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"Snow White and the Huntsman" settles for style over substance
“You have eyes, Huntsman, but you do not see,” says Constantine (Bob Hoskins), one of the seven dwarves, to Chris Hemsworth in first-time director Rupert Sanders’ Snow White and the Huntsman. This second retelling in the past half-year (the first being Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror) of the Snow White fairy tale is built to please the eyes, but doesn’t deliver the same pleasure to the brain. Brimming with stunning CGI throughout the 2 hour and 7 minute runtime, but only boasting a memorable performance or two, Snow White and the Huntsman does not deliver on its promise of being an epic dark fantasy tale. Despite my misgivings, however, it still may be worth a look.
Locked up in a tower like so many damsels in distress before her, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) gets crafty and escapes the clutches of her captors: the evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and the queen’s brother, Finn (Sam Spruell). It’s a good thing Snow White escaped when she did, too, because Ravenna, in accordance with the original Grimm fairy tale, strongly desires to stay the most young and beautiful lady in the land so she can keep receiving compliments from her mirror. To maintain her smooth skin and white chompers, Ravenna needs Snow White’s literal, beating heart. That last part is a departure from the Disney version kids cozy up to.
Once out of the shadow of the tower, Snow White ends up in the Dark Forest, a deadly stretch of land where the trees will turn their branches into spitting snakes if they sense fear. Hired to find and capture Snow White is Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth). The Huntsman is a widower, a drunkard, and a survivalist. But wouldn’t you know it, when the Huntsman gets around to pressing his blade against Snow White’s throat, he discovers that befriending the black-haired woman and fighting back against Ravenna is better and less messy than slicing the fugitive’s jugular.
This film is more about the special effects than the story, so it’s a good thing the digital special effects are the best I’ve seen since 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The special effects team is flawless in their ability to bring a wide range of settings to life. From dead trees to sparkling fairies, snarling trolls to sniveling bunnies, sooty forest floors to thick grassy knolls, the visual effects department shows you the impossible beauty and horror of a classic storybook tale without overdoing it.
CGI also plays a huge part in constructing the seven dwarves. Actors who in real life stand well over five feet play Snow White’s personal escorts. Guys like Ray Winstone (King Arthur), Nick Frost (Attack the Block), and Ian McShane (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) have their faces plastered on dwarf bodies. Instead of coming across as a cheesy illusion, this transplantation method is believable. Had I not known many of the actors who play the dwarves from their previous films, I would have thought they were dwarves off the set, too.
Looking to stomp Snow White’s little friends into the ground, Theron is remarkable as the film’s villainess. Ravenna’s main hobby is to sulk around the upper chambers of her castle, and boy is she good at it. The evil queen slumps in her stone throne, talks to her mutating mirror, and skinny-dips in a pool of white liquid that’s reminiscent of the healing baths James McAvoy plunged into after a day of getting beat up in Wanted (2008). Theron laces these scenes of everyday (at least for a mean queen) activity with a vile temper that’s always on the brink of cutting footloose. Woe to those who are not quick enough in following her commands, for they must endure her wide-eyed, crazed stare and piercing, shrill screams. Theron’s presence gives the film a dominating, power-hungry antagonist in Ravenna, who is in several ways a female, non-German version of Red Skull, the sinister role Hugo Weaving played in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).
While Theron makes every scene she’s in interesting, Stewart attempts to make things awkward with her screen time. In her first major role since her four-year stint as Bella Swan in the Twilight movies, Stewart fails to become a multi-dimensional character. She always looks confused and sad; whether she’s leading a brigade of soldiers on horseback or peering through the bars of her prison, Stewart’s lips are open in a slight frown, with her brow furrowed and her eyes squinting at something none of us can see. She’s a one-emotion woman, hopelessly stuck in gear and undeserving of a leading role right now. Curiously, rookie screenwriter Evan Daugherty gives Stewart only a handful of dialogue in the first half of the movie. Stewart is the top protagonist in the film, however, so even when reduced to humdrum facial expressions, she still has enough time onscreen to worsen the movie considerably.
One more hunk of beef I have with Snow White and the Huntsman is the ineffective action sequences. This movie was marketed as an action epic. Just watch the trailer and you’ll see plenty of clashing swords and charging horses. When the action unfolds, though, there is not enough substance to suit a half-hour television program. Swordfights and general skirmishes are chaotic and poorly choreographed. Though the camera doesn’t shake uncontrollably during fights like so many action movies like to these days (see Wrath of the Titans), neither does the camera stay on two fighting persons long enough for viewers to understand or care about what is happening. This is especially true in the film’s disappointing climax, when Snow White leads an army of horsemen down a wave-splashed beachfront only to engage in an amateur-hour battle within Ravenna’s castle. The best action comes in the middle of the film in a Dark Forest fight between Finn and the Huntsman. After that fisticuff concludes, the only thing left to look forward to is the remaining Theron scenes.
I like the unique, dark spin on the Snow White tale that Sanders and Daugherty took. They refreshed an old story with vibrant CGI and a few juicy twists. Overall, though, they could have done better. Snow White and the Huntsman is more mediocre than epic; it might be worth your time if you want to see style over story, or if you’re just a big fan of Theron’s, but don’t get your hopes up to Lord of the Rings level.
I give Snow White and the Huntsman 3 stars out of 5, or a C. If I think about it any more, the rating would probably sink lower.
Snow White and the Huntsman is rated PG-13, has a runtime of 2 hours and 7 minutes, and was given a wide release on June 1, 2012.
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