It’s been a long time coming, but we’re finally ready to decide who really is the fairest of them all. In this corner, we have Snow White and the Huntsman (henceforward known as SW&TH), a dark and gritty retelling of the fairy tale. In the other, Mirror Mirror, full of saturated colors and quippy one-liners. Who will emerge victorious? Ready? En garde…FENCE.
First things first. There are those among you (Hi, Ben!) who will be disappointed to learn that there will be no K. Stew bashing here. SW&TH is actually the first thing in which I’ve seen the erstwhile Bella Swann, and I have to say that I enjoyed her performance. She wasn’t burning up the screen or anything, but I thought that her bewilderment (perhaps natural) suited the role and that ultimately, the flaws in the character were due to poor writing rather than poor acting. Her “rousing the troops” speech was quite good.
Lily Collins, on the other hand, had more to work with, and capitalized on a great deal of personal charm. Her Snow was spunky, kind-hearted, and mischievous, none of which require a great deal of acting, but which she conveyed well, nonetheless. Like Stewart, she did not employ a great deal of range, nor was much needed. Her chemistry with Armie Hammer was weak, but since their relationship was hardly dynamic, it didn’t matter.
Winner: Lily Collins. Overall, she did a better job of selling the role and carrying the action.
As the Evil Queen…Julia Roberts vs. Charlize Theron
I’m a Julia Roberts fan. I know she’s not the most amazing actor ever, but she’s generally enjoyable to watch, and her turn as the Wicked Stepmother was no exception. I thought she was hilarious. She was snarky and appropriately vain, and clearly not a nice person. Since this version of the Snow White story was obviously meant to be a comedy, I think Roberts was a great choice as an actress willing to laugh at herself.
Here’s something that you may not have known. Ready? Listen up. CHARLIZE THERON IS TERRIFYING. In Mirror, Mirror, Julia Roberts makes the claim early on that it is [her] story, and not Snow White’s. That proves to be false, but in the case of SW&TH, it is Theron’s movie from beginning to end. She is chewing up the scenery like there is no tomorrow. If Roberts was willing to laugh at herself, Theron was willing to go full-on psycho with crazy eyes and snarling delivery. Her Evil Queen was literally the stuff of nightmares.
Winner: Charlize Theron. Girlfriend deserved an award for that performance. Seriously.
The Love Interests…Sam Claflin/Chris Hemsworth
vs. Armie Hammer
When I first realized that SW&TH was including a “prince” (Claflin) in addition to the Huntsman (Hemsworth), I thought it was a ridiculous idea. But, it really worked within the framework of the story. I enjoyed Claflin’s role, William, more than I thought I would as well. Both he and Hemsworth had good chemistry with Stewart (no, really), and William actually was a more developed character in some ways than the other two leads. Hemsworth wasn’t given a lot to do besides grumble and look beefy, which he did perfectly well, although I wish they’d just let him keep his own accent. One of the biggest failings of the movie, for me, was that what he and Stewart had to work with was not great. Theron was given all the good dialogue, or something. Maybe they’ll fix that in the (sigh) sequel?
Armie Hammer’s Prince Alcott is the exact opposite of either William or The Huntsman. Oh, he’s still beefy and heroic, but he’s also really funny. Hammer gets full marks for the scenes in which he is under a “puppy love” spell. Beyond that, he was a competent swordsman and has a fabulous speaking voice, but (as previously mentioned) had next to no chemistry with his Princess.
Winner: TIE. I really wanted either Hemsworth or Hammer to sell me, and they didn’t. The addition of Claflin was more interesting than I’d bargained for, but still doesn’t sway the balance for SW&TH.
Ah, the dwarves. A necessary part of the Snow White story, but in this case, something of a controversial topic, which I don’t really care to discuss in detail. Briefly, SW&TH chose to use actors of a “regular size” to play the dwarves, whereas Mirror Mirror utilized little people (please note that the Internet says this is the PC term. If that is incorrect, please let me know). I don’t wish to be offensive, but to my mind, the rationale has a lot to do with the role that the dwarves play within the two stories. In SW&TH, the dwarves are reasonably serious characters, very similar to those of Tolkien. They are a proud people who have been cast out, and so they join in Snow White’s fight to free themselves. The dwarves in Mirror Mirror have the same motivation, but it’s a comedy, so they’re mostly there to be funny, and, well, there are notably few “serious” actors of a smaller size. Having said that, both septets are effective and enjoyable to watch. In the case of SW&TH, sadly, they don’t quite live up to potential considering we’re talking actors like Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins*, and Toby Jones. Are you noticing a theme?
*This is Bob Hoskins’ final film, as he has now retired from acting due to a Parkinson’s diagnosis. Very, very sad news.
Winner: TIE. Even if the dwarves of SW&TH didn’t have enough to do, they actually provided a lot of the emotional punch of the film, so they even out with the more-present crew from Mirror Mirror.
The director of Mirror Mirror, Tarsem Singh, is well-known for his use of super-saturated color to produce striking visuals (see: The Fall). However, I was actually somewhat disappointed by the visuals here. Snow White and the Queen stood out from their surroundings due to brightly colored clothing, but for the most part, color was not a major player. Additionally, special effects were kept to a minimum (which I always appreciate). The Queen’s use of the mirror and a surprisingly creepy fight scene were the only notable exceptions.
On the other hand, the visuals were SW&TH’s strongest point (Theron notwithstanding). Director Rupert Sanders did a fantastic job of creating stark and striking landscapes, and while there were plenty of effects, they were never overdone or obviously computer-generated, which is a pet peeve of mine. All of the effects combined to provide a cohesive vision, from the Forest to the Queen’s magic army, to the magical creatures encountered by Snow White on her journey.
Winner: SW&TH. Visual effects aren’t something that I normally notice (unless they’re bad), and I was really impressed with these. Don’t believe me? Both films were nominated for the Oscar for Costume Design, but Huntsman got the nod for Visual Effects as well.
As has been previously mentioned, SW&TH was seriously lacking in the writing department. The story itself was a great idea, but it fell apart when the characters needed to talk to each other. Dialogue was primarily used for exposition as opposed to character development, and as a result some of the characters were fairly static. This is often the case with regard to heroes and heroines, but they can still be fully-fleshed-out characters, even if they’re a little single-minded.
Mirror Mirror’s dialogue, full of snappy one-liners, was quite entertaining. Having some seasoned professionals like Julia Roberts and Nathan Lane around doesn’t hurt, but everyone acquitted themselves well in this respect. The story itself was rather more straightforward, and I’m not saying that the characters were any more developed than in Huntsman, but it was just more fun to listen to them talk. In a full-on comedy, it’s a bit more palatable for the dwarves to also be funny, and Lily Collins displayed surprisingly effective timing.
Winner: Mirror Mirror. It’s not award-winning dialogue, but it was totally effective within the context of the film.
And the winner is…
If you tally up the categories, you’ll find the two movies have reached a tie. As far as it goes, I do think that they were reasonably equal in terms of “tangibles.” Both entertaining films, solid B pluses. However. Remember that theme I mentioned earlier? Time and again, SW&TH reached for something greater, and fell just a bit short. I have no complaints with the actors. The film was great to look at. The story, with all of its extra interpretation and exposition, was a really fantastic idea. Unfortunately, the script just couldn’t live up to the idea. Snow White and the Huntsman could have been a really great movie, but it misses out on its full potential.
Conversely, Mirror Mirror isn’t trying to do anything fancy. It’s a semi-modernized, light look at the fairy tale. Everyone performs adequately, and it’s a totally entertaining way to spend a couple of hours (give or take). While the visuals may have been a bit disappointing given the film’s director, they weren’t bad, and didn’t detract from anything overall. Lily Collins, despite being a newcomer, manages to carry the film admirably well, and if you’re not a Julia Roberts hater, I think you’ll find her an entertaining, not-too-villainous villain. And so, by the slightest of margins, I declare Mirror Mirror the official winner of the Snow White Wars. Both movies are totally worth watching for the popcorn factor, and have markedly different interpretations to offer, but the lost promise of Snow White and the Huntsman was a sad disappointment.