Movie Review: Get Ready for a Letdown
Director: Rupert Sanders
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Sam Clafin, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Lily Cole, Toby Jones, Brian Gleeson, Johnny Harris, Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan, Vincent Regan, Noah Huntley
Snow White and the Huntsman is a dark and joyless exercise in action and special effects, filled to the brim with extravagant images that neither inspire awe nor wonderment in the audience unfortunate enough to sit through them. Debut filmmaker Rupert Sanders drains all color from practically every shot, resulting in a movie that looks murky and unpleasant. And the entire enterprise plays out in such a dreary and depressing tone that it's downright impossible to derive any pleasure out watching it.
Did the filmmakers actually have an audience in mind when they made this film? Did they even have a purpose? The screenplay, credited to three different people, is so messy and unfocused that it's downright impossible to get any meaning out of the film. By having Snow White (Kristen Stewart) transform from a helpless damsel to a Joan of Arc like action heroine in the climax, one could argue that they were trying to bring a feminist spin to the story line, but the transition is so unconvincing that you don't buy it for a second.
And what about the evil queen Ravenna, played by Charlize Theron? We learn in an earlier scene, where she seduces Snow White's father and stabs him in the heart, that she's something of a man hater, because she feels men will stay true to a woman as long as they remain young and beautiful, at which point they will go out and trade them for a younger model. A complex and fascinating character could have been made out of her, but the screenplay treats her as nothing more than a one-dimensional villainess. And Theron's performance is so over-the-top that there were more than a few instances where the audience I saw the movie with started giggling helplessly (this is especially true of the scene where she scolds her brother Finn, played by Sam Spruell, after Snow White escapes from his clutches in the tower she was imprisoned in).
And as for Stewart? There is a scene where one character refers to her as “life itself,” which is kind of ironic considering there isn't an ounce of life to her performance. However, I would go so far as to say that Stewart isn't at fault here. Her character is so dull that it's hard to imagine anyone doing anything with the role. What exactly makes her Snow White so special? That she's got a good heart? The same thing could be said about the young woman Greta (Lily Cole), who is imprisoned with Snow White in the earlier moments of the film. She seemed like she had a good heart to her. There are moments where Snow White seems to have some power to her that effects people and the creatures of the forest (there is one instance where she screams at a troll and stops it from killing a character), but the movie doesn't explain any of it.
In fact, there are more than a few things about the film that don't make any sense. Ravenna's powers seem to be whatever is convenient for the screenplay. There is one scene where she literally shape shifts into a character Snow White knows, a power that is never introduced before hand and seems to come out of nowhere. After Snow White temporarily croaks after munching on the queen's poisoned apple, she's awakened by a kiss from a character she's shown no romantic interest in, so how his kiss brings her back to life is anyone's guess.
All of this nonsense plays out in such a dark and unpleasant tone that it literally drains the fun out of everything. Make no mistake about it, Snow White and the Huntsman is a grim and unhappy experience. Dark fantasy adventures are not necessarily a crime (I loved The Lord of the Rings movies), but there is a real note of hostility in the film. We're treated to scenes where Ravenna feasts on the entrails of a bird; where Finn starts feeling Snow White in an inappropriate way; where Snow White happens upon a village where the women and children have disfigured themselves so Ravenna wouldn't suck out their youth (the village is later set ablaze); where Snow White finds a number of dead, rotting birds in a gloomy forest; and where Ravenna walks through a chamber of dead young maidens.
Even the usually charismatic Chris Hemsworth is hampered by the film's bleak tone. His Eric the Huntsman is hired by the queen to find Snow White in the Dark Forest, because the queen is, for some reason, powerless there (funny, you'd figure she'd be right at home). He's introduced in a bar fight, has a couple of witty lines, but then has all the joy, humor, and charisma drained out of him as the movie plods on. Sam Clafin co-stars as an archer named William, who was Snow White's childhood friend, and both the character and actor are so wasted that it seemed sort of pointless to even add him into the film.
There are some things about Snow White and the Huntsman that work. The production design by Dominic Watkins and costume design by Colleen Atwood are stunning (but are almost rendered moot by the dreary and unimpressive cinematography by Greig Fraser). The CGI effects are impressively rendered (the many aerial shots of Ravenna's castle are breathtaking), and the scene where Snow White eats the poison apple is actually brutally effective (and is the only scene where Stewart displays some acting chomps).
Special mention must also be made of the special-effects wizards who managed to digitally shrink famous British actors like Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Toby Jones, Brian Gleeson, Johnny Harris, Ian McShane and Eddie Marsan in the role of the eight (instead of seven) dwarves. None of the actors make much of an impression as the dwarves (Hoskins is particularly bad as the blind seer Muir), but hey, at least the effects are impressive.
Snow White and the Huntsman is a colossal disappointment in nearly every conceivable way. It's not enchanting, it's not exciting, and it sure as hell isn't fun. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the film is that it isn't the worst film of the summer (that distinction still lies with Battleship), but given that we've already seen a great film (The Avengers) and a surprisingly good one (Men in Black 3) this summer, it is perhaps the most disappointing.
Final Grade: * 1/2 (out of ****)