Fairy tales are on the upswing this year; we saw the television debuts of Once Upon a Time and Grimm, and we just had a Snow White movie in theaters, the cartoony, Mirror Mirror starring Julia Roberts. We now get a second Snow White movie this year—Snow White and the Huntsman. What is it about the tale of Snow White that captivates us? (She’s a central character in Once Upon a Time as well). The famous description “white as snow, black as night, red as blood,”? The biblical allusions of the poisoned apple? The image of the glass coffin and coma? Or most likely is it the idea of the Evil Queen who finds the idea of her beauty being surpassed so unbearable that she turns homicidal?
Snow White (Kristen Stewart from the Twilight franchise) and the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth of Thor) are the titular characters but Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen Ravenna easily walks away with the whole film. Ravenna’s recognition, “beauty is power,” gives the film a strange urgency and Theron on screen becomes like the angel of death; skewering birds with talons on her hands to devour their hearts. She’s rapacious, cruel, terrifying and utterly fascinating. When the movie focuses on her during the first thirty minutes or so it’s utterly compelling. No wonder the promo department emphasized her so much; she almost saves the whole film. Almost.
The good news is this cinematic version of Snow White has all the darkness and majesty of the original story that Mirror Mirror desperately lacked. There are epic battle scenes, a dark woods that is truly terrifying, a castle by the sea, an enchanted forest that is simply lovely, and truly original moments like a village where women deliberately scar themselves, sacrificing their beauty so they will be safe from the evil queen. It’s not hard to see where the reported two hundred million dollar budget for this film went. Chris Hemsworth is a strong brawny presence as William the Huntsman and there are plenty of other lovely men to look at in the film as well.
Unfortunately we’re stuck with Kristen Stewart as Snow White which was a disastrously bad call. She may look the part but she’s utterly lifeless; you get as much emoting from her in her coma as you do when she’s ostensibly awake. As Charlize’s Ravenna pulls us in every moment she’s on screen, Stewart’s Snow White is a constant drag and all the more so because all the other characters keep enthusing about how miraculous and inspiring she is when she’s so clearly not. We’re also confounded with the fact that the movie invests a lot of time and detail to a relationship dynamic that will never come to anything. Worse yet we don’t’ get enough of the relationship that is truly key to the story—not Snow White and the Huntsman nor Snow White and the Prince but Snow White and the Queen herself. Though the love/hate dynamic between the two women is the heart and soul of the tale, they are on screen together for less than two minutes total. Ultimately Snow White and the Huntsman is like eating just one bite of an apple; you get a taste in your mouth but you’re left unsatisfied.