Friday, September 21, 2012

Snow White and The Huntsman: A Review


It wasn't that long ago that we had a Snow White-based film.  That one, Mirror Mirror, was a decidedly light affair: cute, whimsical, colorful.  Now we have Snow White & The Huntsman, which we might consider its mirror opposite (pun definitely intended).  Here, it's a darker, grittier feature.  SW&TH isn't as terrible as one might have feared, but it is not as good as one might have hoped.

Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) has ruled with a malevolent grip ever since she killed her husband the King on their wedding night.  She has, however, kept her stepdaughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart) prisoner in the castle.  Now Snow has come of age, and with that comes a threat to her power.  As it stands, the Mirror gives Ravenna good news: if she eats Snow's heart, then she can be eternally beautiful.  Sure beats stealing the beauty and youth of the young girls of the kingdom.  If she doesn't, then Snow White is destined to destroy Ravenna.  UNFORTUNATELY, thanks to Ravenna's incompetent brother/potential lover Finn (Sam Spruell), Snow manages to escape.

Now she gets The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), a drunk and recent widower.  He's cajoled into hunting down Snow with a vague promise from Ravenna to have his wife resurrected.  However, once the Huntsman catches up to Snow, he learns that not only will Ravenna NOT be able to fulfill her side of the bargain, but she was responsible for his wife's death.  With that, The Huntsman turns on Finn & Company and he and Snow go off into the Dark Forest.

Among their adventures are an encounter with the troll from The Three Billy Goats Gruff, a village of defaced women (who mutilate themselves so as to avoid Ravenna's wrath), a magical elk, and a group of dwarves, who recognize in Snow this Earth Mother-like being, one who might bring balance to The Force...I mean, nature.  As Snow, the Hunstman, and the dwarves all continue to the home of her uncle, a Duke, and her childhood friend William (Sam Claflin).  Clafin has already infiltrated Ravenna's search party as an archer but as soon as he and Snow are reunited he joins her.

Ravenna tricks Snow into eating the poisoned apple, but alas...William's kiss cannot restore her to life.  One guess as to WHOSE kiss can...

With Snow revived, she turns from waifish to Warrior Princess as she leads her new Army, joined with William's sword and the Huntsman's ax, to a climatic battle with Ravenna.

I understand that Kristen Stewart worked closely with director Rupert Sanders, but one wouldn't have gotten that impression from the final product.  It isn't so much that SW&TH is terrible as it is slow, dull, and a bit chaotic.

Part of the blame for this falls on Hossein Amini, John Lee Hancock, and Evan Doughtery for a very jumbled screenplay (with Doughtery credited for screen story) that threw in so much that wouldn't hold.  I GET that the business of walking on a bridge guarded by a monster was a way to communicate that Snow White had some quasi-mystical power over the forces of nature, but it both seemed unnecessary AND looked like we were getting another fairy story.  Same goes for the business of meeting this magical, mystical white elk that would allow Snow to touch him.  All this appeared to try to make SW&TH some sort of second-rate Lord of the Rings/Star Wars knock-off when if it had just put its focus on what the story wanted to tell we could have had a more streamlined story. 

Part of the blame also falls on the performers.  K-Stew is still a poor actress.  She's great whenever she is asked to stand still, but when she is required to express emotions she can't get past her one facial expression, which appears to be one of confusion.  Hemsworth still hasn't convinced me he is a great actor because he might as well have been playing Thor: Medieval Times.   I give him (and the screenplay) credit for trying to make the Huntsman a more rounded character, what with his wife dying and all.  However, there really is nothing for Hemsworth to work with.  The Huntsman doesn't appear to have any opinion on Snow White (neither falling for her or disdaining her), so when we get the predictable matter of The Kiss, I wondered why he would want to be around her.

As for Claflin, one feels for him because he seems to be an afterthought, as if SW&TH needed both a Prince and a romatic rival to a love story that simply isn't there. 

In perhaps the strangest twist, while the film is called Snow White & The Huntsman, it's amazing how superfluous both are to the story.  If there were truth in advertising, it should have been called The Evil Queen, for it's Theron's show almost from the get-go.  She seems to be having fun being so evil (right down to the chuckles I heard when she bathes in milk to preserve her beauty...right down to keeping her crown on). 

Again, here is where the script fails.  It tries to give Ravenna this motivation about how oppressed women are in the world, and how she uses her beauty to gain power (political and physical) over men, especially those who would try to abuse her.  One shouldn't give sympathetic motives to evil.  Ravenna needed to be evil because she WAS evil, not because she was vulnerable.  It was a mistake to try to justify her actions in any way.

It's all right to have the trappings of the Brothers Grimm story (the apple, the dwarves--even if they really weren't there for any purpose), but SW&TH never had anywhere to go in terms of plot.

The BIG puzzle to me is WHY they would want to make a sequel to Snow White & The Huntsman (apart from the fact that it made a lot of money). Even more bizarre to me is the idea that it would be a sequel for THE HUNTSMAN!  As played by a dull Hemsworth, the Huntsman is a bit of a bore: never drunk enough to be funny, never sober enough to be menacing, never interesting enough to be roguishly charming.  He's a big lug of nothing, offering nothing in terms of wit or interest (but a little bit of muscle).  Still, taking down people with an ax isn't a great start to build an entire film around the Huntsman. 

He wasn't interesting in Snow White & The Huntsman, so why would we want to see MORE adventures with someone as dull as him?

I can give credit where credit is due: Greig Fraser's cinematography did get the gritty look Sanders was going for.  Most everything else: from the sets that look like sets to James Newton Howard's typically bombastic and overblown score, just makes SW&TH a bore and needlessly long and self-important.        

Snow White & The Huntsman are a couple of boring people who make for dull viewing.  Ravenna is another matter.  A film about HER might, MIGHT be worth watching.  A sequel with these two sleep-inducing characters performed by these two limited actors?  They won't be the apple of my eyes.


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