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'Snow White and the Huntsman' Offers a Dull Romance

The back-and-forthing over who's penetrating whom is plainly perverse, but Snow White and the Huntsman spends little time sorting out this emotional and moral conundrum.

Snow White and the Huntsman

Director: Rupert Sanders
Cast: Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Sam Spruell, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Universal Pictures
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-06-01 (General release)
UK date: 2012-05-30 (General release)

"You let her slip through your tiny little fingers?" Ah yes. The Wicked Queen is furious. Again. Named Ravenna (Charlize Theron) in Snow White and the Huntsman, the queen is here chastising her brother Finn (Sam Spruell), and he appears to be used to it. Finn's a sniveling sort, pale and submissive and ever desperate, in part because his sister is a powerful witch and in part, you guess, because she's constantly cruel. Indeed, she's probably accused Finn of having tiny "fingers" before.

At this particular moment, Ravenna's mad that Finn has failed to recover the escaped princess, her stepdaughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart). Being the "fairest of them all," Snow White poses something like an existential threat to the queen, in that the latter must remain the fairest in order to exist. (This owing to a deal made by her own mother with a Magic Mirror, a speaker of cryptic semi-truths who regularly slides off the wall to become a molten-metallish figure [Christopher Obi], resembling a depressed cousin of the T-1000 from Terminator 2.) To remain the fairest, Ravenna must literally suck the fairness out of other girls, in a ritual where a noisy white gas passes from the victim into her gaping mouth while Finn, who delivers the girls, watches with a mix of horror and awe.

His reaction seems apt, and might reflect your own. For the queen also sucks the energy out of the movie, her scenes exponentially more compelling than those featuring her rival. Snow White remains resolutely -- willfully? -- uninteresting, as does Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), a hero as generic as his name suggests. If the film's title indicates the couple's foregone romance, its inconsistent pacing and battle interludes (wherein the opponents ride horses, shoot arrows, and wield big swords), mean it takes them a long time to get to the point. In between the battles, they argue like a couple in a screwball comedy, wander through the dark forest, and plan their revenge on the queen.

They have slightly different reasons for wanting revenge. Gruff and unhappy, the Huntsman is a widower and a drunk when he's initially hired by Ravenna to find Snow White after she escapes the prison where her stepmother has kept her locked away since the princess was a child, and discovered that the queen murdered her father (Noah Huntley), within a day of their first meeting, following their speedy wedding. Though the child doesn’t see the act -- Ravenna sits on top of him as if to have sex, pronounces him deserving a knife to the chest because he's a man and so, abusive and manipulative of women by definition, and stabs him -- she does see the bloody body on his bed. Duly traumatized (or so you would think), she runs off only to be caught up by Finn, who takes her to the prison cell she will occupy for the next decade. He also develops a creepily lust for her, glimpsed when he tells her he watches her while she's sleeping and then she stabs him in the face with a rusty nail.

Such back-and-forthing over who's penetrating whom is plainly perverse (as are Finn's too intimate displays of devotion to Ravenna), but the film spends little time sorting out this emotional and moral conundrum. Instead it focuses on a too-easy distinction between the Bad Queen and Good Princess. The first is established by Ravenna's repeated violence, impoverished kingdom, fondness for ravens and associated black gear, she's not unlike the Evil Queen of the Disney animated film, from way back in 1937), and tendency to roar when she's upset. The second is not so much showed as proclaimed: everyone who meets Snow White says how good she is while the camera gazes on her flawless complexion (sometimes fetchingly smudged with mud) and red lips.

The queen helpfully sets in motion the meeting between the Huntsman and Snow White, when she hires him to fetch the girl from the dark forest, promising to resurrect his dead wife in exchange. The fact that he believes this promise suggests he's not the sharpest tool in the shed: he is, however, and in keeping with his generic nature, a brave and sturdy sort, and very good at saving damsels in distress -- or at least damsels other than his dead wife, about whose untimely demise he feels very guilty.

If this guilt is an obvious motivation for his drinking, the film is less clear about why he and every other man in sight -- including one Prince William (Sam Claflin) and the dwarves (played by non-dwarf actors like Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Toby Jones, and Ray Winstone, digitized to appear short) -- adore Snow White on sight. The dwarves appreciate that she's her father's daughter (back in the day, he was a better king than Ravenna is queen), but they're moved to lay down their lives for her after they spot her cavorting with sunlight and fairies and a magical deer in the forest. "She is life," pronounces the wisest dwarf Muir (Bob Hoskins). It's not entirely clear what this means, but all who hear it seem impressed.

Snow White, so all good all the time, is on its face a hard part to play. But the movie does Stewart no favors by giving her so little to do and worse, hinting that she'll have to make a Bella-like choice, between the dull and resentful Prince William and the rowdy and resentful Huntsman, then removing that choice from her while she's sleeping due to that poisoned apple. You see whose kiss connotes true love even if she does not, but it can't be a good sign that the individual most affected by this plot point sleeps through it.


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