The second of two Snow White-themed films in 2012, but the first for myself, I was interested to see what Hollywood would twist and elongate to fill an hour and a half. Depending on which version of the tale you may have heard the fairytale was either cute and romantic, or rather gruesome. The trailer had shown a somewhat Evil-Queen-focused film where Snow White was turned into a warrior princess and the Dwarfs into violent henchmen.
The truth of the film is a little like that but I was happily surprised to see that the innate fairytale charm was still in its rightful place and given beautiful additions that allowed the old form of good versus evil to still be apparent even in this post-modern world. The recent attraction of fairytale adaptations could be seen as an interesting reaction against to the “there are no big stories” post-modern ideology that the west has been stuck in for so long. The film of course deepened the traditional character profiles but allowed the tradition some ground.
The Evil Queen (Charlize Theron), and Snow White’s Step-Mother, murderess of the King, her husband, and fiercely powerful witch, was given a little more substance. She flashed back to a past where she was kidnapped from her family by violent soldiers and a King who replaced his Queen with her. In order to protect her, her mother cast a spell for beauty – that it might become her power. What followed not only protected the victim, but made her into the attacker, repeating the cycle on her miserable subjects, each who feared for their lives and their children. She had acted originally out of fear, but had became the one that everyone feared. It’s a stern lesson to all those who base their lives on their looks – even with magic, beauty will fade and die. In contrast Snow White was beautiful not automatically due to her outer appearance, but instead that of her heart.
In the same way, the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) was given more of a place in the tale by being the “Prince” in a way. His part was not enough to overpower the story and force it into the Romantic genre. He had his own pain, loss of a wife at the hands of the Queen’s brother, and was willing to hunt Snow White for her resurrection. It was quickly set straight that despite the Queen’s powers this could not be done, and so the Huntsman decides to protect Snow White (Kristen Stewart). He leads her home through the Dark Woods and over hills and caves. Meeting the Dwarves introduces her to a world of fairies riding on rabbit and magpies, magical part-stag-part-tree who blesses her destiny as the one who will bring light back to the country.
One area that hit me hard was the women Snow White meets on her journey. A whole village of women, and only women, had scarred their face to save them from the Queen’s beauty-hunting desires. I felt that this symbolised the sacrifice I feel that some women need to think about, a sacrifice they made in order to keep their children safe. So each women had deep wide scars down their faces, and each female child was scarred. This absence of beauty did not make them any less beautiful, because, like Snow White, their beauty shone through their strength and sorrow. As I left I thought about how they might be seen once Snow White has been crowned. Would they be seen as wise women, well-respected because of their sacrifice, loved because of their care and service to the Queen? Or would the harsh world look down on them due to their tainted beauty? It would be a cruel twist to an important lesson of shallow looks.
Ultimately, the fairytale comes down to hearts. The Queen needs a heart to save her, but could have been saved the struggle had her own heart been softer to the struggles of her people. The Huntsman is heart-broken due to the loss of his wife, William (Snow White’s childhood friend) has been heavily burdened by his retreat when Snow White was captured, and Snow White becomes the heart to power a nation, to support and lead her people to battle, and refuses to allow the Queen control over hers.
The film was beautiful, and even if Kristen Stewart seems to suit the misty, dark styles of scenery, she also worked prettily surrounded by flowers and greenery. She was not the Disney cartoon Snow White, but she walked a careful line and did it well. I was not disappointed, and although would hold small children back from viewing this too early, can easily accept this version. It felt natural, emotive, and yet did not force you to cry to the director’s whim.
Snow White and the Huntsman forces some interesting lines of discussion, about the beauty industry and priorities of our culture, but also how we understand true internal beauty. It is worth the cinema price, and I shall likely buy it. I would be interested in comparing it to the comedic take, but for now I am satisfied.