Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Snow White & The Huntsman - Theatrical Review


Release Date:

This isn't the Snow White you grew up with and there is a very good reason why.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block in Orange
Time: 12:01 am June 1, 2012
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime: 2 hr 7 min
Studio: Universal

Loves: Nothing
Likes: Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth
Neutral: Fairy tales turned into gritty epics
Hates: Kristen Stewart
Fact: Charlize Theron is the only reason to see this movie

Between Tim Burton's failed attempt with Alice in Wonderland, last years horrible re-imagining of Red Riding Hood, the other Snow White tale from earlier this year Mirror, Mirror (which I did not see) and this most recent film which is the subject of this review, I can safely say now that I am not a fan of the revisionist fairy tale genre. It sounds like a solid concept, just take a revered fairy tale and just put a new spin on it, but somehow Hollywood just can't seem to get it right. This latest attempt, Snow White & The Huntsman, is probably one of the least offensive of that group but it still fails at integrating an interesting narrative into mix. But a lackluster story isn't enough to condemn any film, that's why director Rupert Sanders graciously provided some uneven pacing issues, a lack of focus and probably one of the worst casting choices of the year to make sure we are left with little doubt that this gritty fairy tale reworking is as cold and foreboding as the world it takes place in.

The princess Snow White (Kristen Stewart) and her father the King of the realm, are left with a heavy heart after her mother passes away when she is just a child. While in mourning, the King finds himself in a war against a mysterious army who is vanquished just as quickly as they arrived. Amongst the rubble of the battlefield he finds a captive woman, Ravenna (Charlize Theron), and takes her into not only his kingdom but also his chambers. Just one day after rescuing her, the King and Ravenna are married and all seems fine until the new Queen unleashes her devious plan to overtake the kingdom and claim the throne. Keeping the orphaned Snow White as her secret prisoner, years go by as Ravenna runs the kingdom with an iron fist. Once Snow White comes of age though, Ravenna, fearing her powers, prepares to kill the young princess. The young princess escapes however and begins her journey towards freeing her people from the tyranny of Ravenna's rule.

The ONLY reason to ever see this movie.

Snow White & The Huntsman wins the award for the most bland film of not only the summer, but the entire year. It takes some sort of skill to make a film based off a fairy tale filled with memorable characters, a rich and colorful world and then suck all the life out of it. None of the characters are appealing, the story barely registers as competent and the world is just a barren wasteland of unmet potential. You can see hints of possible brilliance around just about every corner but first time director Rupert Sanders just doesn't seem to know how to harness the imagination needed to make this world come alive. The opening section of the film is appropriately dark and bleak with much of the scenery reflecting the damaged world resulting from Ravenna's rule, but aside from one very brief moment later on, that bleakness just pervades until the end credits roll. There is never a change in atmosphere, even when something magical is supposed to be happening. The gritty look isn't the problem though, it's that the world never changes or evolves as the story progresses, even after everything is resolved.

In stark contradiction to that is the actual look of the film. The general production design is simply amazing all across the board. This is a gorgeous looking film, there is no doubt about that. The dark forest evokes a very real sense of dread with its washed out palette, while the forest that the dwarves inhabit show off some of the films more imaginative and vibrant (but all too brief) visual styles. The effects work is also second to none, I would even go out on a limb and say that the CG work here is some of the best I have seen all year. One of the best visual effects in the film however is something most will probably not even notice due to how seamlessly it is handled which are the dwarves. All played by normal sized actors, the dwarves are a remarkable sight that had me constantly wandering how the filmmakers accomplished such a feat. Everything looks fantastic though, the troll and the Queen's mirror all add up to make Snow White & The Huntsman one of the most visual striking films of the year.

The MAIN reason to never see this movie.

Well, after all that praise I must unfortunately inform you that those visuals and one particular performance (which I will get to later) is all this movie has going for it. There are countless little issues and one major issue that hold it back from becoming the epic it so badly wants to be. First of all I want to talk a little bit about what I believe to be one of the films biggest downfalls, which is its lack of anything truly fantastical. I know that they were going for a dark and gritty take on the age old fairy tale, but that doesn't mean they had to leave the magic out of it as well. When I labeled the film as bland a couple paragraphs ago, I was speaking mainly about its lack of life, this world has no life to it. It would be something if we saw a before and after of how this world was before the Queen took control of it, but as it is now it just seems as though there was never any life there to begin with. The characters have no life to them either, they have motivations and destinies but you would be hard pressed to derive that from how they act or what they say.

The main culprit behind all of this has to do with what I consider to be one of the worst casting choices of the year. Kristen Stewart's acting abilities have been in question for years now but I think many had hoped that perhaps it wasn't her fault, that maybe the Twilight series was to blame for her less than stellar performance as one of the world's most popular but least liked characters in recent memory, Bella. I don't want to get into a bashing contest here, but I can say with little hesitation now that Kristen Stewart is not a very good actress. Casting her as a character that most people associate with kindness and beauty was a novel but completely misguided attempt at trying to make the once timid female protagonist into this iconic hero of sorts. It is a combination of her dull and personality free screen presence and her inability to show any kind of emotion that really sinks this ship. Casting her as the lead character of any movie from this point forward will result in my complete and total disinterest in the project. I mean no ill will towards the poor girl, but she just doesn't contain that special thing that makes someone, let alone the audience, instantly fall in love with her, which is what the character Snow White is all about. She is an actress that got a lucky break in one of the biggest franchises to come along in years and it has become more apparent than ever that she is unable to sustain a film that doesn't have a loyal and rabid fanbase. She is not believable in the least as a warrior or a leader, both of which she is called upon to do here and because of that the film fails regardless of how good it looks.

The Huntsman and the dwarves have little impact on anything.

But wait...isn't she playing Snow White? Why does it matter if she can't lead or fight? Well this take on the fairy tale has taken a leap of faith by turning it into this makeshift fantasy epic. Beyond the issue of Stewart's casting in the role, the problem here is that there is hardly any fantasy and no real scope to make it feel as big as it so badly wants to be. The kingdom itself is poorly developed, there is never any real sense of place to anywhere that Snow White travels to or the impact the Queen as had on people beyond a scene with some scarred women in the river village. When she escapes the castle and runs away it becomes this really disconnected road trip formula. We see her visit the dark forest, then the river village, then a lush forest filled with life, then to a snow covered forest and finally to this dingy looking castle. It takes her the entire film to reach that castle but when it comes time for the final battle where they must travel back to the castle she escaped from, they get there in minutes. Simply expanding a world isn't enough, there needs to be some sort of logic to where people are going and why they are going there, which leads me to my biggest issue of the film, the actual character of Snow White.

In all fairness, this has almost nothing to do with Kristen Stewart. In this film the character of Snow White is supposed to be the savior of the kingdom, even her conception and birth are marked as some sort of event. She is supposed to be special, a person of great importance. But despite that being telegraphed to us through the opening narration there isn't any moment where we actually see what makes her so important to anything. We see that she has this ability to commune with nature, birds help her escape her prison, she makes friends with a deadly troll and even meets the actual spirit of the forest. Those series of events would lead one to believe that perhaps there is something special about her, that maybe she will win the day through some other means besides just brute force. But alas that never comes to pass since this whole idea of her being this born leader takes precedent. It's not that I disliked any of those moments where we see her discover her "powers", but since the film never does anything with that it all feels completely unnecessary and very misleading but mostly just confusing as to what her destiny is exactly. 

The effects work really is quite good.

That then begs the question of why does Snow White even matter in this story? Let's take stock of what makes Snow White so special for a very quick second. Animals seem to like her, she apparently causes people to instantly fall in love with her or at least like her without saying a word (she says almost nothing for the entirety of the first hour of the film), she can't fight, has never been the leader of anything due to being locked away most of her life and can barely travel cross country without being killed half the time. But wait, I forgot the most important aspect, she is Snow White so that instantly means she is the fairest of them all which means she has the power to kill the Queen. Yes, somehow her special gift of being fairest of them all (which, I'm sorry, Kristen Stewart is not) is the one and only thing she has that no one else has which is inexplicably the only thing that gives someone the power to kill the Queen. Does that mean if someone is more beautiful that her that they will also be given this power? This is all without even mentioning the fact that the Queen is clearly more "fair" than Snow White which means that mirror must be broken or something. There is no other way to explain how anyone or thing could think Kristen Stewart is more beautiful than Charlize Theron. The casting and the writing just doesn't coalesce which just make the whole affair confounding.

When everything concludes with that final battle it becomes clear that Snow White, as a character, is completely pointless to the entire film. Since she can't fight (and never learns how even before going into battle) and has no leadership skills (are we supposed to believe she was born as a natural leader or something?) and never uses her abilities to talk with nature in any sort of useful way, why does it matter that she is there at all? That assault on the Queen's castle could have happened without her and it still would have all went down the same way it does with her. Even her final showdown with the Queen is concluded with nothing more than an accident as opposed to actual skill on her part. I cannot emphasize enough just how poorly developed she is as the main character to this story. The film would have us believe that she is the savior of her people simply because it tells us so, never by actually having her do anything remotely close to showing us how and why she is supposedly the lands only hope. Even if Stewart were not in the role, the film would still fail at everything it tries to do. Well, maybe not everything.

Kristen Stewart trying to act all grown up and, nope.

The one shining beacon of hope and saving grace of the film is the commanding performance by Charlize Theron as the Queen. She literally owns every single scene she is in and is quite honestly almost worth the price of admission alone. From the very second she appears on screen she is an engaging presence and never ceases to be a treat to watch as she becomes increasingly vicious of the course of the film. She is also the sole character in the film that seems to have any real sort of depth to her beyond just having someone mentioning her plight in passing (which happens for all the other characters). She is at once both beautiful and tragic in her need to be named by her trustworthy mirror as the fairest in all the land and Theron's portrayal of such pain and anger is nothing short of mesmerizing. While the film never truly delves deep enough into her background as it could have save for one minor flashback, I believe her to be the only true three dimensional character in the film both as written and due to Theron's performance. It is just a shame that such a powerful and memorable performance is hidden within the framework of such a lackluster production. If this film succeeds in any way at all it will mostly likely be thanks to Charlize Theron and the lasting impression she leaves on anyone who sees it.

The only other actor or character left to mention is Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman. Strangely enough, especially given that his character's name is in the title of the film, he also has very little impact on anything the transpires in this story. I suppose that makes him and Stewart a perfect match in a strange way since they both do absolutely nothing to spur on a revolution that should have happened years before their arrival. His presence in this movie feels like nothing more than a way to capitalize on the actor's new found fame and popularity, plus he is just about the only eye candy for the ladies out there. The only thing worse than him being shoehorned into mix is the films extremely lame attempt at recreating the love triangle formula seen in the Twilight films with the addition of a second male character whom is so important to the flow of events that I have already forgotten his name and who he was. The male characters, with the possible exception of the dwarves whose only real novelty is that they are played by normal sized actors (Ian McShane, Nick Frost and Bob Hoskins for example), are ultimately throwaways in the grand scheme of things. Hell, Snow White doesn't even end up with either of her two possible lovers by the time the film is over so why even bother bringing a love triangle into it at all? Come to think of it, just about every character that is of primary importance in the film is inconsequential to anything that happens in the grand scheme of things which is just kind of baffling.

In the end the film is crippled by a horribly miscast lead actor, some truly remarkable missteps in pacing and narrative structure and a startling amount of ineptitude that pervades the entire production despite an impressive performance by Theron and some exceptional production design and effects work. I'm not even sure what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish with the film, it has the trappings of a classic fairy tale but they seem to only be there to serve this more generic medieval fantasy where neither is fully realized (every scene in the film featuring an iconic moment from the fairy tale feels out of place). I cannot recommend that anyone seek this film out in theaters, it has some positive aspects to it but nothing that demands that it be seen immediately. I suggest that if you are either a fan of Charlize Theron or Medieval fantasies that you just hold off and...




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