Snow White and the Huntsman or How Not to Write a Movie

Guys, I’m just going to be upfront and admit this is a rant thinly disguised as a review.  I’ll try to keep from writing an entire novel on this movie, but I can’t promise that I’m putting away this soapbox anytime soon.

 

Doesn’t this look like Snow White could kick some butt?

 

Also, SPOILERS galore:

I was really looking forward to Snow White and the Huntsman. Really, really.  The previews looked ah-mah-zing.  I liked the idea of a little more kick-ass Snow White which is why I love Ginnifer Goodwin as Snow in Once Upon a Time…but I thought this Snow White looked even more edgy.  I like edgy!  Charlize Theron looked gorgeous and creepy. There was a bit much CGI for my taste in the previews, enough to give me a slight feeling of unease, but I brushed that under the rug and persisted in my extremely high levels of excitement.

Here’s what I expected from Snow White and the Huntsman (just so you guys can tell me if I went in with unreasonably high expectations or something):

Creepy and Evil Queen

Strong Female Protag: Snow White makes transformation at some point from girl getting hunted to kick ass warrior chick

Hot Huntsman

Love Interest between Snow White and Huntsman / Romantic Tension:  Snow White & a hottie Huntsman? I’ll buy a ticket for that ride!

Fleshed Out Characters: Especially Snow White and the Huntsman…cause you know, they’re the TITLE characters.

Here’s what I got:

Creepy and Evil Queen: Check!  I think I was the most emotionally attached to this character because she was the most fleshed out, and had the most compelling back story.  Charlize Theron is the best part of this movie.

Pensive, Non-Verbal Snow White: SW wandering around looking pensive, running and looking pensive, in chain mail looking pensive…a main character who Hardly. Ever. Talks.  And when she does half the time you’re like, “Huh? What?” Case in point, when she yells “I gave them my word!” during the “seige” of the castle and I’m thinking, “What? When did this happen? Was I in the bathroom or something?”

Hot Huntsman: Check! Except we get very little of his back story…and the pieces we do get are piecemeal…his wife is dead, he misses her, he creepily sort of falls in love with Snow White cause she REMINDS HIM OF HIS DEAD WIFE (awkward), and his wife seems to have been one of the Queen’s victims.  Also, he drinks a lot and owes some dwarves some money.  But why any of this makes me want to like HIM as a character, I have absolutely no clue.

Love Interest Between Snow White and Huntsman / Romantic Tension:  Nope.  I THINK there was kind of supposed to be, cause he like twinkles those baby blues at her a few times and tells her she looks fetching in chain mail and she’s like “uuuhhhh.”  Like, seriously, the guy just kissed you awake, you go out and make some rousing speech to the people that makes absolutely no sense (Snow White, are you feeling well? You’re babbling like a crazy person and confusing the hell out of the audience.  Maybe take 5 before the Braveheart speech…you were just DEAD after all), and this is the first time you’re speaking to the guy since he raised you from the dead with his kiss and you literally DO NOT SAY anything in reply to him?  Dating no no.

Love Triangle…or is it? Maybe it’s a Nobody Really Quite Gives a Crap Triangle:  William and SW were pals as kids.  Then the Queen takes over, all the good guys flee the castle, SW is stuck behind and locked in a tower. William escapes with his dad the Duke, thinking SW is dead…when he finds out she isn’t & is now running for her life in the dark forest, he goes after her…SW meanwhile has taken up with the Huntsman (and by “taken up with” I mean sharing a screen with a complete lack of sexual tension) and so when William finally shows up she’s like “Oh, hey, yeah, high five, nice to see you.”  Actually, they don’t even high five.  That would be showing too much emotion.

So…does she like William, the love of her youth?  He kinda likes her?  But isn’t threatened by the Huntsman at all apparently…nor is the Huntsman threatened by him.  Honestly, it’s like they’re all college roommates or something.  They got assigned to this movie together and they’re just getting along as well as the can until they can move off campus with their real friends.

Fleshed out characters:  No.

Plot Holes and Things That Happen For No Discernible Reason: So, so, so many plot holes.  So, so, so many things that didn’t make sense and were pointless.  Why did we spend 5 minutes on SW walking through a bizarre fairy land to meet with a white stag who bows to her proving she’s the “life” of the land?  We’ve never heard of this white stag before.  There was this HUGE info dump at the beginning of the movie that gave us tons of back story in a rather uncreative way.  How easy would it have been to say…”and the land had been guarded by a white magic that took the form of a stag…it disappeared when the evil came”…and then when we see the stag we’d all think “Ooooh, okay.”  But instead we are like, “Um. Why? You know, if you’d cut this part this movie would have made it in at under two hours.  Think about that next time, guys.  Editing. It’s a thing.  A good thing.  Learn it.”

And this brings me to the section of my review in which I rant about CGI:

I’m a visual person.  I love pretty scenes.  In fact, I write to images in my head.  I can’t start a new story unless I have a really strong picture or small movie of it running through my brain.  I don’t mind CGI.  It has its place.  But I firmly believe that this quote from George Lucas is true:

“Special effects are just a tool, a means of telling a story. People have a tendency to confuse them as an end to themselves. A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”

Now, George said this a long time ago and has apparently forgotten it completely as evidenced by his systematic destruction of the Star Wars franchise.  I honestly think someone should hold him down and tattoo this backwards on his forehead so he can read it whenever he looks in a mirror and be reminded that at one time he had half a brain in his head.  This is a rant for another day, however.

But it’s true.  Just cause it LOOKS pretty is no reason to put it in a movie.  That whole sanctuary fairy land thing with all the crazy animals, and mushrooms with one eyeball, and the stag turning into butterflies…Pointless. As. Heck.  That’s thousands of man hours and millions of dollars that added NOTHING to the story.  In fact, it only managed to muddle and confuse an already murky storyline.

CGI and special effects have their place, but please Hollywood, exercise restraint (I know this is hard for you, but give it a try and see how it goes).

And now for the part of the review where I give writing advice:

I don’t claim to be a writing guru.  But there are few universal truths about writing that I think any novelist/screenwriter need to keep in mind.  I say this less as a writer and more as an audience member who wants her ten dollars back.

Rule One: Your audience needs to care about your main characters.  We need to be emotionally invested somehow.  Sometimes this is because of back story, but mostly it’s because of how the characters interact with each other and how they respond to the things that happen to/around them.  Know who I wasn’t emotionally invested in?  Snow White. The Huntsmen. William. The dwarves.  I’m actually not sure SW was emotionally invested in any of those people herself, so it makes it kind of to root for anyone.

Rule Two:  Pay off your audience.  When something big happens, like, oh I don’t know, the power of a kiss waking someone from the DEAD, the audience expects some kind of emotional pay off from the characters.  And the audience believes THIS kiss is special because when William kissed dead SW nothing happened, but when the Huntsman smooches her (and then walks away) she wakes up.  So there’s SOMETHING about THIS kiss that woke her up…and then nothing.  No pay off between SW and the Huntsman at all!  She doesn’t even say anything back to him when he compliments her before they ride into battle.  W.H.A.T?  Your audience is conditioned to expect that this kiss MEANS something and not only have we been conditioned by years of seeing this story play out in multiple mediums, you set it up that way yourself!  To not pay off on that is cruel and stupid lazy storytelling.

Rule Three: Support grand claims with some kind of evidence.  Snow White can defeat the Queen because she is “purer and fairer.”  We are never given evidence that SW is pure.  We never see her do anything that leads us to believe she’s just a completely sweet and awesome girl.  Like giving her last piece of food to a starving kid, or committing some other selfless act, or honestly really much of anything.  She runs out and screams at a troll that was going to whack the living crap out the Huntsmen so maybe that was supposed to be the selfless act.  But it came across more like she’d be without a guide through the treacherous dark forest if he ate it, so she ran out screaming (and the troll was just so in awe of her, King Kong like, that he got all doe-eyed and turned tail and rambled off cause…well, just cause).

I mean, of course she’s “more pure” than the Queen.  Who isn’t?  The lady takes young girls and sucks the pretty right out of them with evil magic and makes them old and/or dead.  Any random guy on the street is more pure.  If SW’s not demonstrably extra-specially pure, it basically boils down to being more “fair.”  So, she’s just prettier.  I love Kristen Stewart, but I don’t think Charlize Theron has much to worry about in that department.  So the entire sum of SW character is that she’s pretty and she’s the King’s daughter.  When SW and the Queen are finally battling, SW says “I’m everything you’re not.”  What…non-verbal?  The Queen at least talks on a regular basis.  Strong?  Powerful?  I honestly don’t know what SW has that makes her awesome.  And during her rallying cry (which made no sense at all, there was no context to her ramblings about iron melting, etc.) I kept wishing that her character supported it.  I wanted her to be strong and edgy and bad ass.  I did!  But I would have been fine with her being sweet, lovely, and kind because that can inspire too!

Oh my gosh, this is getting way, way, way too long.  I seriously have half a mind to rewrite the whole movie just for my own reading pleasure.  It could have been good.  It could have been brilliant.

I went in prepared to love it.  I would have settled for liking it.  Instead I experienced four of the five stages of grief while watching this movie.  I have to admit I fluctuated back and forth between anger and depression the entire last half of the film.  I have not yet reached the acceptance stage.  I refuse to accept it.

Oops, forgot to link this up on the Fairy Tale Challenge (see my original post and goal level here).  If you’re interested in joining the challenge head on over to Tiff Talks Books.

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16 thoughts on “Snow White and the Huntsman or How Not to Write a Movie

  1. I find that for me at least, expectations have a huge impact on what I think of books/movies/events/whatever. If I’m expecting something really amazing, the real thing might be pretty awesome, but not live up to the version that’s in my head. I find that I tend to like things better when I go in with no expectations. (So all the hype may have contributed to me not loving HG.)

    Your rule one is super important! Good thing to keep in mind as I’m writing. And on that note… I turned half of my closet into a writing studio last night! Totally had to rearange my room at midnight to do it, but now I have a space for working on my story. 🙂

  2. Becca, that is awesome about the writing space! I’m trying to work ong etting one set up here so I don’t have to leave all of the time.

    I agree with you about expectations. I don’t think I went in assuming it was going to be the best movie ever, but I did expect a coherent plot and for there to be some kind of emotional connection between the characters.

    I went into Mirror, Mirror with very low expectations and ended up liking it much more than I thought I would. Of the two, I think it’s the better put together movie even though I did have some issues with it.

  3. Excellent review. I agree with you 100%. It is sad when the queen is the best part! Kristen Stewart seems to be playing the same role over and over. She doesnt really add anything to it or flesh out her characters. She is always one dimensional. No chemistry between the main characters. I hated how she ruled alone and there was not real romantic resolution. Poor duke who seemed to be a much better and less damaged man.

  4. Like you, I was really looking forward to this movie. How could I not be after seeing that trailer?! But I saw/read some pretty scathing reviews just before going to see it, so my expectations were pretty darn low. I didn’t hate it as much as I was expecting to, but it certainly didn’t shatter any of those negative reviews.

    You couldn’t be more right about characters that we care nothing about. I swear Kristen Stewart’s copy of the script said mostly: Look pretty and pensive. She had almost no lines! I felt totally ripped off that nothing comes of her “relationships” (not) with either William or the Huntsman. We can only assume that due to the movie’s title, and due to the fact that the Huntsman kissed her alive again that somehow they are connected other than just as journey companions. What a ripoff, though.

    And I didn’t really think about it until you mentioned it here, but that fairy land scene didn’t have any point to it, did it? How lame is that! I think you’re right when you say that we have certain expectations of this story having grown up with it. To completely omit all of those key aspects is evidence of horrid writing.

    1. Jaime, I think we also had expectations based on how they were setting up the movie. We expected her to become strong…didn’t seem to ever happen. We expected there to be something between her and the Huntsman…didn’t happen. Just frustrating all around!

  5. To be honest, I was worried about the film, from the get-go because Kristen Stewart was in it. Her acting style is “pensive” and that’s quite literally it. Now I see that my fears were realized. Good to know!! Thanks for the honest review!!

  6. Have I mentioned that I love you? 😉

    I wasn’t sure about this one from the get-go, just because it looked like they were trying TOO hard to make it — weird? The Queen is sufficiently creepy, definitely know she’s the bad guy, just from the trailers. But I couldn’t come up with a good impetus to dole out my money and see if there was any redeeming quality … Now I’m sooooooooooo glad I didn’t! Yeah, totally not cool producer-peoples. I do still want to see Mirror, Mirror ((guess I’m waiting for DVD on that count)). And Brave. Most definitely Brave. 😀 And can we send Tangled back to the big screen? Because I’d totally pay money to see it. Again. 😉

  7. I totally agree with everything you guys just said! It could have been a great movie though.. Kick-ass Snow White who falls in love with the not so charming but incredibely hot huntsman, love it! Are you serious about re-writing it? I’d love to read your version, sound like you know what you’re talking about!

  8. I love the detail you put into this post!! I am still curious about the movie, but I am definitely going to wait until I can get it free from my local library!

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