Snow White and the Huntsman

Magic comes at a lofty price.

A movie is a team effort.  If everyone pulls their weight, the movie will be perfect.  But heroes are so hard to find, so it’s more likely that there will be weak links in the chain–I almost did the whole thing in Fleetwood Mac songs, but figured no one would understand it.  Which are the most important links?  Is it better to have a drab looking movie with strong writing and acting?  You need a good story; I think that’s absolutely necessary.  But what’s a good story badly told?

The queen (Liberty Ross) was admiring a hearty rose that bloomed in winter.  She went to take it and pricked her finger on a thorn.  Three drops of blood fell into the snow.  Admiring the scene, she thought blah blah, Snow White (Kristen Stewart).  The old queen died and a dark (phantom) army invaded which the king (Noah Huntley) defeated.  But there, he met Ravenna (Charlize Theron), a smokin’ hot hottie, who he married.  On their wedding night–the day after he met her–she killed him and let in her real army led by her brother, Finn (Sam Spruell).  During Ravenna’s reign, the land died and all was bleak and high contrast.

It is revealed that Ravenna is magical, but her power depends upon her youth and peerless beauty, but when Snow White’s heat becomes greater than Ravenna’s, it’s time to take her heart (Snow White’s, not Ravenna’s).  Snow is pretty resourceful and escapes into the Dark Forest.  Ravenna requires outside help and calls on the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to hunt her down, which he does on the promise that Ravenna will resurrect his dead wife.  Blah blah, the Huntsman takes Snow White and they try to get to old buddy Duke Hammond’s (Vincent Regan) castle and bring about a showdown with Ravenna.

I’m not sure if you know this, but there’s actually a Grimm fairy tale about Snow White called “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.”  See, what they’ve done here is taken that fairy tale and made a movie out of it (with some considerable revisions).

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) is a very mixed bag.  I’m not sure I’ve noticed a movie that was so great in some respects and so weak in others.  If you had high hopes for this movie, I can reassure you that even those elements that are weakest are inconsistently weak.  The story is mostly good, the visuals are phenomenal, but the dialogue and acting are rather paltry.

The movie is riddled with great elements.  Not generally one for taking liberties, they created this mythology about Ravenna and her powers that I think is fantastic.  The movie spends a great deal of time with Ravenna.  More so than is spent on the Huntsman (appropriately).  That’s a very strong move and knocks the movie into the Potentially Great category.

Question though, if Ravenna is allied with the ravens, then why does Snow White’s mother want her hair as black as raven’s wings rather than ebony (as in the original tale)?  That’s imperfect.

Another touch that I found just staggeringly awesome was the Sanctuary where the fairies live (with all furry and moss-covered creatures).  It’s like they took the cartoon and got the guys from The Lord of the Rings (2001-03) movies to set it in this new world.  It’s just perfect.  The same-ish thing happens in the Dark Forest.  In fact, if they had stuck a little bit closer to the cartoon in parts, it would have been improved.  Drop the fishing ladies, move up the dwarves, add the crone with apple, and then bring back the Huntsman.  Reboot!  But still, the vision of the movie is perfect.

I also loved the dwarves.  They don’t have adjective names in this one, sadly, but they are absolutely terrific to look at.  All-star actors, like Ian McShane, Bob HoskinsRay Winstone, Nick Frost, and Toby Jones are rendered into these dwarf bodies while still being recognizable.  These aren’t hobbits, but they aren’t hearty trolls either.  Kind of like hobbits that joined up with Robin Hood.  Excellent.  They give the best performances of the movie, no question.

This is Rupert Sanders’s directorial debut (in film).  That’s rather astounding.  Presumably, he gets the credit for bringing these visual elements together.  If this doesn’t get best Art Direction or Make-Up or something, I’d be very shocked.  But Sanders loses any chance at best director because of some of this movie’s staggering weaknesses.

First among them is the dialogue.  Okay, that’s not the director’s fault (entirely), but Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini really botched some opportunities.  The ordinary dialogue is unexceptional, but they try to wander into poetics that hurt my ears.  They do this most often with Ravenna and sometimes do fine work but then put together these stand-and-deliver moments that are just brutal.  They’re brutal because…

The acting is so frequently miserable.  The non-Twilighters among us were probably all looking for Kristen Stewart to suck.  And, though she does eventually torpedo the movie with two terrible scenes, she does a passable British accent the whole time (without slipping) and doesn’t sigh dramatically until the very end.  No, what was truly upsetting was how bad Charlize Theron was.  I was so disappointed in her screaming in this movie.  It was so overdone, I was embarrassed for both of us.  It was like she didn’t have control over her own voice.

Stewart had a similar moment in her Independence Day (1996) speech.  Except the Independence Day speech was well written (if hammy), this one was incoherent.  Though that might have been the fault of Stewart staggering and shouting through the whole thing to where I have no memory of what she was even trying to say.  Hemsworth seemed to have some Thor (2011) after shock and couldn’t play Madmartigan with any ability.  Still, his character is basic and easy and he played it as within convention as can be imagined.

The music is a serious weakness.  It’s almost uniformly trite adventure music.  There was a little bit towards the end where there was some kind of electronic sound and I thought, “Oh no.”  I almost immediately reconsidered and thought that if they had actually made the whole thing a techno soundtrack, it might have worked pretty darn well, at least providing some personality to things.  Then there’s a song during the end credits that I was torn on.  It was almost like the one at the end of Prince Caspian, but not quite as terrible.  You can’t have a fantasy movie with understandable lyric’d music.  Choral pseudo-Latin is fine.

If the movie ended with Snow White waking after the apple, then you would have had a very very good movie.  After that, however, the wheels come off the wagon with frenzied speed and vim.  The dialogue and acting, always touch-and-go, descends into the soapy such that even the visuals contract the disease.  The attack on the castle looks like 12 show horse enthusiasts bought a $500 camera and found the slow motion feature.  Then there’s the final scene. O the coalescence of all the suckage our heroes had to offer!  Stewart sighs, the dialogue is blarney, the looks are meaningful (without meaning), everybody literally waits stock-still for 15 seconds while the soundtrack catches up, and Cut to Black, begin the instantly dated pop track and some ramshackle, CGI’d end credit montage of various textures.  Palm, forehead, ow.

Taking all of that into account, though, I think it is still worth seeing.  It may not be worth listening to, but it is worth seeing.  Let’s be honest, this isn’t 2001: A Space Odyssey kind of bad–it’s entertaining, at least.  They had enough instinct to provide the hook you need to keep you in your seat and hoping for more.  But, as I say, it was worth seeing.  Oh, and there’s no scene after the credits.  If you were wondering.

Sleeping Beauty has got to be the next one.  But they had damn well better use Tchaikovsky.

Mm.  Milk bath.

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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7 Responses to Snow White and the Huntsman

  1. Will Li says:

    The list of actors who play the dwarves is impressive. I had no idea.

  2. 2manybooks says:

    Spoiler alert. Don’t read if you haven’t seen the movie.

    Hmmmm…I rather liked Theron’s performance. Lot’s of hysterical screaming and over-reacting, but I attested that to her life-dependent need for beauty. She “sees” the starving folk outside the castle who remind her of the early years and occasionally pours (leftover milk?) bathwater on them, seeing herself the loving monarch. Obviously she knows what starvation feels like, but she is so fixated on self that doing the smallest thing for others is enough to break the empathic connection. Then there’s her reaction to Snow White. This “other” is connected to her immortality so warrants equal attention/ moments of crazy.

    Is Ravenna simply conceited/immortality fixated or is there some “I owe it to Mom to survive after she risked her life for me” aspect here? There were a few glimpses under her psycho exterior that were a bit revealing but….

    I applauded the anti-stereotypical treatment of female characters here and almost cheered at the sight of Snow’s practical-for-forest-travel leather pants as opposed to, say, Milady de Winter’s Fredrick’s of Hollywood fight attire in The Three Musketeers. Even though Snow is beautiful, it is her inner peace and kindness that effects those around her…ok, even as I typed it I had an eyeroll moment. Ok, I’m happy the hot, blonde chick bought it in the end. There, I said it!

    As for the anti-Henry V battle speech- maybe it’s a guy thing. I figure she’s been locked in a tower for 20 or so years and hasn’t had a lot of public speaking opportunities. And, hey, she was dead a few moments before, no time for a Toastmasters workshop. BTW, was the pre speech mumbling a rehearsal or did I miss something?

    And just who was the Huntsman? Do the Grimm’s name him True Love, Kind Heart or Prince? They didn’t flesh out the boy/kiss receiver either. And that “kiss” -was it to heal his inner guilt for leaving her behind or a fireworks test? In the end she looked like Leah should have after snogging Luke.

    I, too, missed the crone (although alternative caught me off guard) and thought the ending bizarre. Sequel possibility?

    • The way I see it, Theron doesn’t get credit for having a good character (and I think it is a very good character). It’s a very mixed bag, like I said.

      Snow White was anti-stereotype (mostly) until the very end where she nervously looked around until she saw the Huntsman and then could relax. “Ah, good, the man is here, I can do this now.” That’s how I saw it. And the speech was just terrible. They try to walk the line between humanity and fantasy, which is laudable, but I don’t think that speech was the time to do it.

      All I know about the Huntsman I read on Wikipedia or saw in the Disney movie.

  3. 2manybooks says:

    Perhaps Theron looked to Hollywood’s go-to genre of late; the Super Hero movie, for her role research. Clearly she is channelling some Super Villain.

    Or perhaps our difference of opinion has more to do with your rom-com theory (mentioned in The Accidental Husband review) that films portraying women negatively are aimed at female audiences. The Queen’s inglorious demise makes us feel better about not having been born stunning. And as few of us are willing to strap on ye olde armour and wield a sword against the Evil Empire, we can inwardly sneer, “Show off!” and dislike Snow as well.

    I didn’t get the panicky look at the coronation either. Perhaps they were aiming at “Omg, I know nothing about running a kingdom. Oh look, there’s that guy-friend who helped me through a few scrapes. Maybe he can help.” but all the audience saw was teen angst filled Bella being all needy.

    I wonder where the Stag figure originated. He makes an appearance in Wind in the Willows as well. Does he figure in the original fairy tale?

    • Not sure about the Stag. The Stag is also in Bambi. Might be a stock character. I haven’t read the Grimm fairy tale, so it’s possible, but the Wikipedia summary didn’t seem to leave that much room for one.

      As for Theron and Stewart, I think the director just didn’t know to ask for more takes. That’s my guess. I agree that It was her searching for reassurance from Han Solo, but I didn’t like it. She just killed the Evil Queen, I think she can handle things from here.

      • 2manybooks says:

        Good point about handling things. After all, what could the town’s reformed drunken lout offer Snow by way of political advice? Probably over-thinking the scene to expect the director whispering “Snow is conflicted. She’s won the day but now must replace her mother as queen” or “Snow realizes that hacking off limbs is easier than being responsible for a poverty ridden, starving nation. Let us see that you realize it’s all on you now” in Stewart’s ear. Either way, that Mirror will bring in a pretty penny! Maybe THAT’S why she’s crying? Or perhaps it’s simply Aunt Irma to blame.

        Back to an interesting character.

        The Stag of SWatH and WitW is more god like than Bambi’s distant-but-loving father (although he has god like qualities; advisor, protector, etc). Perhaps Dad is an earthbound version.

        Interestingly enough (or not), the setting is similar in the first 2 stories. There is a “pilgrimage”, an otherworldly setting, a search for “information” of some sort which is delivered without words, reality interrupts and the characters return to their world better equipped for the task at hand.

        If you’re interested there’s an excellent audio version of WitW on audible.

        (WitW is available on audio through audibledotcom)

  4. Pingback: The 2013 Academy Awards: Will and Should | Prof. Ratigan

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