"Snow White and the Huntsman" is an Overtold Tale

If ever there were a perfect example of pure, fresh, classical simplicity unnecessarily trodden under with complications, it is Snow White and the Huntsman.

Had it trusted to the native charm of its cast and the sensory seduction of its often-astonishing images to humbly, naively retell its story, this Snow White might have been something special. Instead, it's defined by an overall bagginess that betrays a lack of any abiding authorial pattern.

Things start off at a fleet pace, as the opening exposition tells of the immaculate royal birth of Snow White, her mother's death, and the seduction of her father and conquest of his kingdom by mantis-like adventuress Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who marries her way to the throne and then drives the king's threateningly fair daughter, grown into Kristen Stewart, into exile. An unruly subject, Huntsman Eric (Thor's Chris Hemsworth) is sent into the Dark Forest to finish off Snow, while Prince William (Sam Claflin), who remembers the princess from her girlhood, likewise sets on her trail. Both are duly ensorcelled by Snow's charms, along with seven digitally dwarfed character actors whose appearances are basically a distracting game of "Oh, that's who that is!"

Wait... you're not Edward!
Universal Pictures
Wait... you're not Edward!

This last spring's competing Snow White film, Tarsem Singh's Mirror, Mirror, played the Grimm Brothers as camp, turning the evil queen, played by Julia Roberts, into a stock-comic character: the vain, aging diva, dictator of a royal court that was a tacky mishmash of opulent styles. Snow White and the Huntsman is a far graver treatment of the material.

The script seems to anticipate the sort of questions children ask during the telling of fairy tales and provides answers in spades. The result is a film that's considerably longer than need be, in which the evocative eloquence of storybook pictures is consistently garbled by the need to overexplain and psychoanalyze. The Huntsman, we learn, was driven to drink by his wife's death. The evil queen was warped by a mother who taught her that beauty was her only attribute and by the misuse of fickle men. In the final confrontation between Snow and her stepmother, we even get a hint of Electra complex rivalry. Amid all the film's visual ornamentation, there's no sense of narrative priority — the filmmakers can't see the Dark Forest for the trees.

Among Snow White's extraneous and diluting elements, we must include the addition of a vague romantic rivalry between the brawny Huntsman and dashing prince, which seems to have been more thoroughly considered from a marketing perspective than from a dramatic one.

Giving a fiery call-to-arms speech to a mass of assembled troops in a third act, Stewart is miles outside her range, but she remains a great existential screen presence. There are a number of "supercuts" floating around YouTube that mockingly catalog Stewart's mannerisms — the sideways glances, the lip gnashed with the Chiclet overbite — but what the compilers fail to recognize is that many of our finest film actors have made careers from a single, essential expression. If only this Snow White had Stewart's capacity to just be itself — or at least to know what it is.

 
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