Snow White and the…no wait, never mind, just Snow White

I went to see Snow White and the Huntsman last night. I go to the movies a lot, and I always love it – but last night I felt like a kid again. Actually, I don’t remember how I felt going to the movies as a kid, so let me rephrase. I felt ambushed by the kind of childish delight that you forget you’re allowed to feel as an adult.

I can’t say what made me so particularly excited for this movie. I haven’t been looking forward to it for ages, or watching trailers and interviews. I had no great expectations. The only half-reason I can come up with is that I’ve been reading a lot of Loki fan fiction lately, and more than anything I want big, magical characters in big, magical landscapes.

The movie was…almost an amazing thing.

It felt like one of those camp adventure movies from the 80s, but with better effects. It’s like the anti-ironic, anti-hipster movie, without being unintelligent or more naive than it had to be. It took itself seriously – in the best possible way. Not seriously like, “see what we did there, audience, see how awesome we are?” – seriously like, “it is the most important thing of all time ever that she get her throne back.”

I like that kind of serious. We haven’t seen it in movies in such a long time. It’s the kind of serious that opens itself to ridicule. There’s something about earnest emotion that’s silly unless it’s pushed to its most extreme expression, and then it gets you despite yourself and becomes great.

I liked that, above all else, this was a story about a woman becoming queen. Snow White lets people and beasts sacrifice themselves on her behalf, because she’s a true queen at heart – she loves all her subjects and understands at the same time that it’s more important that she survives than they.

Which gave us a kick-ass heroine who yells back at trolls with her puny human lungs.

It also made the male characters…confusing.

Given that they stuck the huntsman’s name right there in the title, I think I can be forgiven for assuming he was going to be the romantic lead. And they set him up beautifully for it. He’s drunk and a widower, and thanks to Chris Hemsworth’s face we get the depth of his grief for the wife he’s lost. He dismisses Snow White as nothing more than a girl – and entirely misunderstands all her inner pain and her importance.

When he asks Snow White why she didn’t tell him who she was Snow White, in my favourite kind of heroine move, tells him to his face that she doesn’t trust him. She trusts in her own judgement and keeps her own counsel.

I enjoyed this romantic set-up a lot. You can see how she prods the tender wound of his dead wife, and how she challenges him to risk caring again.

But then her childhood friend William turns up.

At first I thought this was brilliance. Every narrative impulse says she should end up with the boy who was forced to leave her behind when they were children. I loved the idea that she’s grown up in the meantime, and the huntsman is the man for the woman she’s become, through adversity.

Give the huntsman’s fear that everything he cares about will leave him eventually, I could already taste the moment when William comes for Snow White and the huntsman is forced to watch her “leave” him.

Instead, William turns up and they all kinda become travelling buddies. It’s probably not coincidental that the traction all dropped out of the movie for me at this point.

I respect the fact that even these men who love her ultimately become pawns in her quest for the throne – while never belittling her true human feeling and loyalty for them. But the title of the film and the great romantic set-up demanded something else, which the narrative didn’t fulfil.

If anything, it should have been Snow White and the Queen. Those two have the most to gain and lose from each other, and the most complex relationship. The men felt secondary, and I wonder whether it was just too radical to have them well and truly shunted to the side, or whether the writer wasn’t entirely conscious of the narrative promise he made and broke.

Comments 10 Responses

    1. anna cowan Post author

      I’ve thought about it some more – and I actually think it all works, if they just took the huntsman out of the title! That’s what set up the expectation for me that their story would be the prominent part, whereas it’s really her story with the characters who help her along the way. I wonder how much of that was a marketing decision? I can’t quite pay a writer losing sight of that central relationship, if he’d intended it to be central all along…

      1. Imelda Evans

        No, but there’s many a slip from the writer’s pen to the screen. Maybe the title was the writer’s but the finished film was changed from their concept. Or maybe, as you say, it was just something they picked out of the air to differentiate it from a Disney-style version and it was never intended to be a central part of the movie.

    1. anna cowan Post author

      I’d say still go and see it. The first half especially I really loved, and it’s the most emotionally gung-ho movie I’ve seen in ages. And yes, the world-building is wonderful. It’s probably better going in not expecting more from the romance than you’re going to get! I was chatting with an author on twitter about it, and she loved it because it’s predominantly a coming-of-age story, so she didn’t want to see Snow White’s future all stitched up. That might be a good way to approach it.

  1. louisecusack

    No I liked the romance. But I was surprised that more wasn’t made of the romance between Snow White and the Hunstman, and especially surprised that there wasn’t strong closure on the romance element at the end. It’s almost as if they designed the movie (using a lot of scenes stolen from other movies) then decided they needed a romance – “Love triangles are hot, let’s do that!” then they didn’t follow up on it. I was fine with the quest for the throne being the main plot thread – Kristen Stewart was a great choice for the lead – but subplots need to be tied up, and the romance wasn’t – well at least not conclusively for me. But perhaps they’re planning on a sequel, which I would love to see.

    Lovely insightful review Anna! Thanks for posting it. You reminded me of all the parts of the film I loved (when I wasn’t being annoyed by how ‘familiar’ a lot of the scenes felt). I think I’ll see it again so I can get over my peev and enjoy the sweeping drama.

    1. anna cowan Post author

      LOL yes – I found myself doing some Lord of the Rings double-takes while watching it. Not to mention the traumatic emotional flash-backs to The Never-Ending Story.

      I read somewhere that they’re fast-tracking a sequel because it did so well at the box office. As long as they stay true to the earnest tone of it, I – like you – would be very happy to see a sequel. And maybe then the romance will be concluded…

      I still feel like – I dunno, if it wasn’t going to conclude in this movie there are still more satisfying ways to mark that. There was something begun between them that wasn’t taken anywhere. Also

      ***** SPOILERS *******

      when the huntsman does his romantic speech when she’s on the byre, everything he loves about her still goes back to his wife. He’s still mourning his wife. I admired this in the storytelling, actually – it felt entirely true to his character and the depth of his feeling. But even that wasn’t properly acknowledged. I would have felt more satisfied about “we’re not romantic together yet” if there had been more self-consciousness about the huntsman still mourning his wife, etc. But maybe the fact that I read it in, means it’s already there? Hmmm, still, the traction stopped for me as soon as the romance became unclear.

  2. stace8383

    I haven’t seen it yet, although I’m looking forward to it… it sounds to me like a brilliant idea, to put the romantic/sexual stuff to the side and focus on something more complex and unusual. It isn’t common for a movie to have a romance that ISN’T the main point, if you know what I mean. I like the idea of it! hehe

    1. anna cowan Post author

      agreed! I only wish they wouldn’t signpost it as a romance…because then my expectations are all wrong. I rewatched Thor the other day, and remembered how absolutely unnecessary that romance felt. The main relationship was Thor/Loki/Odin, and all of Thor’s transformation came from losing his power, not from falling in love. It would have been a better movie without the romance – but I guess romance is kinda mandatory? Which isn’t such a bad thing – i just wish people would do it better. And now I’m off topic – sorry! 🙂

  3. louisecusack

    Don’t worry about being off-topic Anna. I like it when blog comments evolve away from the original blog into other territory. I must admit I’m always looking for the romance in a movie, but one of my all-time favorite movies is “Master and Commander” which has zero romance. I think you’re right, if they’re going to put a romance in, do it properly! Don’t just toss it in as a bit of chocolate for the girls so we’ll sit through a bloodbath. Having said that, the original Terminator movie is one of the most romantic movies I’ve ever seen, but that romance between Kyle and Sarah is what the whole story is about – he came back through time for her! (I do love that line). So perhaps it’s as you said, more about the filmmakers getting their signals right so they’re not building up an expectation in the trailer and the posters that isn’t delivered on in the movie.

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