With nature scenes reminiscent of Avatar and battle scenes à la Lord of the Rings, Snow White and the Huntsman is an impressive project, both in the scale of its special effects and the magnitude of the disappointment one feels while watching it.
The major problem with the film is its lacklustre human element – despite all the investments made in the film’s magnificent special effects and stunning visuals, we simply don’t really care what happens to its characters. Transforming fairytale figures into people we feel for onscreen requires interesting back-stories and strong performances to put flesh on their stock-character bones. In Snow White and the Huntsman, both of these requirements are so absent that we exit the cinema practically sobbing with apathy.
We all know the story – an evil queen usurps her husband’s throne, poisoning the kingdom with her wickedness and plotting the murder of her beautiful stepdaughter, Snow White. Throw in an apple, a talking mirror and some vertically-challenged brigands, and there you have it.
Although various characters in Snow White and the Huntsman repeatedly identify Snow White as The Chosen One who will heal the kingdom’s woes, she doesn’t seem particularly special to the audience – her purity and bravery are lauded in the dialogue of supporting characters, but for the first hour of the film she mostly just flops about in puddles and runs around with her skirts askew.
In her most shining moment she is simply part of the scenery, wandering through an enchanted forest as sunlight glints across her face and fairies dart from flower to flower around her. It’s a beautiful scene that captures much of the magic that is missing from Snow White’s character and the film in its entirety, but it only lasts for a couple of minutes, which isn’t a long time in a movie that feels longer than the Napoleonic Wars.
This difficulty in empathising with our heroine is partly the fault of thin plot development and partly the fault of Kristen Stewart, who has the charisma of wet cardboard and the emotional range of an autistic mole. Her performance is infuriatingly unvaried; she looks as consistently put-out as she makes us feel. Each sullen pout and laboured sigh serve only to irritate – the undeniable fact that Stewart’s Snow White is beautiful enough to be classed as ‘the fairest of them all’ is undermined by the unwavering desire to see her sat on by a walrus.
In contrast, Charlize Theron’s evil queen is just about the only character who seems more interesting than an alfalfa sprout; her pain and frustration are more deeply felt than that of those who suffer under her tyrannical reign. Bizarrely, Theron’s character is given more of a background story than most, which reveals the film’s other principal flaw: timing. Instead of prioritising particular characters and moments, Sanders pitches everything at the same level of importance, spending precious minutes on what could have been communicated in a fleeting glimpse. By trying to make us feel that everything is important, the film only succeeds in glossing over what it should have highlighted (the dwarves, for instance, who are embodied by an assortment of great English actors but are always at the periphery) and flogging the living daylights out of what it should have skipped.
Snow White and the Huntsman may present itself as a gritty, empowered take on the original fairytale, but thanks to an underdeveloped script and a less-than-inspiring heroine, we simply don’t buy it.