June 24, 2012

Who’s fairest of them all: How ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ compares from folklore to film

Once upon a time, as a queen sits sewing at her window, she pricks her finger on her needle and three drops of blood fall on the snow that had fallen on her ebony window frame. As she looked at the blood on the snow, she wished for a child with skin as fair as the white snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony. Soon after the queen gave birth to a baby girl, and she was named Snow White.

Snow White originated as a seventeenth-century French folklore, and was one of the world’s most memorable childhood tales. In 1812 it was famously noted down by the Brothers Grimm, and has been adapted many times since.

Probably the best-known version to today’s audiences is the classic 1937 animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In 2012, the classic story has been revived with three new adaptations, Mirror, Mirror directed by Tarsem Singh; the television series Once Upon A Time; and Snow White and the Huntsman directed by Rupert Sanders.

In each version, the story centres on the fair princess and her evil stepmother who harbors a deathly jealousy of her beauty. There are also regular depictions of the all-seeing mirror on the wall; and the dreaded poisonous apple; and Snow White’s woodland friends, the seven dwarfs.

Snow White and the Huntsman contains all of these core elements, however, unlike most modern adaptations, the film is also dark, ominous, and in this way in-keeping with The Brothers Grimm tale.

The adaptation is a fantastical, epic, all-out action flick, part Lord of the Rings and part Brave Heart with hints of Joan of Arc. Visually, the film also stays true to its fairytale roots, in the lavish style of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

There are some obvious deviations from The Brothers Grimm version. Rather than sitting at her window sewing, the finger of the good Queen is pricked by a single red rose that blooms in the garden in spite of the frost. The good Queen also lives beyond Snow White’s day of birth and her successor, the dark Queen, holds magical powers and evil motives that extend much further beyond her own vanity and envy.

Rather than being taken to the forest as a child, Kristen Stewart’s Snow White is locked in a tower. It is not until she comes of age that Snow White’s beauty surpasses the dark Queen’s, which sets in motion her attempted murder and eventual escape.

In this feminist adaptation, Snow White does not live in the woods keeping house for the dwarfs. Nor does she pass out from having her corset laced up too tight, or having her ebony locks parted by a poisonous comb. Instead, she dons chain mail and commands the respect of an army that rides into battle to avenge her father’s death and reclaim her kingdom.

Stewart does a credible job as Snow White – she is delicate and ethereally beautiful as well as believable as a sword-wielding warrior. I only wish that Stewart would choose a role where she could shake off the Bella Swan scowl.

The dark and dreary nature of this film is a good fit – and it is understandable that this Snow White wouldn’t have much to smile about – but it would have been a welcome change to see Stewart happy. I half expected Edward Cullen to step out from the dark forest and enquire as to why she was running through the woods with a new, hunky man-friend.

Speaking of which, the role of the Huntsman was perfect for Chris Hemsworth, who was able to concurrently provoke a tear and sling an axe with all the brute strength of Thor. His accomplishment is all the more impressive when it is considered that the role was first offered to a slew of Hollywood heavyweights, including Tom Hardy, Johnny Depp, Hugh Jackman and Viggo Mortensen.

The standout performance is from Charlize Theron, who is wickedly enrapturing as the cruel, jealous Queen Ravenna. Whether standing menacingly, encircled by her crazed murder of ravens, or crawling from the black oozing pit of decaying feathers, she is terrifically terrible.

The Queen’s black soldiers are an impressive touch, although I dare say that they too evoked memories of Twilight. In battle, as they shattered into razor sharp shards of iron, I pictured the crumbling stone of Stephenie Meyer’s vampires. The film also hinted at yet another Kristen Stewart-induced love triangle, which was a tad irksome.

And yet, if you look beyond the odes to Twilight and the inevitable Kristen Stewart scowl, this film is an enjoyable piece of escapism that celebrates women, shows-off the potential for special effects, and makes a fine way to spend 127 minutes.

The verdict:
Book or Big Screen? Book
The film is: 4. A fine adaptation that maintains the original’s exceptional qualities

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

What’s coming next? A review of To Kill a Mockingbird


  1. Believe it or not, I liked Stewart a great deal more than I thought I would. Someone who would have done the role more justice could have been cast but she was good. Then, there was Theron and Hemsworth. Both of them were awesome! Hope we get a sequel. :-)

  2. I'm really curious what happens in the SWATH sequel, if it does in fact materialize (last I heard a script had ben given the green light).

  3. The ending of the film certainly left things open for a sequel... It will be interesting to see how much the sequel sticks with the modern, 'independent female' angle, or whether it will stay true to the original and allow Snow White to choose her Prince :)