Over the past few years, live action adaptations of fairy tales seem to have come back into fashion, and so it was that 2012 saw yet another adaptation of the classic tale of Snow White. With Kristen “Bella Swan” Stewart in the starring role, my hopes weren’t high for much in the way of quality, but Snow White and the Huntsman fails to even be amusingly bad, settling instead for a tedious mediocrity.
As in the fairytale, our tale begins with the birth of the destined princess Snow White, followed soon after by the death of her mother. Despite being distraught with grief, the king soon perks up when he rescues a beautiful woman from an evil army, and marries her the very next day. Naturally, this is all a ruse on the part of his new wife Ravenna, who is in fact an evil sorceress with a bee in her bonnet about remaining young and beautiful. Barely has she been in the palace a day before she kills the king, takes over the kingdom with the help of her brother and various assorted grunts, and imprisons Snow White in a tower for however long it takes for a little girl to grow into Kristen Stewart.
Now, with Snow White being the rightful heir to the throne and the one real threat to the queen’s position, you might think it would be best just to kill her quietly, but no – that would be too simple. In the meantime, life under Ravenna’s rule is so miserable that the land itself withers and dies, whilst peasants are oppressed and women have their life energy sucked away to keep the queen and her brother eternally young.
Magic, it turns out, is expensive, but there is one way to remain beautiful forever – eating the heart of Snow White. Here at last is a reason to keep her alive, except that not only did the queen not know about this up until now, but she had also been warned many years that Snow White was the only one who could break the spell that lets her remain young. So the best thing to do now would be to dispatch her quickly and efficiently, thus sparing us all the remainder of this film, but naturally, this doesn’t happen. Instead, the queen’s brother (I have no idea if he has a name) decides to go and gloat over Snow White in her cell, conveniently leaving the door open so that she can overpower him and escape.
That’s not the end of the convenience, for despite being a high value prisoner, Snow White encounters no guards on her way out. Indeed, she even finds a strategically placed Plot Horse waiting in the castle grounds, which, despite a complete lack of equipment or training, she is able to ride it out into the Dark Forest, where it immediately gets stuck in a bog and dies. Poor Plot Horse.
Of course, this doesn’t sit well with the queen, but since the Dark Forest is an uncharted and hazardous place, she has to hire a tracker to help her men navigate it. Enter the titular Huntsman, a trademark friendless maverick who has descended into misery and alcoholism since his wife died. Using the same lifeless, wooden dialogue that permeates the entire film, the queen tries and fails to coerce him with threats to his life. Eventually, she has to concede and instead say that she will use her powers to resurrect his wife. Even an idiot could tell that she’s lying, but somehow it’s enough to get the Huntsman to agree to lead the queen’s brother and some generic guards through the forest.
Out in the forest, Snow White is easily found, but as soon as the Huntsman captures her, the queen’s brother stupidly admits that there’s no way the Huntsman’s wife is coming back, prompting the Huntsman to switch sides and flee into the forest with Snow White. Cue the usual tension between the feisty yet clueless young woman and the grizzled, streetwise older man, that we all know will end with them falling in love. In the meantime, though, they meander through the forest for a bit, the Huntsman randomly shows Snow White how to defend herself with a knife, and then they get picked up by some villagers.
These pointless villagers have managed to live in relative peace by giving up sacrifices to keep the queen young, but after telling Snow White that her time will also come, the entire village gets burned down. Presumably this is to show Snow White the horrors of the queen’s rule, but it’s not as if any of the cardboard characters in this film can inspire any kind of emotion in the viewer.
Anyway, moving on, and with that behind them, it’s time to encounter the other famous characters of Snow White – the Seven Dwarves. In this case, six of them are grizzled old-timers, and one of them is a young optimist who quickly befriends Snow White. Guess which one pointlessly dies later in the film?
Before that, however, the dwarves accompany Snow White and the Huntsman (who, by this point, is considered to know her well just because he spent a few more hours with her than anyone else) to the land of the creepy-looking fairies, where everyone waxes lyrical over how Snow White’s very presence has a healing effect on all around her. Clearly, these are just the usual urges felt by a bunch of men who haven’t seen a woman in a while, and it was at this point that I realised how much better this film would be if it was just a straight porno.
Unfortunately, it isn’t, so instead we plod onwards. Snow White and her entourage meet up with her childhood sweetheart Duke William, whose presence is more damp squib than love triangle igniting firecracker. It does allow the by-now desperate queen to disguise herself as William and offer Snow White a poisoned apple, thus shoehorning in a pointless scene where our heroine appears to die, only to be revived by the true love’s kiss of the Huntsman. Yes, the same Huntsman who spent years grieving over his wife and two days looking after the bland Snow White. Fear not, though, for it’s not as if he doesn’t get closure; the queen’s ever garrulous brother admits that he killed the Huntsman’s wife, thus sealing his fate.
The queen herself remains to be dealt with, however, and even as she sits in her castle growing ever older and uglier, narrative convenience triumphs over Snow White’s blandness, enabling her to raise an army. Despite the castle’s superior defences, the powers of destiny enable the rebel troops, with the untried Snow White at the forefront of battle (dressed inappropriately in a short grey skirt), to overwhelm the queen’s defences. Once inside the walls, the older, more experienced warriors stand aside to allow Snow White to use the Chekhov’s gun of the Huntsman’s self-defence lesson to undo the queen’s magic, kill her, and take her rightful place on the throne.
If you’ve read this far, then I must congratulate you on getting this far, but now imagine not just reading a summary of this film here, but sitting down for two hours and watching it for yourself. A journey replete with lacklustre dialogue and wooden characters, Snow White and the Huntsman is a film best left well alone.