2 stars out of 5
Appropriately enough for a story about beauty, visually the film is gorgeous. If you like eye-catching gothic imagery, which I certainly do, then this film delivers. We get blood drops on snow, red roses, gnarled black forests, ravens. The dark forest where nothing is as it seems as it appears to make people there hallucinate their worst fears. When Snow White gets lost in the spooky forest in question she sees branches as snakes. But that was fairly similar to the animated Disney version. There is also an opposite forest, the forest of the fairies, which is brightly lit and full of cute woodland critters, which also is similar to the Disney animated version and frankly look just as cartoonish. The CGI and special effects are generally to a high standard to be fair, but this section stands out quite badly.
The Seven Dwarves do show up despite their appearance being somewhat underplayed in most of the promo I’ve seen. They are characterised as gold miners being forced into becoming a sort of gang of thieves because of the queen’s reign, and they provide some comic relief. I could be wrong, but it seems almost as if they are reluctant addition, almost like they are only there because people would expect them to be part of a Snow White adaptation. There is a feeling that they are a little unnecessary. They don’t appear until quite late in the film.The title suggests the story they wanted to tell was a love story between Snow White and the huntsman hired to kill her. The problem is though, that that story isn’t presented in an engaging way here. There isn’t much there that shows that they are attracted to each other, it almost comes off as they are by default. “You’re the heroine, I’m the hero, we should get together”. Also by the end of the film, this isn’t resolved. They try and set up a love triangle with a childhood friend of Snow White, who is also a duke’s son and standing in for the Prince Charming role. The implication is that the huntsman is Snow White’s ‘true love’ as at different points in the film after she has been poisoned by the apple, they both kiss her and she only wakes from her deep sleep after the huntsman has kissed her. But by the end, it’s not explicitly said whether they get together, but they probably do… to be honest I didn’t really care.
As far as plot is concerned, the main narrative is that Snow White is leading a rebellion against the wicked queen. Making a fairytale princess into an Action Girl isn’t a new thing, Ever After starring Drew Barrymore did that for Cinderella, but Snow White actually makes a bit more sense to try that. As Ellie Beaven’s character put it in an episode of ’90s CBBC show The Wild House, “according to the story everyone loves Snow White and everyone hates the old bag”, so why not lead a revolution and claim the throne which as the daughter of the deceased king she has a legitimate claim that it is rightfully hers anyway? The ‘Snow White: Warrior Princess’ part of this film is actually one of the things about it that works well. But the film runs out of steam long before the end, and it follows standard “going into the final battle to defeat an evil overlord” clichés. Snow White making a BIG INSPIRING SPEECH TO RALLY THE TROOPS backed by stirring music is a very cringeworthy moment it has to be said.
By far the most interesting thing about the film is Charlize Theron’s performance as the Wicked Queen, here named Ravenna. In the first half of the film it looks like she’s trying to play the character as an insane hammy villainess, which would be fine, in fact if handled correctly it can make a villain iconic, but it still needs to come off as natural and convincing. Unfortunately it comes off as her trying a little too hard. However, when we get to see the more tragic sides of Ravenna, she’s much better. They give a blink and you’ll miss it flashback to a traumatic childhood, but it’s they way Ravenna tearfully remembers it that makes it work. As in the original story the wicked queen is obsessed with her beauty, and in this version she maintains it by stealing it from other young women, causing women in the kingdom to deliberately scar themselves so she won’t take them. But what makes her as a villain more disturbing isn’t her powers, but that her fatal flaw, a desperation to stay young and beautiful, is a very human one, and Theron plays this side of the character very well. The scene where Ravenna poisons Snow White with the apple and in the final battle is good for this. She’s angry, bitter, twisted and desperate.
The poison apple scene also follows some adaptations that make Snow White seem a little less, well, thick. In the Grimms version of the fairytale, the queen comes back as a peddlar woman 3 times and tries varations of the same trick and Snow White falls for it every single time. In this film as with some other modern adaptations, the queen disguise herself as someone Snow White knows rather than as a random peddlar woman after she’s well aware of the queen’s magical power and the fact she wants to kill her.
This film isn’t a terrible one, it looks good, and Florence + The Machine’s ‘Breath Of Life’ is an ace film theme,most of the characters are presented well enough, and it does a better job of making them more relatable and fully rounded to modern audiences than some adaptations of fairy tales can be, but overall it’s a little uninspiring really. If you want a film with a dark take on the Snow White story I’d recommend Snow White: A Tale Of Terror starring Sigourney Weaver as the wicked queen.