6 June 2012

Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

(Dir: Rupert Sanders, 2012)

Expectations built up by a trailer are a funny thing. The trailer for Snow and the Huntsman did a great job of selling me a movie that I expected to have very little interest in. Frankly I thought it made it look great. But alongside that I’ve had a couple of preconceptions about this film due to Mirror Mirror unexpectedly delivering an interesting and visually sumptuous version of the Snow White story earlier this year. My expectations for that film based on its trailer were that it would be rubbish. It wasn’t. So Snow White and the Huntsman had something to live up to. The reality is, I should know better than to set high expectations for a film based on a trailer as frequently the full package doesn’t deliver.

This version of the Snow White story establishes things in the standard way then approaches the rest from a slightly different angle. The evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) quickly takes control of the throne and locks Snow White (Kristen Stewart) away in the castle. Some years later she escapes and the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) is brought in to find and bring her back so the queen can gain eternal youth. But upon tracking her down he decides to protect her, leading to them they traipsing across the land to a friendly duke who will help overthrow the queen. On the way a few of the standard Snow White story elements are worked in – poison apples, dwarves and the like. 

Two of the big selling points in the trailer were the suggestion it might be Lord Of the Rings lite and also some fascinating dark imagery around the queen. The film certainly aims for something closer to this territory than a standard fairytale, although perhaps it’s fair to say Snow White and the Huntsman is more akin to the Narnia films, minus talking animals. I thought this an interesting way to approach the story. But the best parts of the film involve the queen. Theron goes into overacting territory a bit but it doesn’t matter so much as it works for the character and she does seem genuinely evil. The continual decimation of everything beautiful around her to quench her savage narcissism and desire for immortality is born of desperation, as she barely manages to maintain face and keep from appearing to her kingdom as the old crone she really is. The surrounding dark imagery heightens her perniciousness and really lifts these scenes.

It’s a shame then that Stewart doesn’t work at all in the role of Snow White. Just to be clear from the outset as I know she has a lot of haters, I’m not one. I loved her in Adventureland and she was good in The Runaways, but both of those characters had a similar vibe that suits her look and how she comes across, which also seems to work within the hollowness of the Twilight films. It just doesn’t work as Snow White. She lacks the overwhelming beauty that this character should possess and comes across with zero personality. There’s a vacant emotionlessness with no hidden layers which makes her something of a cipher, so it’s impossible to care about her character and she makes no impact in the film. If you compare her to the pulchritudinous of Lily Collins in Mirror Mirror you would not believe they are portraying the same character. I know why Stewart was cast but for a film this big it would be futile to argue the point of art over marketability.

Chris Hemsworth fares better and since Thor I’ve become a fan of his. He exudes a likeable physical presence on the screen, however his accent in the film is both inexplicable and irritating, which really distracted me. As did the dwarves. There seemed to be something quite curious about casting people like Ian MacShane, Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones and Nick Frost as dwarves, but it didn’t work. Despite adding a few mild moments of comedy it was jarring seeing these actors like this, and although I can see they tried to address that by disguising them with make-up and funny hair styles, it seems ludicrous that these roles didn’t actually go to actors of the right stature.

Another poor decision was the choice of director. This was the debut of Rupert Sanders, making him a surprising choice for the producers to gamble on considering this is a big budget summer movie. Sanders does get some really good visuals, but the film itself is boring and ponderous. The first half hour or so is fairly interesting, but once they leave the dark forest interest quickly wanes, only to be enlivened in the moments when Theron is back on screen. Just don’t get me started on the scenes in fairy Sanctuary which felt totally awkward and dissonant with the rest of the film. 

Snow White and the Huntsman was disappointing. Curiously it managed to nail the darker side of the story but failed on all the other aspects, resulting in a mostly boring film that didn’t manage to offer anything more than a few interesting visuals. With a more suitable and engaging lead actress perhaps it would’ve been improved but I think a lot of fault lies in the direction too. There was plenty of potential with the route the story took, but it was squandered. Tarsem’s Mirror Mirror had many flaws, but it worked and felt like a more considered and interesting attempt at this classic tale. Watch Snow White and the Huntsman if you want something dull and lifeless with a dark edge; watch Mirror Mirror (review here) if you want something fun, vibrant and beautiful that actually feels like a fairytale brought to life.

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