Re-envisioning well-known stories is both a staple of the written word (and visual media) as well as damned difficult to do well. The push and pull of being “true” to the original material versus the urge to change it to make it new is a tough balancing act. Forbidden Planet is a great example of an updated (at the time) old tale… recognizable if you know The Tempest, but not so directly matched that it feels like a veneer over the original. It is wholly its own. Snow White almost gets there with this movie, but it misses.
And it misses because it left a crucial question left open: why the heck does the queen suffer Snow White to live? This isn’t the only problem with the plot, but it is the biggest issue because the entire movie would not have happened if the queen had, you should excuse the expression, taken the head-shot. Instead, she’s hidden away for no apparent reason and, eventually, escapes to fulfill her destiny. This was easily fixable in the script (they even give us a hint of why she’d consider keeping her alive late in the film.. if only the queen has known that information then), but they relied, instead, on the original material to force us to make the leap and accept it. I really didn’t. The rest of the story is pretty much the story we know with minor variations on the apple and the escape. But as a debut directing job, Sanders showed great competence in pacing, structure, and story-telling, if not entirely in the massaging of the material.
Where the film shines is in its visual design, which is stunning, and frankly it is the main reason the film is watchable. If the art direction and f/x hadn’t been as good as they were, this would have been a strong 2 stars rather than a weak 3. But the visuals really are that good. I do have quarrel with the dwarves, however. Ever since Lord of the Rings turned tall men into hobbits, we’re seeing more and more of that kind of transformation. I have to say, in this case, I found it massively distracting. Not that I don’t like Ian McShane, or Toby Jones, or even Nick Frost, but I know them so well from other projects that their faces really kept pulling me out of the story. And, frankly, plenty of other actors could have filled those roles just as competently… they weren’t that complex. They even, oddly, have a scene that is a direct match for Mirror, Mirror that was released shortly before this film, which weakened their introduction to me all the more.
However, the biggest weakness in the film was Kristen Stewart as Snow. Through much of the film she is just fine, but that’s because they didn’t let her talk. As we get near the climax of the film, however, it falls apart. She doesn’t earn the turn around before going into final battle. She comes off shrill and I have no sense of command that would whip that army up. And, at the very end, frankly, she looked a bit maniacal and power crazed. I know she can act (The Runaways) but she really doesn’t show it here. Hemsworth, even with all that Thor-ness hanging on him, really outshines her in complexity and range, as did Theron as the queen.
As a final note, the disc was a rental and had no extras and not even the extended version was available, though listed, on it. While I admit it wasn’t a priority for me to buy the disc any time soon, it certainly isn’t now without seeing the quality and value of the extras.