If there’s one thing I really love about Netflix and other on demand movie services, it’s that they not only give you instant access to the best movies ever made, but also (and more frequently, let’s face it) to some of the absolute worst.
I love bad movies almost as much as I love bad books. I devour bad books. I download them by the fistful, gorge on their awfulness, laugh along with their bad reviews and marvel at their good ones. I could review bad books forever, except that many of the worst stinkers I read are by ordinary people. It’s not like taking wide potshots at the likes of E.L. James, Dan Brown or John Green, since my bad opinion is hardly likely to cut into their sales margins. Some of the real steamers on Amazon are by ordinary people. People who are just trying to make a living. People like me.
It’s an old rule of comedy (and maybe human decency) – always punch upwards.
And that’s why Hollywood is the perfect outlet for my unspent bile. It’s a multi-billion dollar dream factory that – despite having access to untold wealth and talent – manages to turn out some of the most hollow, expensive toss ever to trouble human eyeballs. You have a huge budget, a bankable star, an Oscar winner for your villain and a bunch of cameos by such likeable British actors as Ray Winston, Nick Frost and the late Bob Hoskins.
All that and you still manage to make Snow White and The Huntsman.
Snow White and The Huntsman starts out prettily enough, with a raven haired queen in a snowy topiary garden, acting out the steps of the familiar fairy tale – red as blood, white as snow, black as the raven’s wing. Unfortunately this is voiced by Chris ‘Thor’ Hemsworth, doing an accent straight out of the William Wallace training campaign from Age of Empires II.
Anyway, as per the fairytale, Queenie pops out a daughter who is named Snow White and the kid grows into a perfectly annoying stage school child who saves wounded birds, in order that we might understand that she’s a good person. In case we didn’t grasp that, Thor is on hand to tell us that she was not only adored for her beauty, but also for her ‘defiant spirit’. Because feminism. Probably.
Snowy has a little boyfriend called William, although for the purposes of this review we’re going to call him Plot Device, because that’s really all he is. He offers her an apple, takes a bite and drops it on the ground so that it can rot as an indication that time has passed. Time is not that well represented in this movie.
As we all know, Snow White’s mother turns her toes up and then Thor tells us the King is disconsolate. Shortly after that he and his troops undergo a lengthy, expensive battle scene in which they fight with a bunch of soldiers who are apparently made out of iron filings, the point of which is that Kingy opens the back of a wagon and finds that they’ve got Rita from Arrested Development tied up in there.
Kingy marries Rita the very next day, in what is presumably the fastest arranged royal wedding/coronation in the history of whatever country it is that this mess is supposed to be taking place in. It doesn’t bode well for the movie when the narrator is not only telling us things that the director should be showing us, but is then contradicted by the events unfolding in front of the camera in the very next scene.
So, yeah. Rita lurches up in the aisle in an Etsy mess of a dress whose sleeves appear to be made of spaghetti and glue, ever conscious of the smiley stage-school goblin bringing up the rear. I know that Snow White – as is her fate as a fairytale heroine – is basically a weapon’s grade Mary Sue, but she’s awfully fucking cheerful for a kid whose mother has recently snuffed it.
Well, Rita is about to wipe the smile off our heroine’s face. Kingy gets one line (“You will be the ruin of me.”) before Rita starts choking him and reels off – with Lifetime movie subtlety – the list of ways in which men have hurt her in the past. So of course she has to stab him to death. Because feminism. Probably.
Bye bye Kingy. We hardly knew ye.
This all seems to happen in the space of about twenty-four hours, by the way – twenty-four hours in which our adorable oblivious stage-school goblin is sleeping sweetly in her bedroom. Of course, it’s all gone tits up now, since Daddy’s dead, Rita is Queen and her sinisterly blond brother has just shown up to get vaguely incesty with her like some dollar-store Jaime Lannister.
I didn’t even know she had a brother, but never mind. Get used to this, by the way. Most of this movie is full of things that should have been mentioned earlier but aren’t, sort of like the world’s worst told joke.
All hell breaks loose in Castle Thingy (it doesn’t have a name as far as I know) and Snow White makes a run for the portcullis just as it comes crashing down in front of her nose. On the other side is Plot Device and his father, the Duke. Did you know Plot Device’s father was a Duke and quite important? No, neither did I. Carry on.
Meanwhile Rita is upstairs waiting for her evil guards to bring in her evil magic mirror so that she can stare evilly into it and marvel at her own beautiful evilness. I think this might be the point in which we’re supposed to applaud the movie for daring to create a Strong Female Character TM , but since this is Charlize Theron we’re talking about and for some reason everyone in this movie is vaguely British, it’s just time for some more unfortunate accents as she screams at her evil guards to get “AOOOUUUUT!”
The guards duly scram and Charlize gets back to doing the kind of acting you can only get away with if you already have an Oscar on your mantelpiece. She poses her eternal question (“Mirror, mirror on the wall…”) and the mirror – in accordance with a really wasteful special effects budget – oozes down over the steps like something from Terminator II, turns into some kind of giant minimalist chess piece in front of her and is all like – “Yeah, it’s you. You’re totally pretty.”
And then time passes. Cue the rotting apple.
While Rita’s accent has slightly improved since Arrested Development, her IQ has remained the same. Yes, she’s failed Usurping 101 and instead of killing the rightful heir to the throne, has instead locked her in a tower for ten years, during which time she’s turned into Kristen Stewart. Oh dear.
Now, I know it’s almost too easy to get at Kristen Stewart. Sure, she stank in the Twilight movies, but so did Robert Pattinson, and it was kind of understandable given that they were both playing characters with less personality than cardboard standees from a cinema foyer. Not a great deal to work with there. I must admit my favourite part of the entire Twilight series was the montage at the end of Breaking Dawn Part II that basically proved what everyone had been saying all along; Bella had all of two facial expressions – Bitey-lip and Smell the Fart.
So, yeah. I wasn’t optimistic.
Kstew first appears in a position that surely she has never occupied in real life – hunched over a smouldering thing with smoke billowing up around her ea…oh, fuck it. I can’t commit to this. I’m just gonna say it. Girlfriend looks high as shit. There.
Not that I blame her – she’s in this movie, after all. God knows I’d be making best friends with my bong if I had to try and sell any of the lines in this poopfest. And lord knows the lady (allegedly) loves her cheeba.
For some reason Kstew starts out saying her prayers. The Lord’s Prayer, to be exact. I didn’t know people were Christians in this movie, but apparently neither did anyone else, because that’s the last mention of that religion we’re going to see in the entire movie. Consistency? Who needs it?
Kstew has spent ten whole years alone in a tower and – strangely – has not gone completely peculiar from this experience. Presumably her bird friends, who occasionally swing by and shit through her window, have kept her sane, although not exactly intelligent. Yes, she’s been in the same cell for ten years and it’s taken her that long to realise there’s a loose nail just outside the window that could be worked loose and employed as a shiv.
In the meantime Rita has gone a bit Stardust; she’s gone droopy round the bustline and needs someone to cut out Kstew’s beating heart so that she can eat it and gain eternal youth. She’s leeched the youth out of Lily Cole, but that hasn’t done the trick, so it’s murderin’ time. In the meantime she hangs out in her evil chamber of evilness, wearing steel claws and snacking on the raw, bloody hearts of innocent little songbirds. In case you weren’t clear she was the baddie, you see. She also takes baths in milk and pours the remnants out of spouting gargoyles onto the heads of starving populace as alms. After a long sequence in which she strips, steps into her bath and surfaces streaming CG milk (which I think is supposed to symbolise the director trying to suck his own dick) she turns to dollar-store Jaime Lannister and says something to the effect of “I’m kinder than all the other heart-munching, youth-sucking witch queens, aren’t I?”
She’s insecure, you see. And therefore complicated. And nuanced. And feminist. Probably.
Dollar-store Jaime goes up to the tower to molest Kstew a little before he drags her down by the hair to have her heart cut out. Kstew promptly shivs him in the face with her nail and Shawshanks her way out of the castle via the sewer.
After yet another implausible cliff jump like the one she (against all the known laws of physics) survived in Twilight: New Moon, Bella washes up on the beach to find a divinely beautiful white horse waiting for her like some kind of gift of the Gods. The words ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ may have escaped my mouth a couple of times at this point in the movie.
Bella hops on her horse and rides like fuck to the dark forest of forbidden murky things. You know – that forest. The dark forest. The one everyone’s afraid of. The one that…hasn’t been mentioned at all up until now, actually. God damn it – you writers could have done this in a throwaway line rather than having her recite the entire Lord’s Prayer for no reason.
Well, anyway – the Forest of OHFUCKDONTGOINTHERE is terrible. It’s full of weird mushroom spores that give you bad trips and in the words of Super Hans is ‘fuckin’ ‘orrible’. There’s also a swamp full of quicksand that promptly swallows Artax Miracle Horse, which quite frankly is bullshit.
Look, I can just about forgive Miracle Horse being a steaming pile of Deus ex Machina, since horses are sometimes part of a person’s legend, both in fiction and fairytale – Perseus and Pegasus, El Cid and Bavieca. Fine. Sort of. But to give her a divinely beautiful white miracle horse and dump it in a fucking swamp five minutes later? That’s just another count of massively shit storytelling.
Kstew, now horseless, is left to trip balls in the Forest of OHFUCKDONTGOINTHERE while the movie fumbles about finding a way to introduce the other character in the title. Cue the Huntsman.
Thor is busy getting drunk because his wife is dead and I don’t really care. Unless he actually has his shirt off there is no reason for him to be in this movie. Or any movie. He’s just not very good at all. Plus there’s that accent that keeps veering from Glasgow to Belfast to Sydney and back every other line. Rita (remember her?) has her guards arrest his basic ass and bring him back to kneel before her throne where she has currently gone full Maleficient with ravens and sprayed on black gowns.
She says he can bring his wife back to him if he brings her back Snow White, and of course he says yes, since he’s apparently stupid enough to believe that human beings – once definitely, definitively dead – can come back to life. This all goes wrong – as we all knew it would – and he ends up schlepping through the Forest of OHFUCKDONTGOINTHERE with Kstew. And they bond.
No, really. They do.
In some kind of weird attempt to win at Buddy Movie Cliché Bingo, Drunk Thor whips out his hip flask and takes a swig. Kstew – obviously also with eyes down and dobber at the ready – then says something like “Do you drink to kill the pain or to forget?”
At this point she doesn’t even know his hipflask contains booze, and yet somehow ten years of being alone in a tower counting her thumbs and talking to birds have turned her into an alcohol abuse counsellor. But then everything in this movie stopped making sense a long time ago.
After about ten minutes of chemistry-free screentime together, the Huntsman teaches Snow White how to kill a man, despite the fact that they don’t even know one another’s name and there’s absolutely no reason for her not to shank him in his sleep. I mean, they keep telling us that everyone shuns the Forest of OHFUCKDONTGOINTHERE and that entering is a death sentence, but for the last twenty minutes or so it seems like the entire cast of the movie has been wandering in and out of the forest with a surprisingly low fatality rate.
As if keen to join the party, Snow White’s old buddy Plot Device joins a hunting party and enters the forest to look for her. He was surprised to discover she was alive, as was everyone else with more than four braincells. Seriously, Rita – if you’re going to usurp a throne, kill the heirs. This is basic shit.
There then follows a lot of foresty farting about in which Snow White turns out to be some kind of troll whisperer. Apparently trolls were also a feature in the Forest of OHFUCKDONTGOINTHERE. I don’t even know any more. It’s like this script was written by that kid you knew in nursery school – you know, the one who threatened to scream like she was on fire if you didn’t let her be She-Ra and then kept inventing new powers. “NO, SHE-RA CAN BRING PEOPLE BACK FROM THE DEAD, AND NOW SHE HAS A BABY SISTER BECAUSE SHUT UP!” You know – that one.
Snow White gets a lot of innocent people killed (one of the few consistent parts of the entire movie), meets the seven dwarves and whittles them down to six when she – yep, you’ve guessed it – gets one of them killed.
The dwarves, despite being shamelessly ripped off from the Tolkien mould, are easily the best thing in this movie. Or perhaps by that point I was just pathetically grateful to hear some British accents that didn’t make my ears bleed. Either way, growly Ray Winstone and cuddly Nick Frost provide some desperately needed comic relief.
At this point even the movie realises it’s been taking itself quite ball-aching seriously for a live-action panto and delivers a startling change of mood – and further special effects budget abuse – by delivering Snow White to Fairyland.
Not even kidding.
Apparently there was a place in the centre of the Forest of OHFUCKDONTGOINTHERE called Lothlorien the Sanctuary, where the elves fairies dwell, a beautiful place where all the animals are CGI and weird fungi shiver and twitch like outtakes from James Cameron’s Avatar. I mean, we could have showed our terrified heroes belting through the Forest of OHFUCKDONTGOINTHERE and – in one of those throwaway lines that are inexplicably missing from this film – had someone say something like “We’ll make for the Sanctuary. The fairies that live there will protect us.” But we didn’t. Obviously. Because that would be stupid.
Kstew floats about in Fairyland for a bit, admires some exotic butterflies and the fairies – who look like tiny, adorable crosses between Na’vi and Gollum – lead her across the meadow to meet a giant white goat with a tree on its head.
Why? Well – hang on. There’s a point to this. I think.
Anyway, the giant white goat with a tree on its head is – despite looking like a giant white goat with a tree on its head – the White Hart.
The who what now? It’s that kid again, isn’t it?
“NO, IT’S THE WHITE HART AND IT WILL KNEEL TO THE TRUE HEIR TO THE THRONE…NO, BECAUSE I SAID SO…I CAN MAKE THINGS UP IF I WANT TO, YOU’RE NOT MY MUM – I’M TELLING ON YOU!”
Look, the point of any prophecy in any kind of drama or fiction is to lend dramatic irony or a sense of destiny. Without prophecy, Oedipus is literally just a motherfucker. Without Birnham Wood come to Dunsinane, Macbeth is just a murderous usurper with a really weird shrubbery. You cannot just yank a prophecy out of your bum three quarters of the way through the fucking story and have everyone go “Oh, that prophecy.”
And what’s with the vaguely pagan stag God in a story which started with the heroine praying to the Christian God? This movie has no idea what it is or what it’s supposed to be. The only thing it succeeds in being is awful. Truly awful.
And it’s over two hours long. Why? I have no idea.
Meanwhile, Charlize Theron is wearing lots of black and standing around in a tower while ravens flap around her. Not a colour I’d choose while surrounded by birds, but oh well – why not? This seems to be the general thrust of things where a lot of this film is concerned – meh, why not?
Somewhere, back in plotland, Plot Device has joined the merry party of dingbats in the forest and they’re now wandering around Lord of the Rings style through heather-empurpled moorland, towering granite crags and verdant valleys. It’s all very eyecatching, but misses the vital point that when Peter Jackson made sweet, sweet sloppy camera-love to the stunning scenery of his native New Zealand, he did it with the purpose of the characters actually going somewhere.
I have no idea where these idiots are supposed to be going, and can only presume they’re meandering around aimlessly in the hope of stumbling across yet another prophecy that nobody has fucking heard of.
Thankfully Charlize has got bored of standing around in the middle of a Hitchcockian hell of wings and shit and Plot Device turns into her…wait, what? Oh well – he does. That happens. Kstew kisses Plot Device, he offers her an apple (not a euphemism) and then she takes the fatal bite. Then the apple turns into a tribble and chokes Snow White (again, not a euphemism) and Plot Device turns out to have been evil Queen Rita. Which means that Kstew just locked lips with her stepmother. I’m pretty sure there’s porn of this on Amazon.
Kstew dies in time for the real Plot Device and Thor to roll up and find her. Plot Device kisses her but she remains deader than my interest in this movie and is carted off to the Duke’s castle to lie around dead on a bier and look beautiful in much the way that choking victims seldom do.
I’m having Twilight deja vu all over the place.
Now, of course, comes the twist. It’s not Plot Device who lays True Love’s first kiss on her lips and unclogs the tribble from her throat – oh no. It was…wait for it…the Huntsman. Only the kiss of the most basic man in the kingdom could stir Princess Bland from her enchanted sleep. And he is. Good lord – he’s boring. They all are. She’s like a bowl of cold oatmeal and he’s just a sort of ripped human yawn.
Anyway, she gets better from being dead, rises from her bier and goes out to rally the troops. Yeah – she got troops at some point. There’s an army. They’re going to take back the kingdom. Stick a breastplate on her and she’s Joan of Arc now. I don’t even know. I’m so bored.
The climactic battle of the movie is – like everything else about it – completely stupid. They send the dwarves in through the sewer to open the drawbridge and then storm the castle from the most visible position possible, enabling the welcoming committee plenty of time to load up the trebuchets, line up the archers and heat up the boiling oil.
Admittedly it’s exactly the kind of military genius I’d expect from a dimwitted seventeen year old girl who had spent ten years of her life rotting in an oubliette, but naturally everyone thinks she’s great. Even the ones who die senselessly in her name while she’s hacking her way to the front gates with a sword she doesn’t even know how to use.
Then she goes up for the final confrontation with Rita and there’s just so much smell-the-fart acting going on that by this point we were guessing at the size, magnitude and egginess of the farts that inspired various facial expressions. Kstew kills Rita, as we knew she must, and delivers the line “You can’t have my heart,” with about as much conviction as she delivers anything really. In her defence, it wasn’t much of a line. It’s not exactly “Get away from her, you bitch.”
And that was that. That was Snow White and the Huntsman. It was shit.
I get the impression that all of us feminists watching this movie are supposed to be impressed by Charlize Theron’s evil queen and Kstew’s sword-swinging Snow White. Unfortunately the characters are far too hollow for anyone to really root for. In their desperate scramble to create Strong Female Characters, Hollywood has once again forgotten to write women as human beings. Theron’s malevolence is born purely from the evil that’s been done to her by men and from her own desperate desire to cling to youth and beauty, and while they try to shrug off Snow White’s being ‘the fairest’ by sticking a sword in her hand and having the narrator mention her ‘defiant spirit’, the script is so sloppy that really – just like in the fairytale – Snow White’s real power lies in her youth and beauty. One of the final shots in the movie is perhaps one of the few really clever ones – with Snow White the conquering hero seeing her reflection in her dead Stepmother’s bronze mirror. A taste of things to come, perhaps.
While this movie tries far too hard (and fails even harder) to be some kind of feminist twist on an old legend, it flops because it repeatedly fucks up the basics of good storytelling. You can’t shoehorn prophecies in at the eleventh hour any more than you can give a girl an apparent gift from the Gods only to drop it in a swamp five minutes later. The whole thing suffers from a desperate lack of chemistry between the two leads, prompting Thor to occasionally monologue about what this girl – who he’s known for all of about five minutes – means to him. It’s the same sloppy show/tell discrepancy that haunts all bad fiction. It’s full of unsuccessful payoffs and scenes that accomplish nothing. If anything, it demonstrates aptly that if you’re going to tweak, twist and shine up an ancient story, at least try to remember the conventions and strengths of storytelling that made that story stand the test of time in the first place.