June 7, 2012

Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman is a movie I thought had great potential and was actually looking forward to seeing it. It looked to have a lot of action, a nice, dark edge to the story, and a malevolent Dark Forest. It is the kind of modern fairy tale reinvention that seems to be in line with the dark original tales. It sheds the sing-songy Disney image and gives it an aura of danger while still retaining the empowering fairy tale side. Well, the product that hit the screen partially delivers, but fails to really hit home.

Now, I am not really familiar with the original translation and the version collected by the Grimms. I cannot say how much was added to the story or what was brought from the original. We are first introduced to Snow White as a young girl, said to be the most beautiful in the land. We learn that her mother died and during a war with a strange army of creatures, her father rescues a beautiful woman and marries her in short order. The woman is Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and once she is Queen, she uses her manipulative powers to gain sole control of the kingdom and faster than you can say "Mirror, Mirror, on the wall...." she has Snow White locked up in a tower and the kingdom falls into shadows.

The story is a familiar one. We know where it has to go. We know that Snow White is destined to overtake Ravenna in the race of the fairest. We know that Ravenna will go to any lengths to make sure that does not happen. We know that Snow White will team up with intrepid dwarves to help her along the way. We also know that she will be tricked, be put into a deep sleep only to be awakened by her Prince Charming. Nothing new there. What this movie is about is bringing the darkness the story deserves, not sugarcoating the danger, and telling it in a way that makes it seem fresh.

So what happened? Yes, I am implying that Snow White and the Huntsman is less than a success. The movie left me so ambivalent towards it, I am really not sure what I want to right. It presents some interesting stuff, some entertaining stuff, and has moments of actual cinematic joy. The problem is that for every moment like that, there is something at the opposite end of the spectrum. Plus, it is much too long, or they just chose the wrong content to fill the time. There are chunks of this movie (like that bit in the village just past the forest) that could have been completely cut with no overall harm to the movie. It is a movie that is perfectly balanced on the pivot of mediocrity.

I will say that the movie looks great. There are some great designs and a very good atmosphere created among the trees in the forest and in the various parts of the castle. I just wish some of them were put to more use. The bit in the forest is much to short, there should have been more there. Still, I will not complain about the look.

The acting ranges from very entertaining to terribly boring. It is easy to see who wants to be there and who is enjoying their role. The problem is the one role that is supposed to bring everything together is the worst acted of the bunch. Yes, I will say it, Snow White is played by a charismatic black hole known as Kristen Stewart. First off, from a merely objective standpoint, I do not see her ever eclipsing Charlize Theron in a "Who's the fairest of them all?" battle. I have wanted to blame her dull screen presence and poor acting on those goody Twilight movies, I mean she was pretty good in The Runaways and Adventureland. It seems, however, that it is beginning to seep into other aspects. Her Snow White is uninteresting, boring, and hardly a character I felt the urge to rally around. I am not sure what else to say, I did not care for her performance.

Chris Hemsworth is not given a lot to work with, but he handles himself admirably on a few different fronts and proves he could be a big talent moving forward. We are introduced to him as a bit of a comedic drunk, a widower who drowns his sorrows in mead. Later, we find him to be pretty handy in a fight. Lastly, he has a big emotional scene. Through it all, I liked the guy. I felt sorry for him and Hemsworth is clearly putting the work in. It may not as fleshed out as it could be, but the variety of beats he has to fill is done admirably.

The final character of our primary trio is Ravenna, played with extra relish by Charlize Theron. She is an absolute joy to watch and the primary reason to go out and see this. We see her transform from the frightened prisoner to the accomplished manipulator in moments, believing every step. In full-on evil queen mode, it is easy to be more than a little scared of her and her lust for power, youth, and beauty. She chews through the scenery like there's no tomorrow. It may not be a "great" performance, but it is an awful lot of fun and shows another aspect of her talent.

The dwarves are fun too, but don't seem to have an awful lot to do. Some of them are, through movie magic, played by recognizable faces like Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, and Nick Frost.

In the end, I cannot recommend or not recommend it. Like I said, it is balanced on that pivot of mediocrity. Some to like, some not to like. It is just kind of there. I hoped for more, but that was asking too much. You also may find yourself asking questions that don't matter much, like what was the purpose of the village bit after the forest? or my favorite, when Snow White escapes the castle, why is she wearing pants under the big dress? If the dress is what was given to her, I cannot see them giving her pants too....

Mildly Recommended.

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