the film to deliver a standard romance between the two, or even a love triangle. Instead, the film chooses to dwell on other things, like following the characters as the struggle with doing the right things for the right reasons in the face of darkness and terror. What little romantic subplots are there to bring about character development, particularly in the Huntsman. Snow White is not immune to romance, but importantly she is not defined by whether she falls in love or with whom. She’s defined, rather, by the choices she makes to lead and inspire and take her journey to the end.
Stewart’s lack of charisma comes in to play here. It’s hard enough to buy her as “fairest in the land” due to her unconventional, tom-boyish looks, but even beyond that, it’s very difficult to believe she could inspire the destitute to take up arms beside her. The film casts her as a revolutionary leader, and it’s not easy to envision her in that position. Yet the film does pull it off. Not perfectly. Maybe another actress could have done it more on the strength of her personality, but the writing in the film is actually nuanced enough that it’s not too difficult to go along with the notion of Kristen Stewart, warrior princess.
The script is really quite a marvel, giving all the characters a basis in believable and complex motivations. Even Theron’s Queen, evil as she is, is given a backstory that really does add depth and motivation to her character. The revolutionary ideas at the heart of the film are great and quite reminiscent of The Lion King. A lot of it has to do not only with saving the people, but restoring the environment to a state of live and vitality.
Perhaps the best reason to see Snow White and the Huntsman is the direction. Particularly the visuals. Judging from reactions elsewhere, I’m in the minority in enjoying the film so much, but even the negative reviews tend to agree that first time feature director, Rupert Sanders, has crafted a beautiful looking film with amazing shots and creative visual effects. If nothing else, you can rest assured that Snow White and the Huntsman will delight your senses.
So yeah, I’m coming down very positively on Snow White and the Huntsman. Of the big summer releases so far this year, this one is easily my favourite. And that includes The Avengers. I went there. Maybe I’m overselling it, but it’s a beautiful looking film with a surprisingly complex and developed script. The performances are all solid, even though the central one from Stewart lacks some necessary charisma. If you can get past the “Twilight Warrior Princess” factor and look to the film purely for some well done fantasy adventure, Snow White and the Huntsman delivers in spades.