Prompted by my recent encounter with Maleficent I decided I’d turn my visage backward a few years to the other much-maligned fairy-tale reimagining Snow White and the Huntsman. All I can say is it far surpassed my expectations. While Maleficent got the modern fairy-tale mostly right, Snow White and the Huntsman gets it exactly right. Unhindered by the unwritten rules of Disney family fair, this iteration of the classic story from Universal Pictures delves deep into the darkness of the original and similar stories. There’s a bit of Snow White, a bit of Narcissus, a bit of Princess Mononoke, and a LOT of Joan of Arc. This is a fantastic film. It’s too bad everyone forgets to remember it.
The ubiquity of the Disney name makes us identify fairy-tales with the Disney version, but Snow White and the Huntsman takes us back to the source, back to the world out of which the Snow White story evolved. This is the days of the Kings, when the feudal system was still alive and well, before the Reformation came and gave us capitalism and egalitarianism. The characters are quite obviously Catholics, with somewhere between five and seven Bishops present at the King’s wedding and at his daughter’s coronation. Having been imprisoned by her evil stepmother, Snow White recites the Our Father. For we Anarcho-Monarchists who yearn for the days of a privatized traditional society, Snow White is a breath of fresh air.
The film is the story we know, though embellished somewhat. Snow White’s father is murdered by his second wife, a sorceress named Ravenna (which implies not only the black birds she uses to disguise herself, but also hunger and lust, ravening) played excellently by Charlize Theron. This evil queen is calm and collected, like the villainess of old, but can lapse into psychotic antics whenever her authority or her youth is threatened. She is scary and unpredictable, cold but also crazy. Held under a spell which prolongs her youth and beauty under certain conditions, Ravenna is constantly searching for new ways to preserve her immortality. Her newest and unforeseen rival is the young and virginal princess whose father she murdered. Prompted by her magic mirror (which, by the way, she places on the King’s old altar, replacing the true Sacrament with her false sorcery) she unleashes a manhunt to find Snow White and kill her before she can become a threat to her throne and her beauty.
The symbolism abounds, of course, and the film is refreshingly conventional. There are no goofy feminist roll reversals where the men are all ineffective wimps while the women go around doing the real work. Nay, the Huntsman is a true, if tortured, hero who serves his mistress with reverence and loyalty. It is almost subversive in its faithfulness to tradition. As Pope Benedict taught us, modernity is old-fashioned. When I saw Snow White in the trailer in mail and armor I thought, “O God! Another Alice in Wonderland-style warrior/princess.” This is an oversimplification. Snow White’s roll in the army is as a figure-head, the standard-bearer of her kingdom, leading her subjects into battle like any good monarch. She is very much like a St. Joan, or even our Blessed Mother, leading the Christians of the Kingdom against the armies of the Devil.
This movie has a sense of the value of myths and of fiction. It manages to present the old story in a way that is new and exciting. The best part of the movie is when Snow White, the dwarves, and the Huntsman enter a fairy land where all the magical creatures of the forest live. It is populated by the characters we know, but has an aesthetic more similar to that of Hayao Miyazaki than the traditional Western imagination. The most magnificent moment of the film is when Snow White is blessed by a great white hart, the spirit of the forest, who seems to be taken right out of Princess Mononoke. It’s rare that CGI creatures still create a sense of wonder in an audience. Familiarity breeds contempt. But the character designs here, just outside of normal, are a vision to behold. At a decent two hours and seven minutes, Snow White and the Huntsman does not overstay its welcome. It’s a magical and energetic ride through through the myths we have all come to know so well. This is a brilliant film.
The negative reaction to this movie baffles me. It is not too long. It is anything but formulaic. The acting is good. I suspect the answer lies somewhere in our lead actress, the hated Kristen Stewart. The cult of disapproval surrounding her is completely unwarranted. They hate her because she’s easy to hate and fun to pick on, just like anyone who dared to advance their career with those devil-spawn Twilight movies. It’s unfortunate that Miss Stewart has to put up with all the b.s. that gets tossed around about her lack of talent. She’s a perfectly fine actress. Who knows, maybe she too will have her own Natalie Portman Black Swan moment. We can only hope. Keep up the good work Kristen.