Learning From Movies: Snow White and the Huntsman

For my second Learning From Movies post, I’ll be looking at a fantasy movie, a bit of a change from last time’s Prometheus. This time, I will talk about what I found interesting and useful for my writing in the movie Snow White and the Huntsman. This was one of those movies that I saw the trailer for, and thought, “I know this probably won’t actually be a good movie, but it looks entertaining enough to be worth my time.” It also helps that it got much better reviews than that other Snow White movie. So I didn’t watch it in theaters, and kind of forgot about it, until I saw it as a watchable movie on HBOGo. By then I was done with school, so I decided that if it was to happen, it would be then.

First, general thoughts on the movie. It was alright. I’m glad I watched it, and while it was far from perfect, and the acting wasn’t the greatest (I mean seriously, Kristen Stewart trying to give an Epic Speech? Hilarious.), it had good entertainment value, and most of it was fun. And then there were the very bright spots, which I will discuss here. I also think that it could have been a genuinely good fantasy film, had it not been a ‘Snow White movie’. The need to include everything that the general public knows about the (Disneyfied) Snow White story really hurt this movie. But I’ll get to that in more detail near the end.

So what I found the most useful, actually, was the beginning of the movie. I really enjoyed everything from the opening, where they essentially do a dark retelling of  the story. In this version, the evil queen set up a fake magical army to arrange to get rescued by Snow White’s father, the king, and then proceeded to seduce and marry him before murdering him and letting her forces take over. Also here we learn about the queen herself, and she is a much more interesting character than she often is, with actual motives that kind of make sense (she’s basically a sort of fascist inclined ultrafeminist, which may have made some people upset, but I think it worked for the character). But here we had an interesting villain with a motive, and an actual plot, even before meeting the grown-up Snow White. A good start. So we see the teenage (I guess, anyway) Snow White locked up in a tower, presumably since the queen took power years earlier. Here we get one of the best and most interesting parts of the movie. A bird landing by a window alerts Snow White to the presence of a loose iron nail, which she takes and hides. When the queen’s really creepy brother comes to try and bring Snow White to the queen, she pretends to be asleep and slashes him with the nail when he’s not expecting it, escapes her cell, and locks him in. After she tries and fails to rescue another girl who has had her youth drained by the queen, Snow White tries to sneak out, and when spotted she escapes the city through a pipe, jumps into the ocean and makes it to shore, where she finds a horse (this is the only strange part of the sequence. That horse is a bit too convenient.) But anyway she gets on the horse, and rides it away, pursued by the queen’s men. She flees toward the classic Dark Forest, where her horse (and the men’s horses) get stuck in mud, and she eludes them by running into the semi-sentient forest. I felt this sequence was great. In our first introduction to our heroine (apart from a little bit earlier when we see her as a child) she proves to be a very capable, resourceful woman, escaping the clutches of the queen and her brother (who we later learn are both magically enhanced), all on her own (convenient horse notwithstanding).  In fact, the character she reminded me of there was Vin from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, a capable young woman who is in a dangerous situation but gets through thanks to her own skill and determination. This is why I say I wish this hadn’t been a Snow White movie. Had the opening been the only tie to the original story, and diverged from the time of her escape, it could have become a good original fantasy film with an interesting and capable female protagonist. The movie here also didn’t fall into the trap of making her too capable in a way that wouldn’t make sense given her upbringing, by having her unprepared to survive in the forest, both because the escape was spur of the moment and because she wouldn’t know how to survive.

Since I touched on it, I’ll briefly lay out here what forced aspects of the disneyfied Snow White story dragged the movie down. First, the dwarves. They really felt phoned in. They didn’t contribute much aside from infodumping, and ultimately the movie had to bend to find something useful for them to do in the final battle. The second part is when they go to some magical fairy-forest area, where they start to talk bout how Snow White will ‘heal the land’, or something right that. It was just dumb, and ultimately contributed nothing. It simply wasn’t needed. The Snow white we had seen until then didn’t need any magical significance. If they had wanted to establish that she could use magic (which she never does in the movie) there were better ways. But I guess they had to reference the Disney Snow White who could make animals dance and stuff. Also the guy in the role of ‘the prince’ (though he wasn’t a prince here) is boring and barely does anything. But enough complaining about the movie’s mistakes, there are still a few more bright spots where I saw interesting things.

The Huntsman (who never was given an actual name in the movie) was more interesting than I had expected. He was a widower, and as such the Queen offered to resurrect his wife should he capture Snow White. Needless to say, we learn the queen had a hand in his wife’s death, and the Huntsman changes sides. He wasn’t very complex, but he interesting, more so than William, the ‘prince’. Other things I liked, in brief, included the village of women who had scarred themselves so the queen wouldn’t consider them beautiful and drain them. An interesting fleshing out of the world. I also liked the magic, which, while simple, was interesting in what it could do and well represented by the CGI. The battle at the end was well done, and it helped a lot that Snow White, with no magical abilities, was able to take on and defeat the queen. If only the middle of the movie had been a better bridge between her great introduction and her triumph at the end.

The last bit I liked ties in again to the missed opportunities of this movie. Near the end, when the main group is traveling, Snow White goes walking alone in the woods, where she is joined by William. They talk, and reminisce, and he offers her an apple, which she bites into, and is poisoned (as expected). When this happened, I was genuinely surprised, and I thought that it would be a really clever twist to have the stereotypical ‘good guy’ to actually be evil (foreshadowed by his noticing Snow White’s feelings for the Huntsman.) Unfortunately, it was quickly revealed to be the queen in disguise, and while it was a much more clever disguise for her than a random old woman, I was let down again by the movie’s unwillingness to deviate from the Snow White story.

So those are my (extended) thoughts on the movie. As I said in the beginning, it was worth my time watching it, and there are definitely things in it that I will be making use of in my writing, but unfortunately it was too constrained by being a ‘Snow White’ movie. Had it been ‘Epic Fantasy Movie With a Female Protagonist’, it could have been so much more.

That’s it for this installment of Learning From Movies. I hope you found it interesting and/or entertaining in some form or fashion. I hope to have a more directly writing-focused post coming soon, but until then, keep writing, and look for bits of inspiration even in sub-par movies, games, shows, or books.

2 thoughts on “Learning From Movies: Snow White and the Huntsman

  1. Great post! I like your approach. Too easy to get caught up in what you don’t like.

    Question: Being that it was a snow white movie, any ideas how they should they have worked in the snow white elements so that it wasn’t so forced?

  2. I haven’t thought too much about it in that way; as I wrote, the best way to fix the story was to not make it a ‘Snow White’ movie. But as it stands, they worked in a lot of the story elements well. Snow White’s background and the whole setup of the queen coming to power was well done, and the huntsman was an actual character in this. If they had wanted to add a magical aspect to Snow White herself, they could have set it up before that one random fairy forest scene. Also with the ‘prince’ character, he only really existed in the second half of the movie, and did very little of interest, so giving him more of a role would help as well.

    As for the dwarves…I can’t think of anything specific. Maybe something else tied in with the expanded back-story, like they had been part of the past kingdom, and the queen hated them and tried to kill them off or something like that.

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