Thursday, May 31, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

Movie Review                                                                                                             1/6/12


Starring: Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin
Directed by: Rupert Sanders

            This must be a pretty twisted world, where Kristen Stewart is fairer than Charlize Theron. Okay, there’s that joke out of the way. Snow White, one of the Western world’s best-known fairy tales, gets another go-round and is given the “Grimm” treatment and takes place in a fairly twisted world– fitting, as it did all begin with a Grimm Brothers story. At the hands of first-time feature filmmaker Rupert Sanders, who has done commercials for the likes of Axe, Nike and Guinness, Snow White (Stewart) becomes a Joan of Arc-like warrior figure who charges into battle to avenge the death of her father at the hands of a wicked queen.

            Said wicked queen Ravenna (Theron) tricks her way into becoming the wife of King Magnus (Noah Huntley), after his wife dies of an illness. Ravenna kills the king and usurps his throne, locking his daughter Snow White in a castle tower and proceeds with a reign of terror, with her brother Finn (Sam Spruell) by her side. When Snow White escapes into the dark forest, she forcefully hires the drunken Huntsman (Hemsworth) to capture her. However, he decides to aid the fugitive princess, and the two run into the seven dwarves and Snow’s childhood sweetheart Prince William (Claflin) along the way. They assemble a revolution to storm the castle and take Ravenna down.

            It’s most appropriate to draw a comparison not with the other Snow White film released this year, but with last year’s Water for Elephants. Both movies feature sweeping period settings and gorgeous art direction, wonderful costumes, evocative musical scores by James Newton Howard, an Academy-Award winner as the villain (Christoph Waltz in Elephants and Charlize Theron here) and, most notably, an out-of-place Twilight star who is incapable of shouldering lead player responsibilities (Robert Pattinson in Elephants and Kristen Stewart here).

            The film goes to a great deal of effort to establish an atmosphere, and in that regard it succeeds. It goes for a quasi-medieval, fantasy-peppered feel – you could call it “Game of Therons”. Once Ravenna takes over as queen, the kingdom is engulfed in a certain bleakness and all life is quenched. The dark forest is all noxious gas, insect swarms, snakelike vines and thorns. In contrast, “Sanctuary”, the abode of the fairies, is a beautifully whimsical enchanted forest that stops short of singing birds and dancing squirrels. The final charge along the beach looks suitably epic, and the actual location of the Marloes Sands beach in Pembrokeshire, UK enhances that war movie effect.

            Colleen Atwood, oft-collaborator of Tim Burton, handles costume design responsibilities and the outfits created for Ravenna are of note. They perfectly convey the deadly mix of treacherous danger and beauty by incorporating feathers, bones and other darker motifs with fitted couture. It’s far less silly than the stuff Julia Roberts wears in Mirror Mirror, that’s for sure. James Newton Howard’s score absolutely lifts the movie and brings to mind romantic-era opuses.

            Charlize Theron is, as expected, a marvellous evil queen. Her performance drips with menace and she clearly enjoys the chance to chew the beautiful scenery for all it’s worth. She shouts orders, sucks the life force from defenseless girls, bathes in a milky rejuvenating liquid and even paces the castle floor. One could argue that her Machiavellian portrayal teeters very close to being ridiculous and at times it would not be out of place in a He-Man cartoon, but then again it does fit the approach taken with the material. Ravenna needs to be scary, and damned if Theron isn’t. Sam Spruell as the Queen’s brother is probably creepiness incarnate and matches Theron in gritted-teeth evil and makes for a memorable henchman.  

            It may seem like the easy route for a critic to take, but once again, everything is Kristen Stewart’s fault. The actress is infamous for failing to summon any emotion in her performances, which may have worked in the Twilight films as her character was pretty much a blank canvas on which young female audiences could project their fantasies, but here threatens to discredit the hard work everyone else has put in. Snow White is meant to possess other-worldly beauty and an inextinguishable life force, but the forest itself is less wooden than her. Her acting against Charlize Theron  is something like fighting a towering inferno with a spray bottle. The girl just cannot carry a movie, let alone put on a suit of armour and charge into battle astride a noble steed.
            How about the other half of the title, the Huntsman? It’s pretty hard to think of Hemsworth as anybody else than Thor, but the Huntsman isn’t all that different from that role. He’s a tough, alcoholic bruiser with a tortured past who takes on the role of mentor to Snow White, with something of a Scottish accent. He does look a wee bit too clean, but is masculine enough to pull it off anyway. Sam Claflin, last seen in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, seems to be stuck playing the love interest in period movies. He doesn’t share very much chemistry with K-Stew, which is probably more her fault than is. The director has said that he wanted to make a British gangster film and had his ideal cast for that film play the seven dwarves. Somehow, it really works – there’s a bit of a kick to be had seeing usually intimidating character actors shrunk down and singing round a bonfire.

            This movie purports itself as the Snow White we haven’t seen before, but it fits comfortably into the medieval fantasy genre and is a competent example of that kind of film. It tries to be a dark and sweeping epic, and for the most part achieves that goal, helped along by some great art direction and Charlize Theron at her fairy tale villainess best. Thankfully, Kristen Stewart in all her blandness, despite failing to fit into the setting at all and playing a title character to boot, doesn’t ruin all of this. Phew.

SUMMARY: You’d be right to doubt Kristen Stewart’s ability to pull the part off, but be wrong to completely write this serviceable movie off.


Jedd Jong


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