Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

Director: Rupert Sanders

Reviewed: 5 June 2012

jamesintexas rating--*** (4 Stars = Highest Rating)

A revisioninst proto-feminist telling of the classic tale, Snow White and the Huntsman is a narrative mess, an editing mishmash with a weak central performance and gaps in logic which undermine its own girl power designs.  As far as I can tell, nothing would have been lost from taking this film and removing all dialogue, substituting a swelling score for its lapses in writing.  There is no doubt that this film would have worked as a silent film with little or no dialogue cards.  Nothing is gained in Kristen Stewart's performance by giving her voice.  A love triangle seems set up and then abandoned, an ending seems to be trying to make a strong statement and fails, and any sort of internal movie logic is destroyed when the Queen proves able to do something in the last third of the film that had she done in the first third, there would be no need for such a prolonged chase of Snow White.  Utterly, this film is a messy mess.

And, I'm giving it a favorable three star rating.

A triumph of art direction, makeup, scenery-chewing by evil Queen Charlize Theron, and some fun cinematography of horses riding on a beach, Snow White and the Huntsman claims through its title a balanced version of the fairy tale, one in which the hired assassin (Chris Hemsworth) who refuses his charge to kill the young girl in the woods on the Queen's orders has a much larger role to play.  Unfortunately, that role consists of tired cliche and hinted backstory with little payoff or arc, though Hemsworth for the most part is game.  Stewart's lead performance is far worse; her Snow White is known for her beauty and nothing else.  She is not a compelling character at all!  A final speech before a climactic battle points this out with perfect awkwardness as she reaches for profundity.

A blending of Avatar's lushness and bold colors, The Passion of Joan of Arc's woman warrior imagery, and The Lord of the Rings light walking in a line shots, Sanders' film feels derivative and far less bold than it could be.  There's the arresting sight of an absent since Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Bob Hoskins as a blind, mystical dwarf leader whose performance consists of staring directly into the camera and offering creaky narration.  There's interesting shading to Theron's evil Queen, hints of incest with her page-haircut-wearing brother and possible sexual abuse in her first marriage (she was absconded at a very young age by a violent king).  There's a horrible spooky forest where Snow White flees with trees that just so lightly prod her with finger-like branches and hints of menace.  There's a bizarre Florence + The Machine song that is inserted in the middle of the film as a bunch of characters are walking.

My central love of the original Disney film comes from certain aspects: the scariness of those forest branches, the idea of the false heart being presented to the evil Queen by the huntsman, the songs from the seven dwarves and their comic relief, and the iconography of the Queen transforming into an old crone and offering up the apple to Snow White, as well as her violent death.  Snow White and the Huntsman does not live up to the Disney version, but the branches, the way the Queen retains her vitality is sharply done, and the dwarves, though difficult to tell who is who, provide comic relief and pathos, though at times it is clumsily done.

So, why see this film?  Why am I recommending it?  Can a film's visual palette and iconography of swirling birds, spiky crowns, and dark castles overwhelm and overpower its weak script, floundering lead performance, and bizarre editing?


Theron does some great work and wears some amazing costumes, at times covered in a milk-bath, and at times wearing a cape of deranged ravens (her name is Ravenna).  The branches in the forest are scary.  The castle looks appropriately weathered and decrepit.  The dwarves are violently fun and crucial to the final fight scene, more so than the two male leads.  There is an interesting take on what a woman must do to survive in this time period, not necessarily justifying Theron's Queen's ruthless and vicious actions, but the film supplies context for her rage and more of an arc than I expected.  Several days later, there are moments and images that have stuck with me.

So, I recommend seeing this film on the big screen.

(One way of considering this film is knowing that it is not even a third as intelligent as one Game of Thrones episode with its dialogue and plotting, Snow White and the Huntsman contains striking and haunting images that make up for its confusion and simplicity in story-telling.  Here's to wishing Sanders gets a script and the confidence to tell an interesting story that matches his visual flair and panache someday.)

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