Friday, June 15, 2012



- There are sparks of awesome in Snow White and the Huntsman, but those sparks never quite add up to a greater whole. This is a movie that gets certain things right ... but also one that feels inconsistent. To preface - I love a good dark fantasy movie - and there aren't many of 'em made these days. But I suppose there's two strains of pop-culture fantasy that this Snow White reimagining draws from - the more whimsical, fantastical, dark fairy-tale worlds of films like Legend, and the grittier, more grounded fantasy of, say, Game of Thrones. The movie tries to be both whimsical and gritty ... and it's a bit of an odd combo. The tone, therefore, shifts wildly from scene to scene. And it begins to feel like things were just lifted assembly-line from other films, just for the hell of it. "Hey, guess we need a major battle to make this movie feel more epic." "Hey, guess we should sort of hint a love triangle, because that's what the kids are into these days." "Hey, let's get the girl from Twilight, the dude from Thor, and a bunch of odd-looking British thespians to play the dwarves." I guess that's what I'm getting at here: somewhere deep beneath the surface of this film lies a fantastical, Legend-esque movie that feels authentic and the product of one man's vision. But at some point, this feels more like a collection of studio notes and market research than a bonafide blockbuster.

What works best in the movie are the parts that dare to go big and over-the-top. Namely: Charlize Theron is awesome in this, as uber-villainess Queen Ravenna - the classic Evil Queen who speaks to her mirror and asks whether she is, indeed, the fairest of them all. Part of the reason this movie reminds me a bit of Legend is that Theron's ranting, writhing, tormented, seething-with-evil performance reminds me a bit of Tim Curry's iconic, demonic turn in that film. Here, Theron goes for broke, goes big, and is endlessly entertaining and mesmerizing. In short, Charlize Theron's kickass turn is THE reason to see this.

The problem is - the rest of the movie doesn't really match the tone set by Theron with her gleefully over-the-top performance. As Snow White, Kristen Stewart does a fine job - and the movie wisely minimizes her dialogue early on, adding to the film's storybook quality. But eventually, Stewart is forced into some pretty half-hearted attempts at angst, romance, and later - big, rousing speeches to an amassing army of rebels. The escalation in the story's scale feels a bit forced, for one. But it also asks a lot of Stewart - I like her a lot as an actress, actually, but the script's tonal shifts don't do her any favors - forcing her to go from wide-eyed innocent-on-the-run, to romantic foil, to a leader of men in a mere two hours. At the same time, Stewart, I think, has a hard-time pulling off the sort of timeless fairy-tale tone that the movie is going for. Stewart's goth-girl-next-door quality doesn't necessarilly lend itself to playing an iconic fairy-tale character (ironically, I could actually see her doing a good job as the more jaded, modernized version of "Snow" from Fables ... but that's another story).

Now, at this point, I think Chris Hemsworth can do "brooding, noble fantasy-dude" in his sleep. And he lends the movie a certain gravitas with his natural charisma and fantasy-hero street-cred. But the Huntsman character is pretty forgettable. Literally - I barely remember what his deal was and why, exactly, he goes from drunken loner to team player. The movie is also pretty weird when it comes to any implied romance between him and Snow White. I am always against forced romances in movies (Chris Nolan's Batman films come to mind as offenders), but this movie keeps hinting at romance but never delivers - it just felt off. Worse is the fact that Sam Claflin pops up as a pretty useless character - a childhood friend of Snow's who returns as another possible love interest as an adult. Claflin is just sort of there, and the one interesting twist around his character turns out to be a red herring. So yeah, the relationships between Snow and the Huntsman, and Snow and William, both ultimately prove to be pretty devoid of intrigue.

And the dwarves ... oh man, when you look at the list of actors who play them, it's pretty staggering. Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone ... all of these guys are fantastic, but here they do ... very little. A couple of comic-relief moments, a couple of moments of semi-forced poignancy, and a couple of "cool, dwarves kicking ass" battle scenes. Again, with such a great cast assembled, and with so many *hints* of what might have been ... it's disappointing that these characters ultimately feel so underdeveloped. And look, a movie like this one needs its quality supporting characters ... but you can't help but feel like much more was planned for the dwarves, but it ended up going on the cutting room floor. So we're just left with the scraps - scraps of ideas and character arcs that aren't wholly fulfilling.

On the visual side, it's similarly frustrating, in that director Rupert Sanders clearly has some tricks up his sleeve that he's eager to show us. The movie has some fantastic visuals, and there is a really nice, almost surrealist quality to some of the creatures and f/x. I loved, for example, the shimmering amorphous liquid-metal being that was the Queen's mirror in this film. The CGI used to bring him/it to life is artful and unique. I also liked some of the imaginative creature design - a troll that Snow White and the Huntsman fight, for example, is really cool. And all of the f/x used around the Queen are really well-done. I liked the way Theron ages grotesquely as her power drains, and the way she turns into a fock of ravens at will. These sorts of scenes hint at Sanders' eye for artistic detail, and willingness to bring something a little different to the table visually. It's too bad that it never quite feels like this unique vision is allowed to flourish consistently over the movie's entire running time. Just as the tone shifts, so too does the visual style of the movie - at times, it's eye-popping and fantastical - as in an awesomely imaginative scene in a secret forest haven - filled with magical creatures of all shapes and sizes, and yet at other times, the movie feels much more generic. Again, makes you wonder if Sanders was told to reign in some of his more outlandish visual ideas in the name of commerical viability. I don't know, maybe I was spoiled having seen this one soon after the visual feast that was Prometheus, but it seemed like Snow White had long droughts between its more spectacular moments.

Ultimately, I like the overall sensibility of the movie (I'm a sucker for this kind of thing, what can I say), and I like that Sanders seemed to be going for an old-school, 80's-ish fantasy vibe. But the movie never truly delivered on the promise shown in certain scenes, and ends up being all over the map in terms of quality. Theron knocks it out of the park, but there's no other performance that can match hers, and no other character nearly as engaging. Almost everything / everyone else feels a bit bland and boring in comparison. Maybe a sequel can patch things up. And certainly, Sanders shows a lot of promise here in his directorial debut, and his visual flourishes hint at someone just waiting to truly cut loose on a more experimental film. But Snow White, while entertaining, feels just a bit too safe and tentative to me.

My Grade: B-

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