The Hunt is On
Snow White and the Huntsman
There's a common trope in Hollywood about two films coming along at the same time, almost as if one studio discovered another studio was working on something and decided to get in on the action. Sure, some of these can be proven -- Dreamworks made Antz specifically to stick it to Disney (and Pixar) and their upcoming A Bug's Life -- but more often than not it's just coincidence. We can chalk two stories happening around the same time from different studios up to them seeing something or heading about something and deciding to create similar films (see Deep Impact and Armageddon in 1998, Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down in 2013, and many, many more). It's not usually malicious.
2012 graced us with yet another one of these odd pairs of films, both of which adapted the classic fairy tale of Snow White. The first to come out, Mirror Mirror, came and went with a relative whimper. The other film that year, though, somehow managed to do just well enough to warrant its own sequel. Snow White and the Huntsman was billed as a darker, more mature take on the material (which, frankly, we'd already gotten back with Snow White: A Tale of Terror), but in reality it was just a bland, ill-conceived mess.
With the land of Tabor in danger from mysterious invaders, King Magnus (Noah Huntley) leads his armies out to battle the foes. What he discovers is that the warriors they're battling weren't men but magical creations that crumble when attacked. They also find that these automatons had a prisoner, Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who, thanks to the efforts of the king, was now freed. The king was instantly smitten with this woman, forgetting about the death of his wife (which had happened just a few years earlier). He proposes marriage right there, and then brings Ravenna to be his wife, as well as the mother to his daughter, Snow White (played as a child by Raffey Cassidy).
Unfortunately for the King, all of this was part of Ravenna's plan. As soon as they are wed, she murders him in their wedding bed. She then has her men, led by her brother Finn (Sam Spruell), take over the castle. They kill all the soldiers and servants duty bound to the (now dead) king, and installs herself as the ruler of Tabor. Oh, and she throws Snow White into a tower where she spends the next few years of her life (right up until she grows up to be Kristen Stewart). However, over time the Queen's power begins to fade, and it takes more and more souls to fuel her black magic (and keep her young). She needs a true fix, a way to maintain her power forever, and that apparently requires the heart of Snow White, who is now "the fairest in the land". Ravenna sends Finn to get the girl, but Snow White slips through his fingers and escapes. Now the hunt is on, led by a drunken huntsman, Eric (Chris Hemsworth), to find the girl and bring her back... or maybe help her save the kingdom.
We discussed this with the last Snow White film we covered, A Tale of Terror, but these films seem to often struggle figuring out who the main character should be. Snow White is our lead, sure, as she's the heroine of her story (even if, in most versions, things happen to her and not because of her), but arguably Ravenna is the far more interesting character. She has a tragic back story involving invaders attacking her town and killing her family back when she was a child. She had grand magical powers (that, if we're honest, the film never really makes clear how they work). And most importantly, she has a scenery chewing performance from Theron. Snow White is tangential to her own story with Ravenna around.
It doesn't help that Snow White is played rather blandly by Kristen Stewart. I don't want to be one of those people that piles onto Stewart and calls her a bad actress. I don't think she's bad when she's given material she cares about, but I don't think she gave a crap about Snow White for most of this film. The meat of her story is her wandering through the Dark Forest outside Tabor Castle, trying to make it to the castle of the local Baron (who is still loyal to the royal family). She's either pursued by the titular huntsman, Eric, or aided by him (because you don't cast a Hemsworth to play a bad guy) but for two thirds of the film Snow White is a passive agent in her own story; Eric does the heavy lifting. Clearly this version of Snow White didn't interest her one bit and it shows on screen.
Stewart does come alive, though, in the last act of the film when she gets to go from meek, helpless girl to a warrior queen attacking her own castle. Clearly what drew the actress to the role was the chance to put on armor and go into a battle sequence, letting her play the big action hero. When she delivers a speech to rally her people, that's the first real acting Stewart does in the film. This is when the movie finally gels and gets interesting. It's just unfortunate that it takes something on the order of 90 minutes of wasted time to get up to that point. That whole time you're watching Snow White stumble around, being useless, while a big power bitch is on screen making things happen. Ravenna leads the film right up until Snow White finally gets interesting.
In and around all of that is a lot of muddled scenes and blather. The film is Snow White and the Huntsman, but frankly the Huntsman isn't much more interesting than Snow White. Chris Hemsworth is a fine actor but there wasn't much to this role for the actor to really latch onto. This was early in his Thor career and I think he was just as bored with big, empty blockbusters as Stewart. A character like the Huntsman, who is ground down by life, always drunk, and generally surly, doesn't really suit the kinds of acting Hemsworth really liked. He's better at playing a card, a big, dumb buy who's also the naive life of the party. The Huntsman is far from that and the role doesn't suit the actor one bit.
Which is why it makes no sense how the Huntsman got a sequel. Supposedly, a relationship between Stewart and the film's director, Rupert Sanders, leaked out and caused quite the scandal, so Stewart was not asked back for the sequel (which seems to be punishing her when Sanders was the one that was married and, also, why is this any of our business?). So they spun Eric out into the even more bland and boring The Huntsman: Winter's War, which predictably tanked (do we really need a Snow White movie without Snow White?), and that ended the burgeoning franchise right there.
Except, really, did this need to be a franchise? What did it really have going for it? A fantastic performance from Theron, but her character dies at the end (which is to be expected as the step-mother always dies in Snow White), a lot of tedious and terrible CGI, some really awkward dwarves (not played by dwarves, which seems like quite an issue in modern Hollywood), and a couple of lead actors that really would have preferred doing anything other than this film. That, right there, doesn't exactly spell a recipe for long-lived film franchise.
Hell, the film didn't even really do that well, not in Hollywood math. It made $396 Mil off a budget of $170 Mil, and usually a film needs to do three-times its production budget to be considered "a good bet" for future sequels. The buzz around this film largely focused on Stewart and Sanders and their scandal, and that (as is credited by those that study film) is what drove audiences to the theater. You can't have that scandal happen twice. Universal should have cut their losses while they were ahead.
Snow White and the Huntsman is a thoroughly mediocre movie that somehow made nearly $400 Mil. It has a great villain turn for Theron, and some of the action is decent, but the rest of the film is utterly unremarkable. As soon as you're done watching it you've basically forgotten it. No one, other than me, is even discussing it any more. That's for the best.