For many of us, the first time we were allowed to venture into the deep end of the pool stands out as a hallmark of our youth, a rite of passage if you will. We spend years engaging in harmless fun in the kiddie pool but that trip to the deep end requires preparation and hard work. The summer movie season is much the same. The warmer months provide endless opportunity for the meaningless, throw-away fun of popcorn films that occupy the shallow end and I personally enjoy these films. But much more attention must be paid to the preparation of a film that aspires to go beyond the standard blockbuster into the more mature territory of epic adventure. Snow White and the Huntsman misses the mark on some key elements and is therefore forced to don water wings in order to stay afloat in the deeper waters.
Shortly after the death of his beloved queen, a heavy-hearted king (Noah Huntley) falls for the unending beauty of Ravenna (Charlize Theron), a newcomer to his kingdom with a murky past and a connection to the dark arts. On their wedding night, Ravenna kills the king, allows her army inside the city gates to overthrow the kingdom, and locks the king’s only daughter, Snow White (Kristen Stewart), away in a castle tower. After 15 years, Snow White is able to escape to the dark forest. Needing the young girl’s heart in order to preserve her eternal youth, Ravenna sends a brave but troubled man known only as The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to fetch Snow White. But when the Huntsman finally tracks the princess down, he is swayed by her story and agrees to aid her in her quest to overthrow Ravenna and assert her claim to the throne.
On paper, there is an awful lot to like about Snow White and the Huntsman. The (much) bleaker take on the classic fairy tale was enough to pique my interest in the beginning and that inherent darkness embodies much of what works in this film. At times it appears to borrow heavily from the mind of Guillermo Del Toro and I mean that in the best way possible. Visually speaking, Snow White is often stunning, adding stylish but natural special effects to a vivid color wash that serves the film appropriately. It contains favorable elements of Willow and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe while still managing to differentiate itself enough to stand on its own two feet. And with the exception of Stewart (more on this in a moment), the cast is superb. Hemsworth brings the requisite brash toughness to his role and yet again displays why he is a superstar in the making. Each of the seven dwarves is brought to life through a combination of great CGI and the liveliness of stellar actors such as Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, and Bob Hoskins. Overshadowing them all, however, is Theron, who completely owns every minute of her screen time, giving us a fantastic overall performance.
Unfortunately, the strengths of Snow White are undone by its glaring weaknesses. Stewart is the most readily apparent weak spot but this isn’t entirely her fault. I wouldn’t call Stewart a good actress but I believe she could be decent in the right role (see: Into the Wild). She is horribly miscast here, however. She’s far too wooden for the part and while she gives a valiant effort (I really mean this; you can tell that she’s trying to be good), her lack of charisma leaves a gaping hole in the film. Snow White simply doesn’t exude the charm or inspire followers the way the role is designed. Too much pressure is placed on Stewart and she just doesn’t have it in her to muster the strength to carry the load.