[Review] - Snow White and the Huntsman

Courtesy of Universal
Snow White and the Huntsman is a blend of ideas, each of which seems to have been followed through about seventy-five percent of the way, then dropped in favour of the next thing. At first glance, things might seem to come together, but on closer inspection, there are bare threads and split ends all over the place. Chekov's gun never goes off, left hanging on the wall, while the audience girds their sphincters waiting for a shot that will never come.

Worse then that, they aren't even original ideas. From the first frame, Snow White is a combination of images and ideas gathered from other films, both better and worse. It adds nothing new to the fairy tale, and it doesn't present the fairy tale in a way that it hasn't been done half a hundred times before. What you're left with is a movie that is fine, no more, no less. It won't change cinematic history, and it's far from the worst thing I've seen this year. But the laziness of it left a foul taste in my mouth.

Hit the jump for the rest of the spoiler-notched reviewed.

It must be said, the film does look very nice. Most of it. I don't know if it was different companies animating different scenes, or a sudden drop in budget, or a last minute change to content, but the beginning and end feature very strong, very effective CGI. The battle scenes are well augmented by beasty and knight, but once the story enters the fairy realm, it might as well have been a Sy-Fy original movie, because the effects were about as believable as a pirahnathon.

And that is perhaps endemic of the film's second greatest weakness. The film seems, at first, hesitant to embrace the magical aspects of the story. Or rather, some of the magical aspects of the story. It does, in the first act, go to some length to suggest that the magical elements are not real, but imagined (the mirror's appearing only to the Queen, Snow's inhaling the forest spores). Then, about half way through, accompanying a slight tonal shift, the movie embraces those same elements whole heartedly, but fails to actually do anything with them. Other then the Queen's continued drinking of youth, none of the magical plot elements amount to anything. An extended scene involving a White Hart might as well have been a commune with Aslan.

Considering how heavily the film had beaten it into us that the Queen literally sucked the life from the land, and that Snow gave it back, I was expecting Snow's rebellion to be filled with all sort of magic folk. But they abandon this in favour of a standard faux-middle ages human army, keeping all the magic on the side of the bad guys. Which might be a metaphor, if everyone didn't keep go on about how magical Snow was. Might it have been more interesting to forgo all magical elements entirely; considering how heavily it's fairy tale rival Mirror, Mirror relied on them, it might have set them further apart.

I've heard that originally this film was meant to be a tongue in cheek satire of the genre, but that it was rewritten to be a heavily cliched example of the genre. I've also heard that the original cut was close to double the length of the final film. Viewing it, you can see the lines where various scripts were knit together, which I promise you never makes for coherent story telling. You can also see where chunks of the movie were cut out, mostly when it comes to characterisation, and certain reveals that don't make much sense. What's astonishing is how much fat still remains on the film, which could have just as easily come in at ninety minutes rather then the bloated two hours, seven minutes at which it currently clocks. Elements like the mirror, a traditionally integral part of the myth, are set up, and never referred to again. A village of (horribly? really?) scarred women appear and disappear without making a difference to the plot other then to give the Huntsman a chance to axe someone in the spleen.

There might have been an original, or at least, more interesting idea in there originally. The Queen, at first, comes off as a manic depressive, possibly schizophrenic, bulimic with psycho-sexual overtones. Which I feel would have been a much more interesting character, as she frets over wrinkles that aren't there, randomly slaughters prisoners, and talks to mirrors about her step-daughter. Would her motivations have changed any? No, in fact they would be all the more menacing because they weren't coming from sense. Rumours of witchcraft to cover for the madness might have given her brother a purpose in the script, other then to play to Nordic henchmen to Charlize Theron's bi-polar Bond villain. At least she looks like she's having fun.

Other then some dodgy accents, the majority of the cast puts in fine performances. Massively underused are the dwarves, who really only put in an appearence becasue they are expected, and are performered by the usual party of British secondary players (Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, etc). Nick Frost was a surprise, though he's basically playing the same idiot he usually plays opposite Simon Pegg, but Bob Hoskins, as has been his style lately, does disappointingly little but mutter cryptic messages and, gods helps us, prophesy. Chris Hemsworth does admirably as the unnamed Huntsman, the one truly positive aspect of the film, and hats off to whomever managed the one cliched-avoiding bright spot in the script by dodging the reveal of his identity that I thought was coming. Apparently, according to Hemsworth, the role was originally meant for an older actor, to act as a surrogate father, which makes leagues more sense, and gives his and Snow's scenes together an entirely different flavour. Twenty years ago, the role might have been played by Mel Gibson, before he went all squirrelly. Unfortunately, the way the movie plays out now, with the tension Hemsworth adds to the scenes, Sam Claflin's love interest character is rendered completely pointless.

Which brings us to the major failure of the film. It's not Kristen Stewart's acting, which many believe she is incapable of. Fact is, we still don't know, because for a script named after her character, she has almost no lines. She remains virtually silent for the first half of the film. She isn't a character, she's a MacGuffin. She's no more the star of the film then the Ark of the Covenant was in Raiders. This Snow isn't a hero, even with her impassioned speech at the end. She isn't an idol, and she certainly shouldn't be a cinematic role model for any of the pre-teen girls in the audience of the screening I went to, obviously lured by the Twilight connection, another film girls that age shouldn't be watching.

If I were a feminist in the eighties, I would say this movie was a sexist propaganda piece, purporting to show a strong young woman, but actually about how helpless and frail that girl is. At one point in the film, she has no less then ten men rushing to her aid. She is incapable of doing anything by herself. Even her escape, the one instance in the film she actually exerts herself, she is driven and guided by the magic birds. Left on her own, she consistently gets captured, poisoned, lost or beaten. She is always rescued by the nearest Y-Chromosome. The movie also contains an example of equus ex machina, which after War Horse, are becoming increasingly common. The sole time she manages to save one of the men was to introduce one of those supernatural elements that went no where.

I can't help but think this is yet more evidence of the current thinking in Hollywood that John Carter fell victim to. The belief that, outside of children's movies (which this is decidedly not) people don't go to see action movies with female leads, or strong female characters. That Snow White has to have a Huntsman, because he's the draw. And that strong women can only be present if they are the villain. And this script plays into that belief by making Snow White's tale about the Huntsman. Seven hells, it's not even about the dwarves. At least they are iconic. Don't believe anyone who tells you this is a strong feminist film. It's more like the Big Bang Theory. On the surface, it looks like it's progressive, but not that far under the surface, it's mocking the idea it's holding up.

The rest of the film is culled from repeat viewings of The Lord of the Rings (including lots of walking, mountain ranges, vaguely Celtic music, and at least three instances where "And my axe!" would have been appropriate), Young Sherlock Holmes, Narnia and a dozen more fantasy films. It has the telltale signs of being overwritten, and while the director, first timer Rupert Sanders, does make some interesting choices in a variety of isolated shots, mostly it feels like the sort of movie that had no love behind the camera. That everyone was just going through the motions. And none of them come together in an organic way.

And maybe Game of Thrones has ruined me on film battles now, but the final plan Snow's army comes up with has to be the least logical attack strategy I've ever seen on film. Let's approach loudly and clearly, bottle neck, then willing walk into a kill zone. Yeah, that will work.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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