Snow White, the milquetoast heroine
Kristen Stewart as Snow White.
June 5th, 2012
04:15 PM ET

Snow White, the milquetoast heroine

Editor's note: Aaron Sagers is a New York-based entertainment writer and nationally syndicated pop-culture columnist. He has specialty knowledge in "paranormal pop culture," has lectured at conventions nationwide on the topic and is a media pundit on supernatural entertainment. He covers pop culture daily at ParanormalPopCulture.com and can be found on Twitter @aaronsagers.

Wielding a sword and embarking on a quest to vanquish an evil queen does not a warrior princess make. What it does make, however, is about $56 million and a top spot at the box office.

Released last Friday, the movie “Snow White and the Huntsman” is an attempt to launch a female-driven fantasy franchise. Based on the money it is pulling in so far, that attempt will likely succeed, but the movie falls far short of being a story worthy of the genre. And for fantasy nerds who have come to expect more from female protagonists, this armor-plated princess flick will not be the one to rule them all.

Within the fantasy genre, the exploration of humanity – in both its selfless acts and depraved depths – is what makes these stories of myths and magic more than just swords-and-orcs tales. J.R.R. Tolkien, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Robert Jordan, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and many other fantasy authors know this when they put their characters on a quest.

The quest is clear with “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Instead of an animated Disney film with a porcelain-skinned heroine, this outing stars Kristen Stewart (the “Twilight” films) as the eponymous heroine from the Grimm fairy tales. The movie tries to go in a, well, grim, direction by making Snow White a virginal, innocent hero who escapes the clutches of her sorceress stepmother (Charlize Theron) and then returns to take her out.

Joining her on the journey – because the queen has been sucking life and youth from their lands – is an assassin- cum-protector Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), seven bandit dwarves (including Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone and Nick Frost) and the fairy magic of the forests which has deemed Snow “The One.”

But trading in on a reinvigorated fascination with fairy tales, and the popularity of “Twilight” (Stewart as Snow sports her same Bella Swan grimace and is caught between two suitors), the film fails to develop a believable heroine on a mission. It opts instead for a character who rapidly transforms from a pouty ragamuffin captive to a pouty source of light magic, and leader of men.

After a decade of quietly serving as a prisoner in a tower and coming- of- age, Snow gives into a flash of violence before shifting back into a meek girl. But Stewart’s princess is not only the fairest of them all;, she also appears to be the most superficial. Like the pristine surface of freshly fallen snow, she lacks the emotional drive to make fantasy fans care about her character.

Where is the rage and bitterness over having her father’s kingdom usurped or her youth robbed? Is there no desire to spike the head of a creeper who attempts to molest her? Is she not slightly unhinged and imbalanced – and not just shy or socially awkward – after being left to rot in a cell?

With regards to Theron’s Queen Ravenna, there is also a lack of complexity. There are brief moments that reveal how the queen became obsessed with youth and power, but how did she become so blasted evil? As a woman subjected to the rule and abuse of men, would she not have some empathy for other females? After killing her king husband, slaughtering his men, subverting the kingdom’s subjects and blackening the land, what compels her to keep Snow White alive instead of murdering her (especially when it is assumed Snow is already dead)?

Instead of addressing these questions, the film relies on interesting visual effects of light and dark magic to obfuscate the superficiality of black-and-white characters.

There are plenty of powerful and well-developed female figures to cull from in the genre. In "The Dark Tower" series, King gave fantasy nerds the character of Susannah Dean, a wheelchair-bound, vengeful heroine who overcomes multiple personalities and serious anger management issues.

Rowling created a non-magical Muggle girl who entered a world of fantasy with a fresh eye in the "Harry Potter" books; Hermione was an outcast to some, and know-it-all to others, yet became one her world’s saviors through her wits – all while maturing into a young woman. In her "Avalon" series, Bradley has several women who fight to alter, preserve or simply survive a harsh Arthurian world. Morgaine is a priestess and a lover who views an oncoming religious shift with hesitation and, eventually, pragmatism. Gwenhwyfar is her polar opposite: a character of depression, self-loathing and fear. Tolkien also gave fantasy fans complex women when he wrote Eowyn and Arwen in the "Lord of the Rings" series.

And over on HBO, “Game of Thrones” – based on George R.R. Martin’s book series, “A Song of Fire and Ice” – just wrapped its second season where heroines and villainesses (of various shades and motivations) not only share the stage with men but often dominate it. Instead of simply being character templates, the women of “Game of Thrones” are, at turns, likable and loathsome. They feel real despite existing in a fantasy world.

In works of fantasy, a widowed dragon queen can be a fierce ruler while also acting like a petulant girl. A queen can be a sexually awake woman who loves her children, but also be a conniving schemer – who relies too heavily on a goblet full of wine. A little princess can be a fighter who craves retribution, while her sister can slowly mature beyond being an entitled brat. Prostitutes and wildlings can likewise be more than what their character types might otherwise dictate.

Fantasy nerds are used to expecting complicated female characters within the genre as much as they’re used to monsters and magic. But “Snow White and the Huntsman” misses the opportunity to join these ranks.

The film could be (and should have been) one that flipped the vulnerable princess fairy tale into a fantasy epic where a strong, believable female protagonist leads a quest against a strong, believable female antagonist. The result, however, is a movie that will not likely cast a spell against genre fans.

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soundoff (70 Responses)
  1. Carmella Bevier

    There are really some people who will need some anger management therapy because of their brain chemistry. –

    <a href="Look at the most recent piece of writing at our own blog
    http://www.caramoantravel.com/caramoan-beach-resort/

    November 28, 2012 at 4:45 am |
  2. JimfromBham

    My wife really wanted to see this movie. As we left the theater afterward, she asked me, "What did you think about it?", to which I replied, "Oh, it was quite good, dear – very entertaining".

    June 6, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • TehKitteh

      Did she pat you on the head after that, say "That's a good boy", and give you a treat? (If so, count yourself lucky!)

      June 7, 2012 at 5:37 am |
      • JimfromBham

        A long time ago, I learned not to sweat the small stuff. We held hands during the movie, and I got "attaboy points" for going. Time well spent.

        June 7, 2012 at 7:55 am |
  3. Jonathan

    Why all the hate on Kristen Stewart? I've never understood that. I've enjoyed her since Panic Room and I enjoyed this film as well. It's doing just fine at the box office so I never ever use critic reviews because we always seem to have different tastes in films.

    June 6, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
    • Chris

      I don't hate Stewart, but either her acting lacked complexity, or that's the way the director wanted it. It wasn't a horrible movie, but I don't feel the need to own it or watch it again. It's not a captivating or compelling movie, but there are some lovely special effects eye candy. Worth seeing once on the big screen. Once.

      June 7, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  4. Bec

    I hate to say this, but Tolkien gave Arwen two whole lines in all of the LotR books. Two whole lines. Eowyn got more but not much. And you didn't mention Galadriel at all. There are no women at all in Hobbit, not until Peter Jackson created one for the movie and added the subplot with the Necromancer at Dol Guldur. At least the LotR movies give Arwen some room to shine.

    June 6, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
  5. L.Destin

    Overall, the movie was enjoyable to sit through. Theron was great as the Evil Queen. I felt Snow White's character was reactionary–she didn't really do anything, she just reacted to situations around her. The only part that threw me off was her sudden speech when she woke up... I wonder how much was edited out, because that part came out of nowhere, in my opinion.

    Was I expecting great character development–not really. I watched for the action, Chris Hemsworth, and to see what spin on the classic fairy-tale this movie will have. Therefore, I enjoyed it.

    June 6, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  6. Solo

    Reviews won't matter for this film (this is from the industry that voted "Shakespeare in Love" to win over "Saving Private Ryan" for best pic) because of the several connections from Twilight fans, Game of Thrones fans, and those who just like Charlize Theron. Moviemakers knew this going in.

    June 6, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  7. Why?

    They lost me when they pit Kirsten Stewart as "Fairer than" Charlize Theron. Seriously?

    June 6, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • truefax

      My sentiments exactly.

      June 6, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  8. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    Now that the writer has mentioned Stephen Kings THE DARK TOWER series, I wonder when Hollywood is going to get around to making a movie out of it. Viggo Mortensen as Roland, Zoe Saldana as Susannah.

    June 6, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • anon

      Good call on Viggo as Roland, he'd be perfect

      June 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  9. CJ

    Visually, the movie was impressive, but what movie isn't that relies so heavily upon CG? Kristen Stewart is a horrible actress, period. She obviously appeals to teens & early-20-somethings, which is why, I'm sure, she was cast in this role - casting understood that she would draw Twighlight fans. There were some interesting moments in the film; I thought the dwarves storyline had real potential, but they didn't spend enough time on them to explore it well enough. I also liked the colony of scarred females who were thriving despite the absence of their husbands, who were at war. Again, something that could have been explored a little deeper...Instead, we were stuck with "filler" moments of long, wordless scenes where the talentless Ms. Stewart tried to appear meaningful and thoughtful, but failed due to a lack of facial expression and dead eyes. A real actor can carry such scenes (see "Apocalypto" for a great example). In short, I think the movie was made for a much younger audience. My teenage son seemed to enjoy it...

    June 5, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  10. RedRae

    I have read this article twice and do not see the point of it. I saw the movie and liked it. It was something different. Granted Snow White could have acted a little better, but the Huntsman and the dwarfs were great.

    June 5, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • Marc

      Snow White could have actually acted, actually. Egads, she's the worst.

      June 5, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Leonard Komen

      they were great? look up some definitions: unusual or considerable in degree, power, intensity, etc.:wonderful; first-rate; very good: being such in an extreme or notable degree:

      June 5, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
      • Danis

        Oh my GOSH! I want to come down Abe is out of town. Agghhh this is just what I wanted. PS love the last post drliang kids and love that cute little girl's hair! If I come up with something for Saturday, I'll call. I'm so wishing I just lived down the street.

        October 15, 2012 at 3:26 am |
    • Florist

      The point was kind of glaringly obvious. The film had a lot of potential and could have become a real fantasy force, but it instead lazily became a money grab taking advantage of Stewart's fame instead of developing the characters.

      June 6, 2012 at 3:02 am |
    • Thomas

      Perhaps the point of the article is simply advertisement for the movie disguised as "news"?

      June 6, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Rick

      I thought the author's comments on the movie where very astute and well communicated. I am surprised you can't "see the point" of them. Maybe that's why you liked the movie?

      June 6, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • bee

      I agree .. the movie was good .. a lot of hate going on here for Ms. Steward for her portrayal here stemming from her twilight character .. if anyone had read the books .. she acted Bella the way the character was written .. as for this story .. she was fin as was Ms. Theron who has way more experience .. as for the fairer in the land crack .. supposed to be about kindness and purity not the look of the queen who no matter her looks of course of which are gorgeous .. her soul was rotten to the core much like the apple .

      June 6, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
      • Uchiha

        I have one scheduled to come out (via c-section) June 12th. If he comes ealirer I will let you know. I admire your work ..and have NO experience with newborn photography. It is on my list of many things to get better at!

        November 14, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  11. The Lord of Excess

    Bleh ... meh ... bleh ... more Hollywood tripe and more vanilla cultural garbage. All we are capable of producing in this wasteland. Sad. It wasn't always that way, great films are far and few between anymore. It is about slow motion boobies, explosions, CGI, and ultra thin plotlines that the average 5th grader would scoff at. I don't see us ever turning around though, the age of idiocracy is upon us

    June 5, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • CJ

      Holy moly, you've shocked me! I utter the word "Idiocracy" every time I see yet another example of the cookie-cutter, low-brow, obvious, depthless, ridiculous excuse for entertainment that we, as Americans, are buying into. I get so sick of what's available on tv & pay-per-view that I escape to the classic movie channels or go digging through Netflix to find anything with a point, a plot, and believable actors. I don't think it will take 500 years for us to get to "Idiocracy's" level, though; I think we're a decade or two away.

      June 5, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
      • GodlessOpera

        I can't wait to start watching "Ow my b@lls"

        June 5, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  12. A. LIncoln

    Saw this "actress" on Leno about a week or so ago. Not impressive, not at all. She was sassy, appeared to be lost, and demonstrated pretty much zero personality. I honesty thought she might be on something at the time I saw it.

    June 5, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Marc

      She seriously always look and acts that way. She has to be the worst actress to ever reach a cinematic peak this high in history.

      June 5, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • ann

      she is a known pothead. the even had pics of her with a pipe.

      June 6, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
  13. GodlessOpera

    I thought the actress was okay, I think the problem was with the script and maybe directing. Rather, the directing wasn't awful, but maybe there was just a little too much crammed into too little time to do it right.

    During a particular death scene I almost laughed, realizing that due to the music and concentration on it that I was supposed to really care about this character that I'd probably literally only seen onscreen for a total of 5 minutes. I don't even know what their name was - still!

    During the "let's go to battle" speech I was underwhelmed, and it's especially hard to feel pumped up for battle when it looks like there's maybe 15 soldiers total riding along a beach to infiltrate the castle. Yawn.

    June 5, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Realistic

      at last; someone with a sense of objectivity; the lead actress was going through the motions – not E-motions; although she was partly victimized by bad directing and skimpy script writing; there was not enough character development to get you interested; what made each character "tick" ? couldnt tell; one of the more intriguing characters was the Troll and he/she had one scene; it would have been logical for him/her to reappear in the apolyptic battle scene; it seemed as though the director was limited in creativity to placing random fantasy objects – one troll, several faeries – in some sprinkled fashion throughout the movie to tease the audience with them but didn't know what to do with them thereafter. Even the dwarfs seemed to pass through the story without depth. now a subjective comment: yawn!!!

      June 5, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
  14. Brian

    " a non-magical Muggle girl " Seriously. How do you expect any credibility when you either didn't even see (or didn't understand) one of the very films you are holding up as a standard.

    June 5, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • Larisa

      I would always like to help out with your sooths. Just let me know and maybe I can arrange it. I don't know if I would have the patience you have, though. After watching you in action, I know for sure that it's a whole lot harder than I imagined. I might panic, or start to cry if the baby wouldn't go to sleep and. There's a lot of pressure. On second, though?/

      October 13, 2012 at 1:04 am |
  15. iServe

    So let me get this straight. He compared several heroines to this one, fine ok. But he complains about how they were more fleshed out than this one? Ok lets compare 6 Harry Potter movies to 1 Snow White movie... Fine thats not fair so lets compare 2 seasons of GoT's to a 2hr movie... Ok ok thats still just silly, so lets compare 3 3hr LotR movies to just this 1 2hr movie...

    Hmmm seems kind of silly. He should have stopped writing at the Bella Swan quips. After that it all became drivel and far reaching. Kristen Stewart is definitely not a good actress but this guy isnt any better of a writer either. Maybe I should compare this 1 writing to several pieces of Shakespeare or something...

    June 5, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Stan

      Unfortunately, Kristen Stewart cannot act and Snow White was more like a female sleeping dwarf. And the queen was the best most beautiful actress in the flix.

      June 7, 2012 at 7:00 am |
  16. Leucadia Bob

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIu5aPIIzzM&w=640&h=390]

    June 5, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  17. Leucadia Bob

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2yNM8_QbWQ&w=640&h=390]

    June 5, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  18. Janet

    Thank You for giving me the word i was looking for to explain how uninteresting the Snow White character was. i found myself not even really caring if she made it through the Dark Forest or not. and her battle speech wasn't even exciting – i'm surprised anyone was willing to follow her anywhere. I was more interested in the Queen and the Dwarves. And does Kristen Stewart have any other facial expression? Overall it wasn't a bad movie, it just could have been better. maybe the sequel will be an improvement. however i'll wait for the dvd of that one.

    June 5, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • Loki

      How come nobody ever criticized Natalie Portman in her gawd awful performance in the silly Star Wars series. That was truly horrible. The again the entire Star Wars series was boring and predictable. I rooted for the Empire. Please kill everyone in the republic.

      June 5, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
      • Thomas

        Actually, I believe a lot of people made comments on Natalie Portman"s acting ability.

        June 6, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  19. hal9thou

    The movie was ok, better than expected. This article and calling Hermione Grainger a "a non-magical Muggle girl" is unforgivable.

    June 5, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Jech

      Agreed. She is Muggle born, and VERY magical.

      June 5, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • sdgman

      Yes, you are correct, me and my geeky self picked up on that Granger slight immediately and hurried to point it out!

      June 5, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  20. Michael

    All that matters is whether or not you liked the movie. My GF and I actually enjoyed the movie, despite all the bad reviews. So, you can never tell. Trust your own judgement.

    June 5, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • Elle

      RIght on...the movie was so MAGICAL...from the scenery to the dwarves...fantastical..haha And, I'm sorry these actors were working with ONE full sentance of dialogue that DID NOT WRITE and created emotion from acting with a GREEN SCREEN...I thought the whole cast did a great job considering what they were working with...and what they were working with left me and my 3 friends (guys and girls) I saw it with, GIDDY, after it was all said in done. 😀

      June 5, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
      • Elle

        *they did not write

        June 5, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  21. Anomic Office Drone

    $56 million!?! I know everyone likes different stuff, but that's a huge number given that I don't know anyone who has seen or wants to see this.

    June 5, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  22. mariosphere

    How come Snow White in this movie is "the prettiest of them all" when Charlize Theron is obviously the prettiest and hottest?

    June 5, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Jech

      I have to argue that, Jessica Biel...

      June 5, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
    • Spike

      Because true beauty comes from within.

      June 5, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
      • Jech

        But not within Kristen Stewart

        June 5, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  23. Jech

    If only Miss Stewart was born with facial expressions.

    June 5, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • mariosphere

      The botox curse? Or just a woody face?

      June 5, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
      • Jill C

        Or just a complete lack of personality.

        June 5, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
      • Marlon

        seriously???? I have never been jealous of a 5 year old's hair, but c'mon!!??? What a liltte beauty!! Gorgeous pics! She looks like she should model professionally. And the baby is soo cute! The outfit in those last ones is so fun!

        October 15, 2012 at 1:49 am |
    • Jech

      Oh and if she were attractive, I was very sad when I saw she was in the movie, it looked good up until then.

      June 5, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Rachels

      Wow, talk about being envious! Kristen is a great actress. If she wasn't, the Twilight saga would have been a flop.

      And she's got the pocketbook now to prove she's got it!

      WTG, Kristen!!

      June 5, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
      • T. R.

        I have not seen Ms. Stewart on film, because I have not been interested in any of her films. But certainly you're using the term "great" too freely. When one lists the truly "great" U.S. film actresses, I doubt if anyone would think to include her. (I have seen trailers for her films, and was not impressed with what I saw of her.)

        I also doubt that her acting abilities contributed in any way to the success of the "Twilight" films. Most people probably saw the films because they were familiar with the books, not because they wanted to see Ms. Stewart's "great" acting. The could have cast Martin Short in drag in the role, and it would probably have still done the same box office numbers.

        P.S. You should have used the subjunctive case and written, "If she weren't..."

        June 5, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • Michelle

      She studied the cod fish open-mouthed method of acting.

      Seriously, how anyone can call her an actress is beyond me.

      June 6, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  24. mynameisidontreallygiveacrap

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    June 5, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  25. Ray

    This film looked promising *until* Kristen Stewart made an appearance. Why in the world directors continue putting this no-talent woman in films is beyond me. Can we please be DONE with this actress? She's not even attractive enough to justify all the attention.

    June 5, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Spike

      Says you. Miss Stewart is a talented and beautiful young actress.

      June 5, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Jill C

      Amen to that. She has the personality and talent of a rock.

      June 5, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
      • iServe

        and thats putting it nicely... Although I think you just insulted several sharp rocks.

        June 5, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  26. Daniel

    I have to disagree with you about the "superficiality" of the Snow White character. The entire theme of the character IS that she is pure and perfect, and magically so (hence the Queen's desire to kill her). Rage, bitterness, and a hint of insanity would have undermined that idea. Although I agree that they would have made for a more interesting character, that character could not be this movie's Snow White.
    As for the Queen, it seemed fairly clear from the flashbacks that the traumas of her youth left her substantially unhinged. Here cruelty would also explain why she kept Snow White imprisoned: the Queen enjoyed her suffering. I feel like the Queen was a very well written and masterfully acted character.

    June 5, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  27. Tammy

    I might be more appreciative of this review if the author hadn't misquoted the name of the book series on which the Game of Thrones HBO series is based. (such a fact more quickly obtained than walking into the kitchen and popping the cap on a cold one) It is 'A Song of Ice and Fire'. Not 'A Song of Fire and Ice.'

    Oh, and btw, I've seen this movie and actually agree with your review.

    June 5, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  28. Ms. Granger

    Hermione was not a "Muggle" nor "non-magic". She was a muggle-born witch.

    June 5, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • hal9thou

      Amen! The author of this piece of tripe gave himself away as a hack right there!

      June 5, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
      • iServe

        Yup +1. Clearly has no idea what he was talking about.

        June 5, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Thomas

      Unfortunately, it only takes a few mistakes to kill credability.

      June 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm |