Saturday, June 2, 2012

Snow White and The Huntsman, a brief review

Some spoilers referenced.
"Snow White and the Huntsman" is a revisionist and somewhat subversive film, inspired by the tale of "Snow White."

After being confined to the castle walls where her father reigned, Snow (Kristen Stewart) escapes from her evil stepmother (a criminally underutilized Charlize Theron) and goes on the run. Not to be outdone, the evil stepmother hires a brawler entitled The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to capture and bring her back. Along the way, they escape, fight, escape, fight, meet some dwarves and share an oddly timed encounter with that oh so luscious red apple.

Critics are divided, but that means next to little to me. Everyone fights over all things in film, and a majority of critics disliking the film is little indication that the film sucks.

I'm still sorting out the best way to review movies. Do we interpret the good material over and against the bad material, or do we flip it and apply the same method?

It's annoyingly the same. But many critics apply it and it seems to suit them. I shall attempt a simple formula in this review: what is most important in film? Technical. Narrative. Meaning. I'm certain more can be added, but these three figures shall suffice for this exercise.

TECHNICAL

"Snow White and the Huntsman" is, for the most part, technically strong. The visuals evolve and offer interesting splashes of grandiose designs and grotesque symmetry. Images of mushrooms with eyes, monsters appearing as from tree stumps and stone all evoke the landscape of destruction and waste.

The editing, combined with the narrative, is where the film suffers. Scenes drag on at certain points, and the chase/action scenes are quickly motion cut to the point of being barely incoherent. This isn't Tony Scott, but it's pretty close. The poor pacing is reflected in the editing, but it does make me wonder what type of raw material the editors had to deal with.

I'm not an editor, but I found it quite amusing that I was able to predict most of the cuts in each battle scene. Just an afterthought. 

However, there are some interesting uses of metals and unnatural beings that play into the fight scenes, but they are over rather quickly and aren't of much substantial "wowness."The idea of "black glass" creatures fighting with knives and sharp objects is conceptually cool, but the concept flounders where it should've soared.

The film is mixed in the technical department.

NARRATIVE

The narrative is also mixed for me. Though there is compelling imagery and scenes of great power, the majority of the film is so poorly paced that the flaws overshadow the good bits. Conceptually, having Snow escape ala Count of Monte Cristo is ingenious. Showing her power over animals is brilliant. Having a love triangle with the Huntsman and the Prince is stellar.

Being able to revise and re-imagine the legend works well at the basic level. The princess is a scrapper, a reject from her kingdom. Her protector is a drunkard and a lug head. The dwarves are amusing. The style of crows and snow and gnarled trees indicating how all things have come under evil rule is by and large beautifully done.

However.

The Huntsman is far too quite to change in his quest to capture Snow, and his reasons are ambiguous at best. The sudden shift is jarring and unwarranted. Sure, the exposition about his past is brought forth, but there is no catalyst of change as to why he would be interested in saving Snow. Given that he is a bit of a roguish lout, the writer's give him little wit or charisma to sustain our interest in him.

The writing screams for more life, and leaves some gaps. If Snow has power over the animals, why wouldn't she use that at ALL during the final battle? If the evil Queen has the power of flight, why would she wait until the end to go after Snow? Why send anyone at all? Why do her powers not extend into the most evil of her creation? More childishly, why wouldn't the evil Queen, who feeds on others to stay young and beautiful, need Snow when she has an entire kingdom to consume?

Some of these are petty, but imagine massive titan creatures fighting a massive war. Yeah. Pretty cool. I wanted to see more.

The dwarves are amusing, and to see some famous faces on the heads of little bodies is, well, amusing. The Queen is given little to do except scowl, scream and occasionally suck the life out of a few people. Charlize snaps in every scene, but she doesn't have much to chew on. The acting is passable, and this is a complement. Kristen Stewart avoided Twilight, Charlize works some magic and Hemsworth has enough swagger to pull off his end.

The narrative is mixed, leaning towards more critical than acceptable.

MEANING

This is where things get interesting. The amount of Christian imagery is impressive. Walking on water, Aaron's staff, mythological creatures offering blessings and even resurrection. I think atonement is also quite nicely centered around the Christus Victor model but I'm biased.

There are moments of true grief, expressed by the Huntsman in regards to his fallen wife. His longing is palpable, if greatly reduced. The idea of life beyond the grave is seen as a good thing, and especially the honor of dying for a cause, or even the restoration of all the (imagined) creation.

There is indeed great meaning in "Snow White and the Huntsman." This is where the film excels.

CONCLUSION

Beyond the tentpole effects and lackluster storytelling, the film offers some spectacular effects and enough revisionist writing to keep your interest, even when the pacing gets bogged down. The concepts are there, and a few of them are magic. The rest are underused and often ignored.

This is a big screen movie that would be killer in 3D, but there isn't enough magic to make me truly recommend it.

2.75 out of 5 stars.

--Nick


2 comments:

  1. i recently saw a different rendition of snow white with julia roberts as the evil queen. i was annoyed. i don't want to see another rendition of it. but that's possibly because i've spilt 2 good beers in 1 day - and for the record, no, i wasn't drunk. merely clumsy. so screw snow white and all the bloody dwarves. i want my beer back.

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  2. Don't forget she actually recites the Lord's prayer in her cell! I was so shocked by that I almost fainted. I have to say though, I don't think that aspect of the film was well done. The reason that Tolkien's and Lewis's mythology works is that actual Christianity is absent. This film has some form of Medieval Christianity present in the background, but ultimately it's magic and spells that win the day. And since they're both presented together, it's hard not to see them as contrasting or opposing one another, which would work against any Christian meaning.

    Also, I thought the Huntsman was far more compelling as a character than the prince, so I felt that the forced love triangle was a flop from the start. And I was puzzled by the poison apple scene. Not a good idea.

    You can tell that the director's background is in video games. :)

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