Snow White and the Huntsman came off as a hodge-podge of various allusions to other epic movies. A full cup of Lord of the Rings, some Henry III, stir in a dash of Time Burton's Alice in Wonderland, bake at 400 degrees for 2 full hours, and you get an idea of what this movie contains. While seeming to bite off a bit more than it could chew, on the positive side I found Snow White to be fairly enjoyable, with beautiful cinematography and a story which had some substance. It takes you on a journey to a semi-realistic, dark world populated by the Queen (played by Carlize Theron), the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), and Snow White herself (Kirsten Stewart), alongside a host of other (sadly forgettable) characters. The Queen is stolidly evil, taking advantage of a King who mourns the death of his first wife, and invading his realm without mercy. Her act of aggression and the ensuing dialogue surrounding her own self-motivation I found to be the most deep part of the movie. The Queen's motives are complicated and, even as she comes off at points as blankly and simply evil, there remains some sub-surface complexity. The same is true of her brother, who works as her lackey in running his distopian kingdom. Snow White, the daughter of the first wife of the King, must unite the remaining resistance forces of her father's kingdom to oppose the oppression of the wicked Queen.
A central theme is competing feminisms that seem to underlie the motives of the Queen and White. In this version, Kirsten Stewart portrays Snow White as a nobly heroic image of virtuous womanhood, ala Joan of Arc (with more allusions here), leading the forces of good into epic battle against Evil with a capital “e.” The Queen, on the other hand, is clearly twisted, degenerate womanhood. She is positively man-hating, as comes across in some dialogue. Her brother gives an alternate psyche of what can result from this strange family relationship, with an alternatively “woman-hating” counterpoint to his sister's persona. The Huntsman, sadly, if he was intended to be a foil for virtuous manhood seems to me to fail horribly at that aim, or at least to reflect very modern values of ambiguity in what constitutes masculinity. The Huntsman is subtly attached to White, repenting of attempts to leave her behind at various points, but rarely shows initiative or independent thought and remains entirely in the background. The same is true of the Prince, who is a largely forgettable extra.
Finally, the most interesting theme to me was the subtle role of faith in the film. Snow White, in her imprisonment under the wicked Queen, maintains her inner strength through an apparently Christian faith, reciting the Our Father in one scene. In an interesting contrast, too, the Queen evicts any obvious religious presence whereas Snow White and the King are respectively coronated and married in the presence of apparently Catholic bishops. The message is good, but is fundamentally modern American Christianity, without any substance. The epitome of this is a scene with a white stag, which could be a Christian allegory, but which could equally be some sort of nature deity. Alas, modernity.
In the end, Snow White and the Huntsman evinces good themes, solid values, beautiful cinematography, and a case study between two feminisms. Further, its objects of cinemtographic quotation are not to be sneered at, but give the film some hardiness. This is enough reason to spend an afternoon with this modern retelling of the classic fairytale.
My Rating: 7 out of 10.