Original Fairy Tales Are Quite Grimm
A Film Review of Snow White and the Huntsman
By: Lawrence Napoli
[[wysiwyg_imageupload:2054:]] The trend of infusing fairy tales with grown up grit and special effects continues in La-La Land with Snow White and the Huntsman. Let’s make no mistake about the reason for this trend as it’s the same reason why so many comic book licenses have been adapted recently. Corporate greed and its need to ensure predictable profits have facilitated an unholy alliance with a lack of original creativity from screenwriters; thus the adaptation fever. It is a tad perplexing how we all continue to find entertainment value in the same stories being told in the same ways, but most of that sentiment comes from the intrigue of seeing timeless pieces of fiction brought to life on the silver screen. Snow White and the Huntsman is a fine experiment in generating this same feeling of nostalgia, but really doesn’t bring anything new to the table beyond this generation’s visual effects and 1 major twist that isn’t developed in ANY way which gets swept under the rug by the script like some common expository detail. I am uncertain if the reason for this is simply bad writing or conspiracy to turn Snow White into a sequel machine. Still, this film is one of the better movies of the summer of 2012 and if you enjoy fantasy, there are plenty of visual goodies to feast your eyes upon.
A cursory examination of any trailer clearly identifies this film as yet another “girl power” type of film regardless of anything Kristen Stewart says to the contrary. Never before have we seen Snow White: Warrior Princess, but we certainly have now. By the way, this element of the story is not the aforementioned “twist” in the script and thus screenwriters Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock took a fairly predictable approach to a female protagonist in this day of feminine empowerment. The evil queen is still an alpha ego you don’t want to mess with, Snow White is still kind hearted and the dwarves are still eccentric, but what about that Huntsman? Well, he certainly has a much more prominent role in this story and that’s the “twist.” I’ve always known this character to be the evil queen’s mercenary, but this film makes him much more sympathetic as well as personally important to Snow White. Unfortunately this is where the script takes a dive like Sonny Liston. The Huntsman is a character that is given a decent amount of exposition, development and screen time, but his subplot sets the audience up for a payoff of zero. This is an extremely disappointing resolution after this film’s climax is executed and amounts to one of the worst endings I have seen on celluloid in recent memory. Just about everything else about this script is excellent: establishing Snow White’s history, explaining the rise of the evil queen and identifying the enchanted nature of this fictional world. The quality of the story is impressive up to the end and I wonder if the reason for this inexplicable drop was a last-minute push by Universal Pictures to turn this film into a franchise? A sequel would not only clear things up, but shamelessly turn 1 movie into 2 to ultimately learn Snow White’s fate.
The action and visual effects in this film are actually quite satisfying. Lots of sword play, horse charges, arrow volleys and fights with monsters keeps a fairly active and dynamic screen for a good portion of the film. Chris Hemsworth takes the combat lead here and shows an impressive level of dexterity wielding various short blades and hatchets with few cutaways to stunt actors. As for those visual effects, the evil Queen’s sorcery translates quite well from her Shang Tseung life-sucking powers to her ability to create creatures of cobalt glass. What was neat about these effects was that they seem out of the ordinary for even a fictional “period piece” such as this. In fact, the one segment of the film that did seem a bit much was the enchanted forest of the pixies which looked like it was all but carbon copied from an amalgam of cheerful forests from various Disney films. I understand the need for contrast, but perhaps the pixies themselves didn’t have to be so creepily adorable. And speaking of creepy, the seven dwarves are most definitely not as quaint as Sleepy, Bashful and Doc as it looks like the same head swapping, travelling matte software that was used in Captain America: The First Avenger were used in this film because Bob Hoskins, Eddie Marsan and Toby Jones are not little people. This effect looked a little better here than in Cap because 1) Chris Evans’ head on an un-buff body is too difficult to visualize, 2) the dwarves’ heads were scaled to the body actors’ actual stature much better and 3) their costumes helped mask the neck area where it’s easier for the audience to see any visual inconsistency.
Count Snow White as another film that pushes Chris Hemsworth to the forefront of Hollywood’s leading men. Clearly, his not so humble beginnings in the action/adventure genre have vaulted him to the A-List, but it is in the quality of his various performances that proves he is levels beyond the proverbial meatheads of Stallone and Schwarzenegger. His character is designed as a victim of tragic circumstance relayed to the audience by all manners of drunk and disorderly conduct. Hemsworth sells likeability in all of his characters that even a roughneck like this huntsman should, theoretically, be a little less charismatic. It is his combination of facial sincerity with flawless line delivery as well as that triple A smile that makes an audience buy in every time. Of course, this works for just about any actor that strictly plays heroic protagonists so the true test for Hemsworth will be when he rides out this initial wave of positively charged success to transition to some darker roles while still selling his patented genuine savvy.
I am here to save you from yourself.
Of course, the movie is still called “Snow White” and the Huntsman so the young princess was bound to make an appearance. Thus, rookie director Rupert Sanders (whose imdb.com’s photo is eerily reminiscent of a mug shot) was saddled with Kristen Stewart who perhaps IS the best actress of all time for convincing the entirety of Hollywood that she is, in fact, a good actress and not some wannabe emo-girl who’s only mastered one expression: vacant disinterest. All right, perhaps I’m poking a little too much fun at Kristen, but I was truly disturbed to find out that she is currently commanding the biggest bucks, per picture, for Hollywood leading ladies these days. That’s really interesting information considering Stewart played the title character in this film while producing a forgettable performance that was easily third fiddle behind Hemsworth and Theron. Each scene featuring Stewart seemed carbon copied from Twilight. Her face rarely emotes; her voice rarely fluctuates and let’s just say any attempt to generate some sort of accent leaves much to be desired. But, she’s still a popular, trendy actress. I can’t begrudge Stewart too much because the fact of the matter is that she’s a flavor of the week much like Megan Fox was and Channing Tatum is. Casting director Lucy Bevan probably thought she hit one out of the park by casting Kristen Stewart for a literary character known for true beauty inside and out as “the fairest of them all.” In no world: real, imaginary or Matrix-y is Kristen Stewart superior to Charlize Theron in any conceivable way one could classify a human being. This is the fundamental flaw of this production and no, it’s not fair to expect Stewart to measure up to Theron. So yes, it was utter folly set up these expectations in the first place.
Can't you tell how excited I am for being a Hollywood director?
As for Charlize Theron, she is beautiful, in every single way; bad characters won’t bring her down. Yes, I rooted for the evil queen to win despite her implied creepy relationship to her on screen brother. Despite that, she was quite menacing and intimidating even to the likes of the huntsman, but since she wielded magic, she was not called upon to engage in any combat. I can’t say she played this role in such a way as to stand out from every other interpretation. “The Evil Queen” is about as generic as villains come so, so Charlize’s performance seemed more of an amalgam with a twist of her own patented sultry glare. Overall, Charlize delivered a solid performance that doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it would have been nice to see her character really unleash some serious, rage infused, hell on everyone. Alas, her character simply hovers in between narcissism and elitism for the entire film.
Guess what? I'm pretty hot.
This was a very good film to watch and is quite ideal for a “date night,” as there’s enough girly things happening to keep the ladies interested with plenty of action and effects to satisfy explosion-seeking men without geek-ing out on the utter dork-dem of comic book adaptations. Make no mistake, this is no AAA blockbuster, but there are only 2 (maybe 3 if you count the Spider-Man reboot) super blockbusters this summer. Come for Snow White, stay for the huntsman.