Promises Made, But Not Kept, by Snow White and the Huntsman

Thursday’s Bite

a paranormal blog

When a writer, or a director, puts together a story they make promises to their audience. They layer story questions, create familiar patterns, and use story structure to lure us into their world. When you take a common story it’s even more important to stay true to your promises. Why? Because you have chosen to present a story that people think they know.

snow white and the huntsmanThat’s right. We think we know Snow White.

Ask most people and they will respond that Snow White is a romance. It’s not. Oh, it has all the elements. Young beautiful girl, handsome prince, the kiss. Oh, and the happy ending. We all know that there should be a HEA. Right? Maybe. In the original Snow White the happy ending is not when the prince, (who by the way has never seen Snow White before) kisses her dead lips and wakes her from her sleep. It’s not when he marries her and sweeps her off to live in the castle. The actual ending is when the Evil Queen is danced to death in her red hot iron shoes. That’s a Grimm HEA.

(I’m choosing to insert my spoiler alert here. By now, I hope most of you have seen this movie or chosen not to, so if you are planning on still seeing it, watch out!)

But what’s important is that we all think Snow White is a romance. Why? It’s what we want from fairy tales. They make a promise. Snow White and the Huntsman made promises. And all the way through the movie they are left broken. From the outset we expect a HEA. That promise is made by twisting Snow White, a romance, so if you are making the decision not to give the audience the big HEA, you had better give them a satisfying movie. But all the way through there are moments where the audience says, wait, she was supposed to…

For example, when Gus the dwarf dies (I did post the spoiler alert!)  Snow rushes to his side and comforts him. For some reason I expected her to sing to him. I don’t know why, I just did. But she didn’t. Okay, no problem. But I also expect her to kiss his forehead. Why? Once again I can’t tell you why. Something about the direction of the scene felt like she should kiss him. As an author I can say that it would foreshadow the kiss at the end that wakes up Snow from her own pseudo-death, but as a movie goer, I just wanted the kiss. And I felt let down when it didn’t happen. What’s more, my daughter sitting next to me said out loud, “She should have kissed him. This is one of the moments in the movie, Mom, where you think something should happen and it doesn’t. It’s one of the reasons I felt let down when I left the movie.”

Wow.

I sat there thinking it (we rented it, the girls had already seen it) and my daughter (seventeen, and the target audience for this movie) said it. We felt let down. And it was only the middle of the movie.

I’ll skip the small let down moments throughout the film. Let’s just say that there were several points where I just felt something should happen, and it didn’t. And all of us agreed on those points. (Yes, we talk about the movie and analyze it as we watch. That’s what happens in a writing family.) But the worst was the ending. There was no HEA!

Wait a minute! Was the Evil Queen killed? Yes, she was. Was Snow White restored to her throne? Yes, she was. Did she avoid the secondary romance to the guy who looked like he should be the romantic interest, but really wasn’t? (ie, the stand in for the prince, William) Yes, she did. Or wait. We don’t know. We think she did, but I suspect that after the movie she succumbed to political pressure and married him.

What???

Okay, so the title led me to believe that this was a romance between, you guessed it, Snow White and the Huntsman. That’s the movie title. They didn’t call it, Snow White and the Queen. They didn’t title it Snow White Kicks Ass. They didn’t title it, Come See This Romance and Get Let Down. It was supposed to be about Snow White, the Huntsman, and their romance. We all knew it. The title told us so. A big promise made.

chris hemsworthAnd that was the build up within the movie. All through the movie you can see, yes, she should be in love with William, her child hood friend and social equal. But she’s not. She falls in love with the rough edged (and very hot) Chris Hemsworth. The director took two very popular leading stars and put them together, showed them falling in love, and then at the end. Nada.

William (the prince stand-in) kisses her dead lips, and she’s still dead. The Huntsman kisses her, and she wakes up! True love, right? That’s what we expect. But at the end, when she becomes queen, he’s lurking in the background of the court, and William is up front, waiting to step in and marry her. That’s the end. NO HEA FOR ME! Or my teen age daughters. We, all of us romantics, were let down.

Why would the director make this decision? Why promise us the HEA all the way through the movie, then leave Bella (ooops, sorry) Snow up on the dias alone?

I don’t know.

All I can think of is he (I have to check, it was a male director, right? Yes, of course it was.) thought there were too many barriers between a Princess and a low-born huntsman to marry. So what? YOU PROMISED!

We believed you when Snow (who has been locked in the same cell since she was a child) escapes. We accepted (okay, we all questioned it, but moved on) when there was a pure white horse waiting for her on the beach. And even though she’s never exercised, ridden a horse, or wielded a sword, we let it go when she dons mail and leads the army to the castle. Why? Because the HEA would be coming and we would feel satisfied. All the broken promises and leaps of faith would be forgiven. But that didn’t happen.

Don’t do this with your book. If you promise your readers a certain action, then deliver. You can twist the action. Snow White could have abdicated the throne and run off with the Huntsman. William could have spoke up and fought for her to marry whomever she pleased. It doesn’t matter how you do it. If you’ve promised it to us, we will believe you when you deliver. So deliver.

Deliver on the small promises too. Not kissing Gus, or singing to him was a let-down, right when we should be immersed in the world of the movie. These small let-downs are why readers (and movie goers) say, “I just didn’t love it.” That’s the way I felt after the movie. I liked it. The special effects were amazing. The right pieces were there, but it missed. Many times.

Make those story promises. Make them with your title, your cover, your small and large choices throughout the book. Leave them unanswered for a little while. Make us turn pages fast, looking for those answers. Layer them throughout your book or movie, but fulfill each and every one, big and small, or you’ll find your block buster, busted.

Did you see Snow White and the Huntsman? Did you enjoy it? Were there other moments you picked out as being let-downs? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Click HERE to see how badly I’m doing at NANOWRIMO. Click HERE to discover Little Red Riding Wolf on sale for $3.99 on Passion in Print’s website. (I promise I fulfilled my story promises.)

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11 Comments

Filed under fairy tales, paranormal inspiration, writing craft

11 responses to “Promises Made, But Not Kept, by Snow White and the Huntsman

  1. Didn’t see the movie but your points are bang on, Jessica. Authors should deliver on their promises. And that suspending disbelief thing is so cool. We will believe almost anything if the book/movie sets it up right, maybe because we love to be transported out of our everyday lives. Great post!

    • Thanks Elaine! One of the examples the girls brought up is how everyone believes that no one recognizes Clark Kent as Superman because he wears glasses. Glasses? Really? My youngest pointed out it might be the slight change in hairstyle: hair swept to the side, or cowlick? But we believe! Because Superman delivers. 🙂

  2. I liked the movie, Jessica. It was a twisted version of the classic tale–your area of expertise, not mine–but I was okay with how the plot moved forward. True, I expected a romance going in, but that was my own expectation based on the original story. Snow White and the Huntsman is not the original story.
    I’d have to see it again, to watch carefully and be certain that the director set up promises that went undelivered, but while in the theatre, and now, months later, gut says, it was my own Disney-exploited expectation.
    (I never expected singing in this version.)
    I love how Snow White was far more gritty in this film version, and to me, she was the updated heroine, a Snow White for a modern audience, even though the setting is still embedded in history.
    Interesting to weigh our expectations against the end product. Though I liked the movie, I still wanted… no, I didn’t want, I expected, the evil queen to morph into a black and purple dragon exactly as she did in the Disney version – so silly! Of course, the film did not turn to fiery animation, and now, my grown up self has a Snow White adventure to adore as much as my childhood self.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it. I did too, but I had no idea the romance wouldn’t come through until the very end, and it was pretty disappointing for me. Maybe it was partly watching it at home, you are not as immersed as in the theater, but it missed for me. I think if they had changed the title to Snow White and the Queen, I would have had less expectation of the romance. Or maybe not. They played heavily on developing the romance to support the spell being broken by the Huntsman and I think no matter what, I would have felt shorted. Didn’t miss the dragon though! I’ve read the original and there is no dragon there. Love Malificent though, she is one of my favorite evil villains.

      • Isn’t there a sequel in the works? Or am I just hearing voices?

      • Really? I hadn’t heard that. I thought it was a stand-alone. The high-school gossip isn’t favorable toward the movie itself and I’m not sure it did as well at the box office as planned. You are right. This is from Collider, and guess what? He also thought it missed on the promises. Interesting.
        While Rupert Sanders’ Snow White and the Huntsman continues to battle for more box office earnings, Universal is already moving forward with the sequel. With the “origin” story in the Snow White franchise thus set up, it only goes to follow that the next chapter will be fast-tracked. Universal has set David Koepp (Spider-Man) to write the script. Hopefully, the sequel will have a more cohesive storyline, better dialogue and provide a payoff to its promises, something we discussed at length on last week’s podcast. Sanders may or may not be back, but stars Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth are optioned for two more films. Hit the jump for more on the sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman.

      • This is likely why they left the ending the way they did. Not a good choice for the success of the first movie, but it did leave a big hole for a sequel. I guess we’ll see. I’ll see the second one too. But at Redbox. They’ll only get $1, not a visit to the movies. Unless I’m up for a good date night. We still go about three or four times a year to the movies.

  3. Rented the movie and was disappointed for all the reasons you mentioned. I actually hated the movie for all the reasons you mentioned. When I’m let down that many times and there’s no HEA when I’ve been promised one, I’m more than disappointed. I’m pi#$@* off. Thanks for an interesting blog.

    • Hi Cindy, welcome to the blog.
      It’s hard being a writer when you watch movies. Sometimes I wish for the days when I just left feeling vaguely disapointed, instead of being able to pinpoint exactly what went wrong. My question is, if you figured it out, and I figured it out. How come no one on the movie figured it out? OR is it just that we’re romantics at heart?

  4. I’ve not seen the movie, Jessica, but you’re right, it’s disappointing. I wrote about past lives, so earlier this week I went to see Cloud Atlas. I walked out disappointed thinking the movie was too far out there and lost the possibility for realism I would have liked to see.

    And yes, you fulfilled your story promises!

    • Thanks Sharon!
      I wanted to see Cloud Atlas, but the week we decided to go we missed the time schedule. It was already started or on at 10:30 and then we couldn’t find it last weekend at all. It sounds like it will be a good Redbox movie as well. Too bad it also missed it’s mark, it looked so good!

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