I watched Snow White and the Huntsman recently and, from the trailer, I had high hopes. I wanted an awesome, kick-butt heroine leading an army and perhaps some sort of epic love story (though I was willing to pass on that part if the heroine had more important things to do). What I came away with was a confused, shallow story with far too many plot holes – Why did the witch keep Snow White alive all those years? Why did one kiss work better than the other? How on earth did they manage to make that armor for her overnight? – And worse, I didn’t have enough emotional connection to any of the main characters to really care.
This has happened before, of course. King Arthur should have been brilliant, if the trailer was anything to go by, but Guinevere was a tad on the pathetic side. Even BBC’s Merlin started out so well, and then Morgana became totally two-dimensional with her sudden “I’m evil now for some reason” flip. I suppose I’m wary of getting my hopes up – and yet, when a film or novel has such promise and totally fails to deliver, I also find myself getting inspired.
I love discussing what could have been done better and trying to re-write the script in my head to make it more satisfying. Elements of that process find their way into my own writing and so I learn and grow from other people’s mistakes as well as my own.
Over the years of doing this, I have worked out a few key distinctions:
People will forgive a lot if they care about the characters
And inversely, they will be much quicker to notice plot holes if you never managed to make them care in the first place. I really wanted to enjoy Snow White, but I was never drawn in to her character. I had more sympathy for the evil Queen than any other character in the film, which isn’t a good sign. Your heroine needs personality. She has to be shown to care, to want things, to be someone the audience can identify with.
If you promise a strong heroine in the trailer (or on the blurb) then making her a constant victim will annoy people
This one is simple, and broken all too often. Opposite in this regard was Brave. Now there’s a girl who can look after herself – and has the courage to face up to her own mistakes and set them right. I could identify with Merida… I had no idea who Snow White really was.
Stuff should make sense
Throughout Snow White, the dwarves and others spoke of her as though she was the ‘destined one’. She had some all powerful healing magic and was pure of heart. The only actual evidence of this in the story (other than people saying it) was that she saved a little bird as a kid and said her prayers in prison – hardly compelling in my opinion. The rest of the time she was just running away from people who wanted to kill her.
Pure of heart doesn’t mean playing dolls with a village girl, its about doing the right thing when any normal person would fail. Snow White needed to face some sort of test of character where she proved herself to have courage / faith / moral fibre above and beyond the average. If she was honestly torn and tempted to do the selfish thing (like that moment in The Goblet of Fire where Harry nearly abandons Cedric to the vines in the maze) and then chooses not to – I would be infinitely more convinced that she is someone worth cheering for.
I saw many parallels in Snow White’s story to ideas I’m wrestling with for Juliana – the young Queen in my own book. In my attempts to re-write Snow White in my head, I’m also seeing pitfalls to avoid and challenges to overcome for myself… and for that reason, if no other, I am glad to have been disappointed by Snow White.