01 June 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

 Snow White and the Huntsman

Directed by Rupert Sanders
Written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini
Featuring Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claffin, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones

The Legend...Redux...Again

Snow White's whole Evil Witch-poisoned-apple-seven-dwarfs tale has been brought to live action and animation on several occasions, so breathing life into a long-told tale isn't something new. It's all about how you approach it. If the creative team can come at the story in a unique angle, either emphasizing an aspect of the story that usually is glossed over, or omitting story points, or re-imagining everything altogether - than it's a worthwhile shot to take. 2012 has brought two financially backed Snow White movies: Mirror Mirror, released in March and concentrating on the more family-friendly elements of the tale, and now Snow White and the Huntsman, a story with complexity and grittiness that emphasizes said grit over the bright colored, good natured Mirror Mirror. Both movies have their own purpose for existing, and both fulfill their style and tone exceptionally well.

Snow White and the Huntsman is something weird and unique, yet familiar. There's the thing with a young damsel who has run away and is very valuable to the Big Bad who will stop at nothing to procure her, and the handsome, lethal man who reluctantly protects her. And there's a bit about destiny, because all Hollywood tentpole flicks have to have something dealing with destiny. But the beautiful thing is that while watching the movie, it doesn't feel like you're experiencing something you know inside and out, that deadly apple and true love's kiss and all that yadda yadda, because of the way this story is presented to us makes everything so fresh and engaging, like I was experiencing everything for the very first time. This is Snow White encompassing a whole new world of vibrant colors, unique creatures, a deadly forest, an impenetrable castle, seven dwarfs of valor, a mystical deer that was very Aslan-ish, and the best presentation of the evil Queen ever realized, I think. The movie deserves points for that alone - making a old tale seem new again, but let's get to the finer points:

The Case for the Queen and the Curse of K-Stewart

Charlize Theron dominates every frame of Snow White and the Huntsman when she's onscreen because of her brilliant, disturbed, and downright batshit crazy performance as Queen Ravenna. This is the first time I have ever encountered a Snow White tale where the Queen is better developed than our main protagonist; Hell, she's the best developed, complicated character in there. And, mind you, very frakkin' threatening. Ravenna is mathematical in how she executes her plans, but when things start getting personal and she becomes unhinged, Theron adjusts her performance accordingly and becomes a tall, mystical, scary bitch who will stop at nothing to get her beauty. The Queen's backstory is revealed through quick flashbacks, and never once does her agenda feel lacking in substance or one dimensional. She's not the Big Bad just because the story needed her to be, and that right there is one of the major successes of the film. And the fact Charlize Theron is mesmerizing as the Queen, that helps quite a lot, too.

But because of how splendidly detailed the Evil Queen is, and the manner in how Snow White is handled, there is an unfortunate outcome: by the finale, I felt more inclined to have the Queen victorious and continue her world-destroying reign of the kingdom, cos Snow White just ain't cuttin' it.

First, I want to give the slightest of positives. In the first hour or so, Snow White is an interesting character, and I didn't quite mind Kristen Stewart's portrayal of her at all, and she was actually sorta pretty. Downside of the compliment: I realize, in retrospect, that for that first hour, Snow really didn't talk for 80% of it and instead starred open mouthed at some wondrous sight she beheld. Eventually there comes a time where Stewart is called upon to act, and she unfortunately fails to make any impression. This is particularly hurtful during a sequence when she gives what is typically a rousing speech to her compatriots to gallop into battle, but thankless to her delivery of said speech, there's very little rousing going on. If I was one of those sword-wielding blokes, there's no way I would think, Sure, I'll (possibly) lay down my life to help you defeat the Evil Queen and save the land because we have you to lead us into glorious battle! Nah, I'd just go back to my hut and play with stick figures whilst reciting the earliest version of The Empire Strikes Back in un-recorded history.

I by no means entered the movie hoping Stewart would fail; I hoped the opposite, in fact. She gets ripped on for her work in the Twilight movies, and she deserves every ounce of that criticism, but here was a venue for her to shine, to shake off the shackles of that vampire saga and prove her girth. Eh, not so much. Stewart didn't destroy the movie, not by a long shot - thanks in large part to Theron's amazing Ravenna - but the negativity towards her character definitely impacted the film overall.

Furthermore, there's a problem inherent in Snow White as a character, and, to a degree, extends to the rest of the film. The villain of the movie - the script, specifically character development. Like I wrote above, Snow spends a good portion of the first hour just looking concerned or in awe over some pretty sight, not really being a character. At one point, Snow is reunited with a long-lost friend from her younger years, and their reunion is nothing short of lame. A name drop and another name drop - and a short dialogue between them, that encompasses all of it. Considering how useful this character is, it'd be best just to drop him. And that's the downfall of the script overall: there's just enough character, um, stuff, to make the movie work, but just. I still think there should have been more.

The world of Snow White and the Huntsman is fully realized. It's a living, breathing, gorgeous, painted world - the same just can't be said for the characters that inhabit that world.

Also, the last twenty minutes could have used a lot more in the script department. I love a good battle as much as the next fan of action/adventure movies, but the, shall we say 'epilogue', deserves to be just as satisfying as the sword-and-blood melee. It doesn't quite reach that. Basically, the film could have benefited from (probably) not cutting so many scenes and leaving 'em on the editing floor. Could have made quite a difference.

And thus far I haven't mentioned Chris Hemsworth. That's not a negative thing. He's awesome. Worth price of admission alone. Love that man. Would not be disagreeable to a Huntsman spin-off. Hemsworth continues to shine with each role I see him in. Moving on...

Oh! And the dwarfs - now this was a odd thing if ever I saw one. Instead of simply hiring little people to fill the dwarf quota, they used actors of notoriety (e.g., Toby Jones, Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone) and through the magic of CG, shrunk them down to size to make absolutely 100% believable dwarfs. It's really quite amazing, and I'm not entirely sure how they managed to pull that off. For all intents and purposes, those gang of actors are now officially only four foot tall - splendid CG work. But more than that, the creative team got them right this time, or at least what I consider to be right. No longer are they bumbling idiots who steal and good love-struck by Snow and want to make her feel better, they are a band of men (and from the sounds of it the last of their kind) who want to restore honor to their names, and in the name of honor and the promise of Snow's reign - that's why they help the gal. The dwarfs worked, and it's amazing to look at 'em.

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

So all this hum-dum has been made about how damn beautiful the film looks. Well, it does, and all that hum-dum is well deserved. The castle is expansive and looming. The (Forbidden) Forest is brought to life in a Tim Burton-esque fashion, where every shadow is a threat, and every object can come to sinister life. It's really quite cool. And when Snow, the Huntsman and the seven dwarfs come across a lush, green land full of unique creatures and colors - it's a rainbow painting come to life. It can be a hand held shot, a steady cam, a wide, a medium, or a close up - the movie never relents to become anything less than beautiful to look at. Even when the dwarfs are walking through the sewer. Fun times. And my God, next to New Zealand, wherever Snow White was shot, that's where I want to go. The location shooting is just so damn gorgeous. Director Rupert Sanders has visualized a gritty world of mud and smoke when all is dark and lost, and when Snow and the dwarfs come across the Aslanian figure, the colors seem to be bursting from the frame. Just for the sake of commenting on it, Huntsman is visually leaps and bounds superior to Mirror Mirror.

James Newton Howard nearly redeems himself for lazy work in Green Lantern and The Hunger Games with one hell of a fine tune for the film. Beautiful, battle-ready, quirky - all the necessary components. The CG is, as expected from a multi-million dollar film, absolutely splendid. I think there was only one or two shots where the CG wasn't living up to its money, otherwise, this is definitely solid work. Basically, everything on the technical side of things - directing, editing, lighting, music, special effects, wardrobe, etc. - is marvelous.

Snow White's Win

In the end, Snow White and the Huntsman was enjoyable from beginning to end. This tired tale feels brand new, and thanks to the amazing imagery and a cold, calculated performance by Theron, it's a world well worth seeing. There are some quibbles, specifically with character work and a rushed third act, but that doesn't wreck any of the fun and beauty of the production. Mirror Mirror was wildly successful in its comedic self-referential tone, and Huntsman works quite well by fully embracing its dark and realistic style. It's just a shame K-Stewart was cast, otherwise this would be a near super win. 7.5/10

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