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Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

July 1, 2012

 

written by: Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini

produced by: Sam Mercer, Palak Patel and Joe Roth

directed by: Rupert Sanders

rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality)

runtime: 127 min.

U.S. release date: June 1st, 2012

 

We’ve seen animated films (“Antz” and A Bug’s Life”) and end-of-the world disaster pictures (“Deep Impact” and “Armageddon”) with seemingly identical subject matter released in the same year before, but never have we seen two studios vie for the same fairy tale. Within a little over two months time, there have now been two films released this year based on the Brothers Grimm tale, Snow White, which has either confused or frustrated moviegoers. Or, cancelled out any interest for either of them. First there was Tarsem Singh’s “Mirror Mirror”, featuring Julia Roberts as the wicked Queen and Lily Collins (“The Blind Side”) as Snow White, which kind of came and went with little fanfare. It looked quite beautiful, but the humor seemed off-putting. I haven’t gotten around to seeing it yet (although I’m curious), but I did see the oddly-named “Snow White and the Huntsman” directed by Rupert Sanders, in his feature-film debut. It may be congested with more characters than just the titular two, but it works as fantasy escapism and offers a decidedly unique take on a familiar tale.

The film opens with a narrator telling us that Snow White was born “Once upon a time, in deep winter” to King Magnus (Noah Huntley) and Queen Eleanor (Liberty Ross), in the land of Tabor.  But after her mother died, the king was smitten by the beautiful Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and married her immediately after rescuing her from the Dark Army with their glass soldiers. That’ll right there will either tell you just how smokin’ she was or that she knew a thing or two about casting spells. Well, the king doesn’t even survive his wedding night and next thing we know Ravenna has seized the kingdom. It would appear the beauty-obsessed Queen is  something of a Black Widow. Duke Hammond (Vincent Regan) manages to escape with his son William though, but is unable to assist Snow White (Kristen Stewart) who is nabbed by Ravenna’s brother (Sam Spruell) and locked away in the castle tower.

Poor girl is left to enter into her teen years all by her lonesome. No one to explain to her all those changes she’s bound to experience, let alone the birds and the bees. That could be a good thing.  Small observation there – ahem, so where’s that Huntsman?

 

 

During one of Ravenna’s many One on One times with her Magic Mirror, it is revealed that there is actually another who is “the fairest in the kingdom” and she has the initials S.W. Magic Mirror, who serves as some kind of uninvested counselor, tells Ravenna that unless she consumes Snow White’s pure heart (which will guarantee immortality) she will be destroyed by the girl. Before the insecure witch (and The Worst Stepmother in All the Land) is able to dispense with her captive teen, Snow White escapes into the Dark Forest (where Ravenna has no power) with the help of a few feathered friends.

Even though she has her bizarre brother as an enforcer, Ravenna realizes that she’s gonna need an expert to track down her prey. They find The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), a boozing widower who is coerced into retrieving Snow White. Reluctant as he is, The Huntsman sets out to get the job over with, but has a change of heart when he learns of Show White’s royal bloodline and in turn goes from being her pursuer to becoming her protector. The somewhat contentious duo meet a cantankerous pack of dwarves who agree to accompany Snow White as she begins to discover who she is and what her importance in the land is. Pursued by Queen Ravenna and all her treacherous resources, Snow White takes her newfound friends with her to regroup with Hammond’s people and make a concerted effort to take back her family’s kingdom.

I found myself overlooking what “Snow White and the Hunstman” lacked and reveling in what it provides. It’s a film that excels in its artistic visuals, including superb costume design by Oscar-winner Colleen Atwood (“Alice in Wonderland”) and cinematography by Australian Greig Fraser (“Let Me In”, who also filmed an awesome short called “Spider” from 2007) that embraces the dark fantasy/horror tone of the famous fairy tale. The character and creature design here is also quite impressive as well. You’ll come across a troll, fairies, an enormous stag in the woods, that are all visual delights, but it’s hard not to notice the reworking of Magic Mirror, which has an eerie T1000 gold liquid metal presence. All of this talent won me over, yet it’s Sanders (who has a background in creating those life-like ads for the “Halo” video games) who brings them all together in a cohesive way that easily tantalizes an audience.

 

 

That being said, this is clearly a Brothers Grimm meets Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy (with a dash of HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), and if you’re fine with that (like I was) then you should find at least the overall aesthetic of the film enjoyable. At least, in that sense, it separates itself from “Mirror Mirror” and what everyone knows of the Snow White story.

Now, the most bizarre thing about Sander’s film, besides its title (which should’ve simply been called “Fairest”), is the fact that the writers of “The Blind Side” (John Lee Hancock) and “Drive” (Hossein Amini) wrote the screenplay along with Evan Daugherty. That’s quite a pairing right there. I’m not sure who was in charge of what during the writing process, but the end result is a bit excessive, as if the two writers felt that had to take a kitchen sink approach to this adaptation.

All the expected beats from the source material are hit, some have a creative new twist (the poisoned apple) while others feel absolutely tacked on (Sam Claflin as William, this version’s Prince Charming, a master archer – in a year full of them) and fall flat. But the problem is there are just too many characters here and not enough time (even though it clocks in at a little over two hours) to know them or care about what makes them tick. The most obvious example is that of the dwarves, who are egregiously slighted when it comes to characterization. I know it’s not called “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, but when you have actors like Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones and Bob Hoskins, portraying these wily pint-sized warriors, it would be nice to give viewers more than just “Hey! It’s that guy!” moments. I may not have been able to understand what they were saying all the time, but I sure was interested in them and wanted more time with them. Oh well.

Speaking of characterization, it is undetermined whether or not there is any romantic interest between either Snow White and the Huntsman or Snow White and William. It feels like there is an attempt, but not even a tangible or believable innuendo is present. With the Huntsman’s heart still broken from his wife’s death and William being kind of milquetoast, there seems to be an absence of any amorous passion in Snow White’s life. I’m sure being locked up may have stagnated her mojo, but there has to be “true love” (as the storybook goes) in that final kiss in order for it all to work out.

 

 

There are noteworthy performances in “Huntsman” that are bound to be criticized, or at least scrutinized. The standout is certainly Theron, who brings a modicum of pathos to her villainous witch. Theron relishes her role, hiding her insecurity and motives by basking in her obsession with beauty and vanity. In order to maintain her immortal hotness, the Queen literally sucks the life out of young beautiful girls that are captured by her creepy brother. (Speaking of which, the last time I saw such an unnerving sibling relationship was when Angelina Jolie brought her brother to the Oscars one year). Theron’s work here is at over-the-top, but appropriately so and in the best way possible. It’s a testament to her work that as much time as we spend with Stewart and Hemsworth, it’s Theron’s Queen that we wonder about.

That being said, Stewart as Snow White isn’t nearly as bad as many will expect her to be, although her accent comes and goes. She still has that sad sourpuss look about her, but in this case it’s fitting to her character. After all, she was locked away for years, escapes to find her people in disarray, and then is pursued into unknown territory – so it’s kind of fitting that she looks bummed. That’s not to say that Stewart plays her as dour. She does exude a degree of purity, which the character calls for, but the screenplay really doesn’t give her enough to work from for her to truly resonate with us. As for Hemsworth, we know Thor can play a charismatic brute, yet here he strikes all the right chords as he embodies a noble man stunted with grief. In many ways, Hemsworth’s Hunstman is the one meaningful emotional draw in the movie.

There are plenty of fine directors who had their start in commercials and music videos, so there is a possibility that something even better can come from Rupert Sanders. With “Snow White and the Huntsman”, Sanders is now on my radar as a director whose career path I am interested in. It may be off-putting that he takes the material so seriously here, giving it an almost gloomy tone, but I appreciated the film’s ambition, flaws and all.

 

 

 

RATING: ***

 

 

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Windi permalink
    July 9, 2012 8:29 am

    I’ve been kind of wanting to see this, mainly for Theron’s character, which looks so intriguing. I’m hoping it comes to Netflix at some time so I can watch it. It does look like an interesting take on the fairy tale, more Grimm Brothers than Disney.

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