Monday, June 4, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

Hollywood has a hankering for reboots these days. It seems that every day a new adaptation of a classic legend or fairy tale is being announced or released, and Snow White is the flavor of the week. Mirror, Mirror - profoundly visual director Tarsem Singh's adaptation of the classic story - saw release little more than two months ago. And now, after much trailer-hype, Snow White and the Huntsman is in theaters.

The pre-release buzz around this film centered largely on two things: 1) how friggin' cool the trailer made it look and 2) snarky jokes about Kristen Stewart. I had pretty high hopes for this piece going in, though my optimism was still largely cautious: I've been burned by bad trailers before. But fortunately the film met almost every expectation I had and managed to overcome some pretty glaring flaws by its conclusion.


First off, even if you haven't seen this movie yet, you probably know more about it than you might think. Snow White and the Huntsman is a perfect example of the perfect ad campaign. The trailers give you a glimpse of exactly what the film is like. Many of the iconic and stunning imagery in the film already appears in the trailer, but it's none the worse for wear. I can think of plenty of movies that have had trailers that made them look terrible, only to find the opposite is true and vice versa. Or in the case of Watchmen, the trailers and tv spots didn't really clue you in to what the story was like or anything about the film other than the production design. Snow White and the Huntsman, however, is truthfully and beautifully represented by its ad campaign thus far.

Which brings me right to the next point: the production design. The costumes, the sets, the visual effects in this film; they're just magnificent. I've always been a big fan of fantasy and sword-n-sorcery type films, so this movie was right up my alley from the get-go. But rather than just rehashing tried and true formulas, there's a respect here for innovative design that belongs uniquely to this film. The world of Sanctuary (the part of the forest that the faeries rule over) was lush and beautiful; filled with one-eyed mushrooms and turtles covered in moss and other colorful plant life. It was a world full of vibrance and fervor and the camera delicately captured the glint of sunlight angling down through the tortuous branches above. Conversely the Dark Forest is grey and ashen; branches blackened and twisted in threatening positions. The castle from which the evil queen reigns is imposing and grand, but hints of its former glory shine through even the darkest of lighting techniques.

Another element of the film that I thought was delightfully crafted was where the film crossed over the existing Snow White legend, and more importantly the original Disney version. For example, remember the diaper-soiling terror of the Dark Forest in Disney's animated classic? Snow White crashes through branch and bush desperately trying to escape the Hellmouth that's opened just before her, as demons pour out shrieking obscenities and cursing the world above...maybe I'm remembering that wrong. Either way, it was a pretty freaky sequence for a kids movie, no? Snow White and the Huntsman takes another spin on that sequence, implying that the Dark Forest is filled with mushrooms that emit a hallucinogenic powder, thus inducing the nightmarish imagery we associate with the Dark Forest. And who knows, maybe Walt's team was on shrooms when they made that sequence anyway. But it was nice to see the film acknowledging its roots in fun and innovative ways.

Finally, the film hinges well on Kristen Stewart's performance. She gets a lot of crap for being a wooden actress, and I'm not going to claim she's lively and colorful. But one of her worst performances happens to be the biggest credit in her filmography, so her real skill as an actress is overshadowed by Twilight. Feel free to message me for the full rant on why Kristen Stewart is amazing, but the short of it is that the version of herself that she plays in Snow White and the Huntsman is perfect for this adaptation. She evinces sorrow and world-weariness with the subtlest of facial expressions, while behind her eyes seems a well of wisdom and grace. AND, she nails her accent beautifully.


The script itself leaves a good deal to be desired. It's adequate, but hardly admirable. A handful of lines feel forced, and the actors try their best to imbue them with as much sincerity as they can muster. But more than once I felt the audience stifle a snicker as a line that's clearly meant to be serious or profound just fell a bit flat.

Now I love Chris Hemsworth, the guy's a beast and a fine actor in his own right. But his Scottish accent left a bit to be desired. Maybe he should have just stuck with the Thor-voice. He tries, and he comes admirably close; but almost every line has a word or two that don't sound quite right and I found that distracting. Moreover at one point he starts a sentence with "Hey" and concludes it with "...ok?" which felt completely out of place amidst the rest of the film's "medieval" dialogue.


I can see why Snow White and the Huntsman is currently languishing in the mid-40s on Rotten Tomatoes, and I don't even disagree with the general consensus. But personally I found the movie's shortcomings were greatly outweighed by its strengths. Much like Tron: Legacy, the film is inherently flawed in a number of ways but manages to make up for said flaws with a solid dose of impressive and innovative visual effects. If you're among the throngs hellbent on poking fun at K-Stew's lack of acting prowess, you may find further challenge to your claims in this film.

This movie isn't likely to win any major awards or go down in history as a milestone of cultural achievement, but it's a well-crafted fantasy film with some spectacular mise en scene. It's a standalone film of course, but I found myself wanting to see more of the world of the film; almost itching for a sequel. I wanted to explore the history of these characters here and those symbols in that shot. It's a visually rich experience without being obsessive and the film is all the stronger for it. Moreover the film as a whole has a strong grasp of subtlety. The "love triangle" that sort of blossoms amongst Snow White, the Huntsman, and the Prince is tastefully understated; it was only after the credits rolled that it occurred to me that K-Stew was, yet again, caught in between two suitors. But without spoiling anything, I was very impressed with how delicately the entire situation was handled, and fortunately without the overuse of cliche.

I whole-heartedly recommend this movie if you're looking for a fun fantasy film with a little darkness to it. For an adaptation of existing works, it's strikingly original and just a lot of fun to look at as a cinematic spectacle.

1 comment:

  1. I'm still not sure why they released this so soon after "Mirror, Mirror". I get extremely confused with two movies that are based on the same material or have similar names. Even now, with the power of IMDB potentially at my fingertips (but stubbornly refusing to use it!), I remain skeptical about whether or not "The Green Hornet" and "The Green Lantern" are two different films, or is it just an alternate title? It's like casting Jessica Chastain and Bryce Dallas Howard in the same movie. Two fine actresses who look exactly the same to me. Was "The Help" supposed to be as confusing as "Memento"? I spent half the movie thinking they were a single character who was quite possibly one of the most complex villains of all time. "She nice to black people now she's a horrible bitch to black people, now she's nice again. WHAT IS GOING ON."