By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin June 1, 2012 at 2:00AM
Sometimes, while I’m watching a bad movie, one burning question arises: “What were they thinking?” That’s what I asked myself while suffering through Snow White and the Huntsman, a putrid, and seemingly endless, retelling of the famous fairy tale. Grim and gruesome, it’s a soul-sucking two-hour-plus endurance test that parents should avoid taking their kids to see except as an extreme form of punishment.
I can’t imagine who the filmmakers envisioned as their target audience. Is it a date movie? I don’t think so. It’s really not for children, either, unless they happen to be members of the Addams Family. Why? Early in the story (spoiler alert!) we actually see the evil Queen plunge an enormous dagger into Snow White’s father’s chest. That’s mild compared to the dark doings that follow, from closeups of icky insects and dead birds to a village of women and children cruelly set ablaze.
Charlize Theron plays the ravenous, narcissistic queen without an iota of shading or nuance. It is certainly her loudest performance, but the constant shouting grows tiresome. Kristen Stewart does her best as the pure, innocent Snow White, and Chris Hemsworth is beefy and likable as the huntsman who becomes her protector. If you don’t walk out of the movie (as I was sorely tempted to do) you’ll eventually get to meet the seven dwarfs, who are played, in a bit of movie magic, by such familiar full-sized British actors as Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, and Eddie Marsan. This touch of whimsy is welcome but comes too late to rescue the dark-hearted movie.
The screenplay is credited to three separate writers, which is usually the sign of a long or troubled production. Given the ponderous nature of this film, and its refusal to come to a conclusion, it may simply be that the producers used all of their material. The director, Rupert Sanders, is known for his TV commercials, which should have taught him something about brevity.
Incidentally, if you’re wondering why we’re being punished with a parade of revisionist fairy tales, the apparent reason is that Hollywood sensed a hit in the making when Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland went into production, and wound up making a huge pile of money two years ago. That got various producers thinking that the world was eager to see new renderings of Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and a string of other public-domain fairy tales and fables…but it’s cockeyed logic. I suspect most people went to see Alice because it looked appealing and featured Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter.
The only positive thought I can muster is that this movie will never eclipse Walt Disney’s animated classic, which has brought joy to millions of viewers for the past 75 years. Disney was brilliant in his juxtaposition of light and dark story elements, but he never let the dark side overtake his films. That’s why we feel a surge of happiness when goodness triumphs at the end. Snow White and the Huntsman simply stops, and I felt nothing except relief.