Imagine a layered birthday cake. The top layer is rich, decadent, and sinfully pleasurable. The next layer is made of rat turds. The layer beneath that is the same as the top layer, but the next few layers are a variety of different kinds of turd. There’s one last layer of ‘so good, there should be a law against it’ before it’s more faecal layers until the bottom.
That, in a nutshell, is what Snow White and the Huntsman is like.
The film is yet another retelling of the Snow White fairytale. That actress from Twilight (you know the one, yeah her) plays young Snow White, a princess whose father is murdered by her step mother who turns out to be an evil witch (Charlize Theron). Snow White flees into the woods before she eats an apple, falls asleep, wakes up when a guy kisses her, and then defeats the step mother evil witch.
I talk and think a lot about this broad trope of film: stories where the audience knows in advance what is going to happen. I find it an interesting field with an extremely long pedigree. Nobody sat down to watch Euripides’ Medea wondering if Jason and Medea were going to reconcile. Nobody sat through The Iliad wondering if the Trojans would win. If you haven’t read the Gospels, spoiler alert: Jesus gets crucified.
We are seeing a lot of films and television which fits this broad category. It seems there’s a new historical drama released every few weeks. The movie-based-on-the-books/comic/game market is blooming. Movies based on fairytales (particularly Snow White) are coming back into vogue.
It presents challenges to writers. Do you translate the story to film by changing details to create ‘unforeseen’ twists? Do you explore the story against the backdrop of some unusual context? Do you just ignore the source material and make the film soft core porn?
Snow White and the Huntsman has tried to go for an ‘all of the above’ approach.
I won’t lie to you, Internet. Some parts of this film are uncomfortably sexy. I’ve been trying to impress this girl and I thought: ‘Hey, why not go see a rubbish film together?’ Several times throughout the film, without warning and apropos of nothing, Charlize Theron will do something weirdly sexy. Golly me, I didn’t know where to look. Had I accidentally taken my date to the pr0n parody of Julia Robert’s Mirror, Mirror?
Even parts which one wouldn’t think would be incredibly salacious become erotic. I’m pretty sure there’s a scene where the step mother witch queen is, like, doing the kingdom’s finances or something and so takes off her clothes in order to go for a bath and then sprays the bathwater out over some male citizens in the courtyard. None of it makes the slightest bit of narrative sense. It’s like somebody watched Twilight for Guys (NSFW) while reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
Fortunately, just when you think the action is getting a little bit too steamy, whatsherface from Twilight appears and makes everything as unsexy as possible. Snow White, for some reason, has been locked in a tower her entire life and yet:
1. knows how to ride a horse bareback
2. doesn’t know there’s a loose nail in her window but does know how to use it as a weapon but then doesn’t know how to use a knife without ‘chopping [her] fingers off’ but then does know how to use it after like literally ten seconds of training but does know how to use a longsword
3. everybody both knows who she is and, simultaneously, has no idea who she is.
Fortunately, the sheer boringness of her acting lulls your critical thinking skills into a deep, apple-induced sleep.
And there are no princes to kiss it awake. Thor appears in this film as the huntsman, an equally confusing character. His accent slides everywhere it can before settling on nowhere in particular. The evil step queen witch mother wants somebody who can hunt down Snow White, thus we’re introduced to Thor the Huntsman as a lecherous drunk who fights off assailants by throwing peasant bystanders at them. It’s later revealed that he’s the resident expert about a particularly treacherous piece of geography because he once (once!) made it out of there alive. Due to a baffling piece of Stupid Evil, the huntsman swaps sides but it doesn’t matter because the bad guys can totally track Snow White without him.
Seriously. Nothing about this film makes a lick of sense. After watching set piece after set piece of Snow White meeting a group of people, Snow White doesn’t show any emotion at all, Snow White leaves the group of people, we find out that the evil step witch queen mother has magic powers and can just teleport herself to where Snow White is. A shame she didn’t use that power an hour and a half earlier. The film would have been much shorter.
Snow White is attempting to get to the castle in a nearby kingdom. The castles are close enough together that one may reach them in less than a day’s ride. When Snow White leaves her dungeon tower, it’s not winter. Scenes played at the destination castle also demonstrate that the season is not-winter there (see previous comment about it being less than a day’s ride away). Despite this, Snow White appears to journey through the depths of winter in order to get to her destination. Why? Because it looks cool.
Also thrown into the mix is some guy with a bow and arrow because every goddamn film of 2012 is contractually obliged to have an archer, even though it makes no goddamn sense. If you go see this film (and I highly recommend you don’t), cheer loudly whenever the archer leaps from far away in order to be right in the middle of the fray before he starts shooting anybody.
The story of Snow White is reframed as a sort of ‘Persephone in the Underworld’ type story. Where we might be forgiven for thinking that Snow White is the privileged daughter of a king and will inherit fabulous wealth while her subjects toil, the film shows us — through the medium of a giant tree bear dog deer thing that turns into butterflies — that Snow White is actually Life Itself… or something. I can sort of see the link with the Greek myth. There’s a whole hibernation thing going on and fruit or whatever. At the end of the day, it was just more confusing meh.
The real crime is the exploration of the evil sexy woman of evil. Why, we wonder, is she so hellbent on power? Because, like all women, she fears becoming ugly. Men, come for the soft core pr0n. Women, stay for the misogyny.
The film is terrible. You’ll feel dirty for enjoying the… enjoyable… bits and you’ll feel worse for sitting through the unenjoyable bits.