Friday, August 17, 2012

Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

   This is the year of fairy tales. This trend will probably bleed over into 2013 as well, but as it stands at the moment, Snow White and the Huntsman is the second movie this year based on the classic fable, not counting small-screen attempts. This is going to be moderate in length and not particularly academic in tone, because I really just don't feel like thinking about it too much. So you've been warned: I’m not mincing words here, I’m just going for it and typing as it comes to me.

     First things first so that you can stop reading now if you disagree, Kristen Stewart is simply a dreadful actress. While the role of Snow White has historically not been a demanding one, Stewart seems to do little more than breathe heavily, the entire film. It must also be noted that during these intervals of dramatized inhaling and exhaling, she continually hangs her mouth open, which is apparently her only facial expression. Throughout the film she turns foe to friend by gazing lazily at them and breathing deeply. Most of the movie she looks on the brink of tears, but there is absolutely no development to her character to justify it. As the leading character, she is grossly flat. She has very little depth or personality at all. After she spends the first two thirds of the movie trembling, it seems stupid that when she wakes up after the inevitable apple incident, that she would be ready to ride into battle (which raises another inconsistency, but a flaw in writing rather than acting, so I’ll save it for later).

    The good news is, there are good actors in Snow White and the Huntsman, but it doesn't seem to help much. This is by no means the finest of Charlize Theron, but nor is it her worst. She adds an interesting dimension to her depravity in this retelling of the evil queen by rounding up young women to feed upon, or ravenously tearing into the ravens that surround her and eating out their hearts. There is also a slight insinuation that her relationship with her disgusting brother may be…well, unusual. She does not seem to really care much for him other than his ability to do her dirty work for her sometimes and play to her vanity, so her coldness is thoroughly constant.

    The huntsman is never given a name in the film, so he is referred to throughout simply as “Huntsman.” This might have been an intriguing turn for Chris Hemsworth, but he spends most of the film in a drunken fog. What is most disappointing is that the huntsman had potential to be a very interesting character, and could have been much more developed as the protector or bodyguard. The one little nugget we learn from his past is just enough to make his alliance with Snow White plausible, but not altogether entirely understandable. Not that it matters—he brings a bit to the story, but could have done much more so with a tad more development and maybe a smidgeon more mystery. It does not really matter to me one way or the other whether or not the huntsman is a love interest, but it would have been exciting to wonder just a little bit longer how trustworthy he really is. As a matter of interest, there are plans to make a spinoff movie about the huntsman, which might prove my point.

    Naturally, the best actors to this piece are given the smallest amount of screen time. The troupe of dwarves boasts some very familiar faces, but they feature only slightly in the story, which is unfortunate because the chemistry among them seems that it would be both entertaining and relatable with a little more time given to them. Between Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, and the rest of the  dwarves, there seems to be a true sense of bickering brotherhood, like a band of rogue has-been knights. Their presence brings a little buoyancy to a mood weighed down with labored line-delivery by everyone else. And sadly, even this merry band can't save this movie.  

    The setting of Snow White and the Huntsman is appropriate to the tone of the story, and the artistic direction of the visuals excellently drive the mood-- dark and dull. When the credits rolled, I was actually waiting to see if Guillermo Del Torro did any sort of consulting on the project, as the creatures and sets seemed to echo the style of Pan’s Labyrinth, which can only be a good thing. And to its credit, the movie doesn’t overuse these touches, but integrates them strategically into the world of the story.  Other than these mystical little features, the movie’s portrayal of Snow White’s world is bleak, wet, and dark, which fits.

    I will admit that this retelling of Snow White is unique, but not in the way that it needed to be. Unfortunately, Snow White falls into a series of traps that run it through with dangling plot trails and clichés. For example, Snow White starts out in the customary manner with her on the run in the haunted woods, but then enters into the completely unnecessary Act Three, involving a “chosen one” twist and the girl miraculously springing battle skills when minutes before she was afraid to even touch a knife. It felt like the finale of Alice in Wonderland all over again. Speaking of unnecessary, the tribe of Amazon-like women might have been an interesting plot point, but once again feels gratuitous due to the lack of development. The whole bit with Snow White being the savior and the one who can break the power of Ravena’s magic is just a little too convenient.

    All in all, Snow White and the Huntsman falls into the category of mediocre at best. The story begins ambitiously, and then gets lazy and takes the easy way out by going the cliché route. I’m not saying that every story needs a love story, but it might have legitimately helped this one. A little rivalry between the huntsman and the prince could have brought some much needed audience-connection to the story. Perhaps a little more of the delightful band of dwarves would have brought a few more characters worth caring about to the forefront. And let's be honest-- the studio didn't want to make a movie about Snow White; they wanted to find somewhere to use Kristen Stewart while her Twilight appeal was still bringing in money from those unfortunate folks who care about that particular series. 

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