Story Pile: Snow White and the Huntsman

Back in February, you may remember – because you read everything I write, right? – that I tried to make a bunch of articles about smooch media, and one of my choices was to try and focus on romantic movies that were doing something interesting and cool and not just another Two Extremely Hot Movie Stars Awkwardly Bump Into Each Other In A Predictable Way.

At first I found there was this seam of ‘romance’ movies that were clearly made for men – my iconic example is This Is War, a movie about two super-spies that compete for a hot girl and an action movie breaks out while they’re doing super creepy abuse of surveillance state technology in order to get emotional upskirts of this girl. Now, I felt in my heart that I’d really like an action movie romance if the romance was just between two people of comparative levels of attractiveness.

That’s another thing. Dudes in romance stories are either tremendous people with the emotional capacity of a grape, or they’re potatoes that get girls because they’re in a designated story slot. There are a lot of movies about ugly dudes getting beautiful women to fall in love with them – things in the mould of Knocked Up or, well, any where the central male actor is known primarily as a comedian and not as a ‘leading man.’

I was honestly really hopeful then, when I popped open Snow White And the Huntsman.

And what I got was an amazing sequence of failures.

Spoilers ahead.

I didn’t wind up using this movie in Smooch Month’s Smooch Movies, which was in part because despite being a movie about Snow White, an archetypal Girl Gets Prince Despite Nobody Doing Much story that resonates with people who also want to eat apples and sleep a lot, it’s not really very good at selling the fantasy of having Chris Hemsworth so into you he’ll make out with your dead body. I was trying to be positive back then but there’s no such need here.

I’m not here to teach you lessons about storytelling from this movie, I’m not here to elucidate on some hidden depth in this story, I’m just going to laugh and complain and make fun and I’m not going to be particularly fair to this movie, and I guess I should warn you about it ahead of time. Yes, if this movie is your Secret Fave I warn you I’m going to make a lot of fun of it.

Okay first of all, this movie is just way bigger than it needs to be! This is a child’s story that you can tell in five minutes, and to try and make it take longer involves a lot of what we’ll graciously call padding. Snow White and the Huntsman gives you a bunch of backstory, explaining how the Evil Queen came into power and making her into some sort of supernaturally terrible force of for lack of a better term Serial Man-eating. Unnecessary backstory is the name of the game today, where we get to learn about Snow White’s dad (‘the good king’) and the way he fell into the grasp of Snow White’s stepmom (‘the bad king’) and we learn about how why the Huntsman is a damaged pretty boy.

Actually, I take that back, giving the Huntsman (you remember him? the dude who checks out of the story after he fails to kill Snow White) a backstory where he becomes a sad hot boy who is too damaged to love, but wants to love, and maybe she can heal him, is maybe giving him some reason to be interesting, but the counterpoint to that is that would require her to have some form of agency and not just be an attractive human body shaped sled sliding down the hill of this narrative.

Lore, lore, lore, why does Snow White need Lore? I mean if you’re going to bring back some old story, and build it as the core of your own narrative, I’d be a hypocrite if I was to say that was a bad idea. I did that, after all! But why this story? It’s barely a story in the first place, and the last time I saw a new twist on it, it was Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil ‘Wrote Trigger Warning So Really How Much Respect Do I Give The Man Any More’ Gaiman. Plus, his general ouvre is ‘what if something you know, but a bit creepier,’ and I don’t think that Snow White really has much more legs than that.

Also, it’s really rapey? Like, I know that’s a term I’m never comfortable deploying, because it seems to be making light of a thing that’s very important, but Snow White is not a piece of media that I normally associate with a lot of blank spaces for implied sexual assault. It wasn’t like, oh good, thank goodness, this Snow White retelling has managed to finally make text all the subtextual sexual assault.

There’s the way the story handles the little people actors. There are eight little people actors in this movie, playing ‘dwarfs’ (guess how doomed one of them is), but then, those actors have their faces CG’d out and replaced with the faces of other, represented actors. These actors therefore don’t get lines, don’t get to provide voice for the very small number of roles that Hollywood makes available to them, and instead we’re treated to what, Bob Hoskins phoning in being What If Round Faced Beardy Man Was Sad, A Bit?

It’s just a really meanspirited addition to the story of this movie; it was an attempt to retell Snow White, it made it bloated and unnecessary and took a story with barely nothing interesting in it, and made it less interesting by clouding the simple formula of that story, and then, in spending that money, made the movie worse and hurt people.

Oh, there’s also this wastefulness to everything. Just this vulgar excess in showing faeries and giant magical harts and massive CGI trolls that aren’t used for anything beyond just filling space. They’re there to ‘fill in’ the lore of Snow White, and thuddingly hammer home the symbolism (snow! blood! roses! dead wives!) a story that again, you can tell in five minutes, but the problem at the heart remains.

Oh, and maybe there was some intent to make Hemsworth and … Other… Man into a love triangle, like the Huntsman vs the Prince for Snow White’s sword-wielding hand, but Chris Hemsworth feels like he’s absent from the story and he’s the more present of the two dudes. I think the other one was called William. Or maybe Finn? Who can say. Who’s going to look it up and check? Not you.

The fundamental tension, by the way, in this movie, is still built around the idea of human vanity, with people being able to ‘hide’ from the witch’s magic – oh and that magic gets a backstory and we learn the Queen was also, herself, subject to terrible things that made her the way she is, so we’re meant to be… sympathetic? to this comically evil country-eater? – by making themselves ‘ugly’, which involves adding to themselves facial scars and tattoos that look sick as hell.

This whole exercise tries to turn Snow White into a destined child, and into Joan of Arc, and yet also include the way she dies to the gambit of ‘here, a stranger just handed you poisoned food.’ What makes that ‘solution’ to Snow White’s passivity is that in order to show the Queen’s power to shapeshift and render illusions prior to the apple, the story shows that you, and Snow White, know the queen can use her illusions to deceive people, and then later on show her eating the apple anyway.

Gosh this movie is bad.