Monday, June 4, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman, a Grim Retelling

     During my viewing of Snow White and the Huntsman, the second film in as many months that turns the fairy tale into a modernized visual feast (the first being Mirror Mirror), a simple question arose: do two men have to fawn over Kristen Stewart in every film that she stars in? Now, some of the original versions of the Snow White tale do have the same story, with the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, with his Thorish brawn) and the prince (Sam Claflin) both vying for her affection. But this new version, with its incredible and ravishing beauty, seems to be vying for some Twihard dollars. The other problem is the source material: we all now how this story ends, and no matter how much incredible sets, imagery and locations first-time director Rupert Sanders skillfully shows the audience, Snow White and the Huntsman is a beautiful film that lacks surprise and simply has a paucity of important things to say.
     Snow White (Kristen Stewart, who is perfectly fine in the title role) has been locked in the cell of a castle by her murdered father's second wife, the Queen (Charlize Theron). This Queen is consumed by thoughts--every second of every day--about aging and losing her beauty. So she does the only thing that makes sense: essentially sucking the blood out of fair maidens plucked from the local population. This process is is gruesome and frightening, but like Neutrogena it does wonders for her skin. She often asks the mirror on the wall who the hottest chick in Mordor is (the film seems like it takes place in the same universe as The Lord of the Rings saga), kind of equivalent to a wife asking her husband, "Do I look fat?" The mirror usually satiates her ego, but one day, when Snow White has come of age, we realize that White, in all her in-tact-hymen glory, actually is the most beautiful. The Queen must have her beating heart to become forever immortal and young. Theron's performance is definitely one of the highlights of the film, sneering and screaming as much as Queen Cersei on HBO's Game of Thrones.
     It's on this day that Snow White escapes from this tower cell and sets off on a journey to become a woman and defeat the queen. She makes it to the Dark Forest, a sinister and hallucinogenic place that is as dangerous as it is gorgeous. It's here that the Huntsman finds Snow, and--of course at first she does not trust him--they escape further from the castle so Snow can reach her allies. The Dark Forest and a future place they reach, a fairy-land that would make Sookie Stackhouse squirt, are the two showcases for the incredible visual effects in the film. This CGI is top notch: the creatures are amazingly detailed, the flora is colorful and enchanting, and a breathtaking combination of danger or beauty awaits behind every fallen log or flowing stream.
     Soon, our Huntsman and Heroine come across eight dwarfs deep in the forest (yes, eight, so it's clear what has to happen), and they provide the spark the propels the film into it's final and obvious conclusion. These dwarfs are portrayed by some great and funny British actors, but it's sort of offensive if you really think about it: none of them are actual little people, they are just CGI-ed (wonderfully) versions of themselves. Though--I have to admit--it was a bit fun to try and recognize all eight of the actors. There are fight scenes and medieval battles, but none that rival anything that could be considered great (a PG-13 rating sure doesn't help, but it's not like there was going to be a rated R Snow White film). The final siege on the castle is noticeably ho-hum, with the typical swarm of flying arrows and quickly-edited sword fighting with a minuscule amount of blood. The dwarfs play a key role in this overtaking of the queen's forces, providing a little comic relief and little originality.
     It's tough to say how good Snow White and the Huntsman could have actually been. The source material is severely limited, and this film does enough to to at least look pretty incredible. But there's no judging a film based solely on looks: I walked into the film expecting a pretty movie with some cool battles and well-drawn characters. What I got was a mediocre and mild love story that looked incredible but lacked any originality or complexity. If you go into Snow White and the Huntsman expecting it to totally suck, then you will be pleasantly surprised. But if you're like me, and you didn't really want to watch Kristen Stewart bite her lip and decide whether to kiss the Huntsman or cuddle with the prince or watch her try to be a warrior (which is a joke), then watching the film is similar to taking a bite of a rotting apple: bitter and unappetizing.     (C)

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