This year’s second take on the Snow White story is equally as impressive visually (in a more CGI way) as Tarsem’s Mirror Mirror. Snow White and the Huntsman also shares one of that film’s weaknesses and adds a couple of its own. Like its predecessor it has the central issue of a miscast (for different reasons) Snow White. Throw in an utterly humorless screenplay and nearly 20 more minutes of screen time and it comes off rather less well, though comparing the films is largely pointless, since their aims are so incredibly different. Still, this one—despite many pleasing touches—comes up short. That the problems may lie in it being more ambitious doesn’t change the end result.
It may be argued, it will be argued, it has been argued that 127 minutes (especially if you overlook about 10 minutes of CGI credits that no one reads) is not an exoribitant running time. That’s true, but we’re dealing with a story so familiar—and so relatively simple—that it was once reduced to a seven-minute Betty Boop cartoon, with time for a Cab Calloway musical number, and was still comprehensible. The problem with this latest version is that it doesn’t add enough of value in terms of characterization or necessary incident to justify its length, so that it feels like a case of Tolkien envy. We get more back story (a debatable plus), some extra incident (mostly very incidental), and a thoroughly pointless romantic triangle that goes nowhere, and seems to be there mostly to Twilight-ize Kristen Stewart’s Snow White so that two hunky boys can fight over her. This not only seems implausible, but no fighting actually takes place.
Then there’s the question of Ms. Stewart and her Snow White. In her favor, she’s not as vapid as Lily Collins in Mirror Mirror, and in moments of repose at least, she has a surprisingly effective storybook look. Her acting, however, is limited. She mostly has three expressions—either looking stoned, irritated or like she’s about to be violently ill. Charitably, it can be noted that there are degrees to her irritability. In fairness, she has her moments—notably her encounter with the troll and the white stag, and her dance with the dwarf—but mostly I found her strident and off-putting. The worst of it, however, is when she rallies the troops to storm the castle—thereby providing the movie with its requisite big battle. It isn’t even briefly believable. But it is cringe-worthy.
On the other hand, Charlize Theron has some good scenes as the villainess, though in her big scenes, she’s frankly more loud than powerful or scary. The CGI’d roster of big name Brit character actors—Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan—as dwarves is a clever stunt, but it’s never much more than that. The problem is that no one bothered to write much for them, and even the world’s best and most engaging performer is in need of a script.
There is, however, a huge plus in the direction of first-time feature director Rupert Sanders. He may not quite have mastered the requirements of drama—and that is probably as much the fault of the screenplay as it is his—but Sanders has an obvious gift for visuals that suggests the possibility of a truly exciting future. There’s something of Ken Russell in his use of exteriors, and there’s something of Guillermo del Toro in his handling of fantasy. Even if this film ultimately disappoints, Sanders is someone to watch. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality.