Sweeping landscape shots, showing characters crossing great distances. Prophecies that say Snow White will save the land from evil. Epic scaled battles. It's all a bit much for this story. Did Snow White really need to be "the one" to make her escape from the evil queen hold weight? No, not really.
Snow White, like all fairy tales, works because of its simplicity. The Disney version has endured for 75 years because of this. It's a simple story, told well, with atmosphere and personality. These things help drive the drama and the emotion.
Atmosphere and personality are two things absent from Rupert Sanders' re-telling, with the primary failing landing at the feet of Snow White herself. Kristen Stewart is pretty but as a screen presence she is lifeless. What part about her screams Snow White, the fairest of them all? As a character, as the embodiment of an ideal, she is utterly useless. Lily Collins, in the wildly different Mirror Mirror, had more grace and charm in a single smile than Stewart's sourpuss achieves in a whole movie.
The film conveniently dodges the idea that Charlize Theron's Queen hates Snow White because of her superior beauty (this notion would be laughable, no matter who played Snow White) by saying there is magic in her blood that can sustain the Queen's power. Another complication, but at least this helps cover up a pretty glaring logic hole.
Theron, unlike Stewart, is hugely enjoyable and brings a buffets worth of ham to the screen as the villainess. She goes big, broad and very theatrical which clashes somewhat with Stewart's... whatever the correct term is for the emptiness she brings to the role. She may be exaggerated and prone to booming clichéd threats but she still manages to find some faint nuance in the role. There is weakness, recognisably human failings and tragedy, that drive her to evil. It's one of the few examples of complicating simplicity that works in the movies favour.
Chris Hemsworth, the titular Huntsman, is another bright spot in the story. If there were any doubts before now (after his turns in Thor, The Avengers or even Star Trek), they are very much confirmed here: Chris Hemsworth is a movie star. Even through a broad and not entirely convincing Scots accent, Hemsworth has real charisma. He's engaging, fun and endlessly watchable.
Much like in Thor, he picks up the slack of the screenplay. While his character's relationship with Snow White is rushed or flat-out ignored, missing all the essential romantic beats, Hemsworth still manages to sell the reality of the moment. A movie star can carry a film, no matter how bad things get, and Hemsworth hoists this one over his shoulders and trudges through as best he can.
The dwarves (because you can't have Snow White without dwarves) are played by an assembly of some of Britain and Ireland's best but the characters are introduced far too late to really make an impression. I don't remember their names, I don't remember any distinctive personality types among them, I barely remember what most of them did.
Disney may have taken its own set of liberties with the source material but clearly defining each dwarf was an inspired idea. Even Mirror Mirror managed to offer variety in their personality and costume design, it certainly helps justify their presence whereas here it feels like they wrote in dwarves simply because tradition demanded it.
Not that tradition ever mentioned Snow White donning armour and charing into battle. Much like with the finale to Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, this idea is a very silly and pointless attempt to "legitimize" an already legitimately good story by shoehorning "serious" fantasy into a story that cannot sustain it.
It's a shame so much of this reinvention fails because the design work is top-notch and deserves a better story (preferably an original one, constructed specifically for this world) and director Rupert Sanders can certainly compose a striking image or string together an exciting enough scene. His storytelling abilities, however, remain to be seen. It's uncertain if the plodding, gap-filled story is a case of a poor script or baffling editorial decisions but the film rushes or lingers at all the wrong times, never seeming to know what to do with itself when it's covering new ground. It just seems like a lot of stalling for time before they hit the required "poison apple" plot point to push things into the third act.
This is because beyond the dark forest and meeting the dwarves, the poison apple and it's resolution are the only aspect of Snow White's story that really mean anything. These issues would not exist if the film had just kept it simple. Simple works. Forcing an epic story of magic curses, prophecies, battles of good and evil... It all distracts from what made Disney's Snow White (and, to a lesser extent, this years Mirror Mirror) successful: Character and atmosphere.
With the exception of some good creature design and the performances of Hemsworth, Theron and a delightfully slimy Sam Spruell, there is very little atmosphere or character to be found in this movie.
Ultimately, the majority of the problems in Snow White and The Huntsman could have been fixed with a simple case of recasting. Stewart and her dearth of chemistry with anyone completely sink any chances the film has of being a flawed, entertaining movie. She has the makings of a good actress, if she chooses her roles more wisely, but this was absolutely an unwise choice. Her failure to capture that spark of life, so essential to her character, is what leaves the rest of the film mired in dullness.
Snow White and The Huntsman is too drab to be truly fantastical and too lifeless to be even remotely exciting.