October 20th, 2006
This retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale makes a fascinating double bill with Disney’s version, reviewed here. Starring Sigourney Weaver and Sam Neill, with Monica Keena as Snow White.
Everything here is a great deal darker, as one might expect from the title. Only one of the “dwarfs” (backwoods miners, as in Disney) is an actual little person, and they aren’t nice guys. Some of them hatch a plan to ransom Snow White back to the queen, and at least one thinks it would be a good idea to use her for sex first. However, none of this happens, and Snow White even falls for one of them. It is he, and not the prince, who administers the life-saving “kiss.” (More of a heimlich maneuver.)
According to one source this film went straight to video and was denied a theatrical release because of dirty dealing on the part of Disney. I don’t know if this is true or not.
Weaver and Neill are fine as the wicked queen and her hapless king (a character who doesn’t appear in Disney’s version). But despite the presence of such highly-regarded actors, I don’t find this to be much more than a mainstream horror film, a genre that I don’t usually indulge in. It is dark, lurid, and gothic, but not specially meaningful as a movie experience. The main interest for me lies in the comparison with Disney and with the original Brothers Grimm fairy tale.
Some of the reviews I read of this movie tout it as being closer to the Grimms than Disney is. I found this to be true in some cases but not in others, and in some cases Disney’s version is closer. For example, Snow White is supposed to be laid out in a clear glass coffin as in Disney, but in this version the coffin is made of stained glass. This one gets it right about Snow White supposedly being revived by a kiss from the prince; in Grimm she simply spits up the bit of poisoned apple she has lodged in her throat, as she does here. But the prince should not be snoggling with the wicked queen!
In both movie versions the henchman who fails to kill Snow White (here the queen’s brother) brings back a pig’s heart as proof, but in the Grimm tale he brings back not a pig’s heart but a wild boar’s lungs and liver. This version follows Grimm in having the queen cook up the offal, thinking it to be Snow White’s remains; but instead of eating it herself, in this movie she feeds it to the king.
Neither version bothers with the delectable Grimm ending, which describes the fate of the wicked queen when she has the gall to show up at Snow White’s wedding:
“…they put a pair of iron shoes into burning coals. They were brought forth with tongs and placed before her. She was forced to step into the red-hot shoes and dance until she fell down dead.”
I think this movie is fine for what it is, but it isn’t a genre that I usually find appealing. Unless you like gothic horror for its own sake, I think it is best enjoyed as a bitter nightcap to cut the sweetness of Dopey and the gang.