Both Snow White’s adventures in the forest and the Queen’s ramblings in the castle may be doomed by director Rupert Sanders’s visual imagination. The movie is truly splendid to look at, and the vast tools at Mr. Sanders’s disposal stand in for any real narrative development. Snow White undergoes surrealist hallucinations, then goes to a fairy-ruled domain that Jean Cocteau might have directed if he had the budget for CGI. The Queen’s mirror drips onto the floor and re-forms in the shape of a man. With tricks like this, why wouldn’t a director keep using them again and again in place of scenes where Snow White reveals a motivation beyond survival?
The film’s greatest and most misused visual effect is Chris Hemsworth, who has overcome the burden of remarkable good looks to become one of the most charismatic young actors in Hollywood. Smeared in dirt, Mr. Hemsworth affects the movie’s sole convincing accent (the American, South African and Australian leads of this movie all play crypto-British) and plays the most interesting character. His huntsman, contracted to kill Snow White, is mourning the death of his wife and is unmoved by Snow White’s dubious charms. The movie, though, constructs a love triangle with Snow White’s childhood friend as the third wheel; this feels de rigueur, as though the screenwriters knew Kristen Stewart choosing between two men is more appealing at the box office than Kristen Stewart independent and fighting for survival.
It hardly seems coincidental that the film’s most interesting character is the one freighted with the least baggage; Snow White and the Queen are already well-known characters despite the fact that neither of them are interesting in their particulars. The attempts to push back against the commonly held awareness of who they are end up making Snow White inert rather than nice—she just isn’t convincing as the warrior princess she becomes at film’s end—and the Queen monomaniacal in a repetitive fashion. If one is adapting a well-known public-domain story to the screen, that story should have the adaptability to bear imagination. Snow White is not an interesting character, but she is a character to whom interesting things happen. Altering those events to a repeated series of narrow escapes (the dwarfs, here, are foot soldiers for Snow White, which is as bizarre as it sounds) and casting a notably uncharismatic actress as the woman who keeps making those escapes does the tale no service.
How, then, should fairy tales be adapted? (An adult version of Hansel and Gretel is said to be in the offing.) While the creativity behind Snow White and the Huntsman is to be lauded, that same creativity results in an alteration of the Snow White character to the degree that she’s both unrecognizable—and recognizable as a typical Kristen Stewart heroine, dazed and dependent upon male intervention. Had the film been more faithful to the narrative of its source material, it would have been better; that faithfulness would not have been for its own sake, but rather an acknowledgment that archetypal stories get passed along for a reason.
Snow White and the Huntsman
Running Time 127 minutes
Written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini
Directed by Rupert Sanders
Starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron