Sunday, June 3, 2012

Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

Warning: There be spoilers

Snow White is a grim, dark, joyless and usually humorless movie. It's not bad per se, and technical elements like the sets, locations and battle scenes are impressive in their own way, but the movie never really gets going until the last 20 odd minutes or so, and when it does, I had yawned one too many times to care. The story is a retelling of the classic fairy tale, and by retelling, I mean it's almost nothing like the original story. That much is obvious; a faithful retread in a big screen adaptation would be disastrous for a story as familiar and as paper thin as the original, but there is no story here either, at least not one to justify the movies 127-minute running time. The fact that this is the director's first crack at a feature film is glaringly obvious. The fact that the movie has three screenwriter credits is baffling.

So here's the story in short. A beautiful but frail queen has a daughter who is pure of heart and Kristen Stewart of beauty, the kind who expresses concern at the broken wings of birds. When not playing Florence Nightingale to actual nightingales, she gambols around with William, son of the local duke. Will they fall in love as adults? One wonders. However, after a particularly harsh winter, the queen dies, and almost simultaneously, an army attacks the kingdom. The army is defeated, but the king is bewitched by the beauty of one of their prisoners, and makes her queen. The queen Ravenna (Charleze Theron) kills the king on the wedding night and opens the castle gates for her creepy brother Finn to come in with an army, slaughter the residents, and initiate a hostile takeover. William and his father, the duke, escapes, but cannot rescue Snow White, who is incarcerated in a tower. Of course, the queen has magical powers, and a magic mirror who she bothers constantly by asking who the fairest of them all is. The creature, who actually comes out of the mirror and stands before the queen, looks like a man with a liquid gold bedsheet over his head. The special effect where it oozes out of the mirror in a slow moving river of gold is impressive.

Anyway, so the queen retains her youth and beauty by feeding on that of other young girls regularly. The kingdom suffers, the people beg on the streets and feed on scraps, and the queen and her brother trade various expository dialogue that go nowhere. Time goes by and one day the mirror tells the queen, who looks like Charleze Theron, no doubt in a fit of temporary insanity, that Snow White, who looks like Kristen Stewart and will soon come of age, will be the fairest of them all. Process this, if you will. But wait! There's a convenient plot point! If the queen consumes Snow White's heart, she will be immortal and forever young. Instead of shattering the mirror into a thousand pieces for holding back crucial information like this for a decade or so, Ravenna asks Finn to bring Snow White to her. Finn, understandably frustrated beyond belief after ten years of watching Charleze Theron disrobe and take milk baths right in front of him but not getting any, uses this opportunity to paw Snow White (Apparently Ravenna had forbidden him to go into her cell), and promptly gets stabbed for his trouble.

Snow White escapes into the dark forest, where few go in. Even the queen's magic is impotent there. Thus, they employ Thor to get Snow White for them. Unfortunately, Thor is tied up with the Marvel movies, so they get the huntsman, who Chris Helmsworth plays EXACTLY like Thor, and is apparently the only one who knows the dark forest. He catches up to Snow White, but is turned by her beauty, her spirit and her heart, and joins her in her quest to reach the Duke's castle. Snow White demonstrates all those qualities by falling down a lot and looking gravely concerned when the Finn and his men catch up to her, which is often.

The primary problem of the movie is that it tries to do too many things at the same time. It's not enough that the queen is evil, she has to be given a tragic backstory. However, because not enough time is devoted to this, it remains half baked, a collection of flashback sequences that flash by too fast, and snippets of a story that vaguely allude to her being used by others.

Snow White, in her travels, stumbles into a number of characters, including, of course, the seven dwarfs (who are actually well known British actors like Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane and Ray Winstone, converted to dwarfs via CGI and camera tricks). Again, there's too many of them, and thus, they rush by, their perils plucking no emotional chord because we barely spend time with them. Even central characters reveal little character attributes beyond what is strictly necessary. For example, we know the huntsman lost his wife because later it has to be revealed that one of the villains had something to do with it. It's a baffling reveal, and creates a forced connection by resorting to extreme coincidence. But what else? Nothing. The Duke's son shows up to be the love interest, but doesn't have any character traits beyond being the love interest, and while the movie does play with the idea of who Snow White will end up with, it's too scared to answer that question and leaves it hanging. Thus, characters do, feel and reveal exactly and only what is required, and not an iota more.

So other than the locations and CGI, what works here? Charleze Theron. Where rest of the cast, and even the movie itself seems to take material like Snow White being helped in her escape by birds (cos her heart is pure and she fixed the wings of one of them years back, get it?), Theron hams it up and chews so much scenery that she nearly swallows the movie whole. And it works. Where she can grimace, she snarls. Where she can snarl, she screams. Where she can scream, she unhingles her jaw like a snake and yells loud enough to wake the dead. It's over the top, and it's great. It's exactly what the movie needs. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast believes it's playing Shakespeare, and thus dialogue like "You have eyes huntsman, but you can not see! She is the One!" is uttered with gravitas and seriousness.

Snow White isn't a bad way to spend a couple of hours, but it could have been so much more by being a little less. The characters have potential but are never explored fully because there's so much happening. Kristen Stewart is a workmanlike Snow White, but doesn't bring the spark and determination that the character required, which makes her actions in the last 20 minutes so jarring. If you watch this movie, watch it for Charleze Theron. 

1 comment:

Anuradha... said...

Stewart was possible the worst choice for Snow White! Hemsworth grunts a lot & that's it. Theron could only do so much. great post :-)