Saturday, June 2, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman – Not Your Mother Goose’s Fairytale

Sometimes you wonder how much special effects effect storytelling in films. There is so much that is familiar about this story; I mean who hasn’t heard about Snow White? But there are some scenes in this film that seem to be there only because they can use a really cool, or what the filmmakers thought was a really cool, special effect. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a better movie because of it.

What is familiar is the basic premise. Snow White (Kristen Stewart), the fairest in all the land, is wanted by her evil step-mother/witch, in this film called Ravenna (Charlize Theron). But savvy Snow White escapes and goes and hides in the forest. The queen dispatches a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), cleverly called The Huntsman, to, well, dispatch Snow White. But as in every other version, the huntsman can’t do it and sides with her against the evil queen.

Snow White and the Huntsman also adds layers of characters. The Queen has an adequately evil brother, Finn (Sam Spruell). And Snow White’s prince suitor is now William (Sam Claffin) who knew her in childhood and didn’t just happen across her lifeless body as the Disney version would have you believe.

And the cute, hard-working seven little dwarfs have been replaced with seven hard-drinking, war-weary, not so cute pint-sized versions of full-size actors. And get less than cute nicknames to match like Muir (Bob Hoskins), Beith (Ian McShane) and Gort (Ray Winstone). But you really don’t need to know their names, because they don’t get called by them very often if at all. They, like the Huntsman, do rally around Snow. And they do provide a little comic relief in an otherwise dramatic film.

This version of Snow White has more to do with Lord of The Rings than the animated Disney version we all grew up watching. There are battles liberally sprinkled throughout and a landscape that will nearly kill you just by travelling through it. I’m always fascinated by movies like this, wherein there is a trip from point A to point B that takes, say three days of careful negotiation, but the trip back from point B to point A takes what is presented like a few hours.

There is a nod to Harry Potter’s Dementors thrown in, but I don’t want to give away too much. But I wonder if the special effects mastered making The Prisoner of Azkaban were simply reused here. And that’s maybe my biggest problem with this movie. There are sometimes special effects because they can, not because they are needed. I won’t go into any details, but when you watch the film, there are at least two spots where if you stop and think about it, you would question what does that have to do with anything? But hey, don’t it look cool?

Another problem, and maybe this comes down to personal taste, but Charlize Theron, even on her worst days has it all over Kristen Stewart. There is no way that a mirror could honestly say that Stewart is fairer than Theron.

This is not to say that Stewart can’t act, because she clearly can. She brings a Joan D’Arc quality to the story that Disney’s version didn’t pick up on. And Chris Hemsworth is also good as The Huntsman. We even get a bit of his backstory, which I didn’t realize until this telling, we needed to know. But it is nice to see Hemsworth do something other than Thor, though there are similarities between the two characters.

The thing that the film lacks the most though is a soul. You get the feeling everyone is playing a part because they’re supposed to. But there is no passion that comes across on the screen. The most obvious place is the ending, when the film could wrap up a love triangle that it sets up, but would rather just not deal with it at all.

Great films passionately tell their story and I don’t get that feeling from Snow White and The Huntsman. Its PG-13 rating will hopefully dissuade some parents from taking their little ones to this film. There is violence, but the film easily could be gorier than it is. Still this is a grown up telling of the Snow White tale. And unfortunately, it is not a telling that you will necessarily want to hear again and again.

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