For reasons known only to themselves, the makers of Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) hired two American actresses to play the heroine and villain and then forced them to use posh English accents because, hey, English accents mean royalty, amirite? Then, for good measure, they hired an Australian guy to play a Scotsman.
Snow White and the Huntsman starts out more or less following the plot of the title folktale. Snow White (Raffey Cassidy) is the young daughter of the king. Her mother's death leaves the king distraught until he meets the Wicked Queen (Charlize Theron), who seduces and then murders him, taking his kingdom for herself. Snow White is locked up in her own castle's tower prison, kept alive by the Queen for...some reason. After ten years or so pass, Snow White turns into Kristen Stewart, which means the Queen is no longer the fairest of them all. So she sends her brother
Snow White and the Huntsman is part of the Empire's conservative turn in the 2000s, putting us in the familiar territory of an innocent and very, very hot young girl who defeats the evil career woman using nothing more than the power of her virginity. A lot of people have said that Kristin Stewart is miscast as Snow White, but I disagree. I can't think of a better actress to play a submissive, passive woman to disempower young girls than the star of the Twilight "saga". And honestly, Stewart isn't bad in this film. In fact, she delivers the movie's version of the "we few, we happy few" speech about as well as can be expected considering how bottomlessly terrible it is as written. I mean, when you're watching a movie in which Charlize Theron gives a cringeworthy performance, what chance does Stewart have? Theron doesn't approach anywhere near Nicolas Cage levels of overacting, but she's about on par with John Revolta at his worst. If only Cate Blanchett had been cast as the Wicked Queen. The movie still would've sucked, but at least Blanchett would've told first-time director Rupert Sanders to go to hell when he told her, "Great, that was great. On the next take, though, could you be more cartoonishly evil? Oh, and shout, because yelling your lines is scary." I guess Sanders was more interested in boinking Kristen Stewart than in making sure his actors didn't commit cinematic suicide. I hope the embarrassment on Theron's behalf felt by every poor soul condemned to see this film was worth that piece of tail, Rupert!
This is a movie that desperately wants to be epic but lacks both the script and the sure-handed direction to pull it off. I don't understand why Hollywood would hire a man with essentially no experience to handle a movie made up entirely of spectacle, but I guess that's why I'm not a rich studio executive who dines on caviar and the souls of aspiring starlets. There are too many characters, too many sets, and too many subplots. As for characters, there's the duke who's loyal to the late king and his son, William, who is Snow White's childhood friend and is set up (sorta) as her love interest. His scenes with his father only exist so he can first angst over having abandoned Snow White when she was imprisoned by the Queen and then be heroic when he rides off to rescue her. Okay, that's not fair, they also have a scene that lets us know the screenwriter really enjoyed the argument between Theoden and Gandalf about attacking the enemy army in the open field rather than hiding inside Helm's Deep. These two characters could've been dropped from the film without losing anything. Why do I say too many sets? It's somehow possible in this film to walk from a frozen snowscape to a swamp to a river crossing to a castle on the beach all in the same day. The subplots? The Seven Dwarfs', for one. The dwarfs have to be there, of course, because it's Snow White, but the movie doesn't really have time for them. One of the dwarfs prophesies that Snow White is the Christ (in so many words), one has a crush on Snow White that doesn't go anywhere and is only there to try to get us to care when he dies (we don't), one laments that the dwarfs used to be proud but without the old king they've become drunks who sit around remembering their glory days--none of this amounts to anything. It's just more distraction to fool us into thinking the movie is deeper than it really is.
The film steals from the expected places in its attempt to be epic, like Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia. (The animals don't talk to Snow White, but she has a hippy Greenpeace "connection" to them, including to a white deer with an impossibly huge set of antlers). What I didn't expect to be pilfered from is HBO's Game of Thrones, based on George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series of novels. The director undoubtedly instructed Charlize Theron to ape Lena Headey's performance as Cersei Lannister, which is fitting since the script provides her with a blond twin brother who serves as her warrior-protector and has a creepy incestuous relationship with her. Now this film is way too uptight to show us anything sexual, much less something as taboo as close incest, so this relationship is only hinted at. Still it's definitely there, and Theron's faux-Cersei is enhanced by the art direction, which makes her castle Winterfell on the outside and King's Landing on the inside. It was so blatant that when the Huntsman says he doesn't trust the Queen to hold up her end of their bargain, I almost expected her to say, "A Theron always pays his debts."
Speaking of the Huntsman, I have to admit that I was quite surprised to find Chris Hemsworth effective in the role. Really, he gives the best performance in the movie. Unlike Theron and Stewart, he never misses with his accent (though his is inexplicably Scottish, when no-one else in the film has a Scottish accent), and he has one scene in which he got the only emotion out of me other than amusement (with Theron) and boredom (with everything else). I thought he was rather lacking as Thor in Thor--though he was hardly the worst of that movie's problems--but here he seems believable as a grizzled woodsman, and I assume he ignored director Sanders's demand that he ape Viggo Mortensen's Strider performance, which is a good decision any way you look at it. Hemsworth renders the William character even more superfluous, since there's no way you believe that Snow White would choose a nonentity like him over the Huntsman. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if in earlier drafts of the screenplay she does end up with the Huntsman, but I guess some idiot producer said, "No no, Snow White marries the handsome prince", and that was that. You can change the plot so Snow White leads a cavalry charge with sword in hand, but you can't make it so that the pure pretty princess hooks up with a lowly pleb!*
The film ends with, of course, a ludicrous battle sequence, because that's what really makes a film epic these days. Snow White, who as far as we can tell has never held a sword nor worn armour in her life, dons a set of field plate armour and grabs a sword and leads the charge against the Wicked Queen's castle. There isn't even a fig leaf training montage in which she learns in a few lessons what it took actual medieval warriors their entire boyhood to master. One night she declares she will lead the army to victory, and the next day she's armed and suited up despite the fact that two days ago she was sitting in the prison cell in which she'd been in isolation for at least a decade. In perhaps the movie's sole believable moment, she gets her ass handed to her by the Wicked Queen in the final showdown. But the script says she wins, so she does, because, it seems, the Queen just lets herself be stabbed. The Queen has been stabbed before and wasn't even injured, but now she dies, because Snow White is "pure".
Snow White and the Huntsman is god-awful boring, despite Charlize Theron's attempts to liven it up with some Bette Midler-style overacting and likable performances from Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost, and (really) Chris Hemsworth. The film's myriad failings can't be laid at the feet of Kristen Stewart, but neither is she capable of rising above them. This is the worst kind of bad movie: almost decent, and nowhere near entertainingly bad.
* This despite the fact that it's the Huntsman's kiss that revives comatose Snow White (oops, sorry), so I officially have no idea what they were going for. If you think they might have been trying for a New Moon-esque love triangle between the lady's obviously obvious true love and an even more obvious red herring, then I'm so terribly sorry you saw New Moon.