Neely Swanson

Snow White: The hunt is on! [MOVIE REVIEW]

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When Academy Award nominations come out next year, I fully expect to see “Snow White and the Huntsman” nominated in most of the below-the-line categories such as cinematography (Greig Fraser), production design (Dominic Watkins), visual effects, special effects, editing (Conrad Buff and Neil Smith), and costume design (Colleen Atwood). “Snow White and the Huntsman” is one of the most sumptuous looking films to arrive in quite some time. The color palette is deep, rich and absorbing; the medieval time period is evoked through the incredible sets, costumes and action – gowns of velvet and gossamer that are tactile in their visual effect, mossy castles and armor so fluid that one is propelled through the forest along with the riders on their similarly outfitted horses. And the action of “Snow White and the Huntsman” is driven by its James Newton Howard score.
What will be highly unlikely are nominations for the acting, directing, script and film itself. Director Rupert Sanders had heretofore been known for his visually acclaimed commercials. But “Snow White and the Huntsman” isn’t a commercial, or if it is, I’m not sure for what other than a licensed video game. It is a revisionist take on a beloved fairy tale about greed and vanity. But rather than a somewhat Biblical tale encompassing several of the deadly sins, this is a violence-infused monster and dark arts fest that takes the bare bones of the original tale and incorporates the gamester’s love of gore, fantasy, bodices and dwarves. The script, such as it is, is woeful and all participants shall go unnamed. It was a story thrown into a cauldron stirred by four credited writers and at least two uncredited rewriters (far too many hands) and then, obviously, thrown into a Cuisinart by the director. Nothing good can come of such “collaboration.”

One had hoped for better. In the original folk tale the wicked witch/stepmother, fearful for her standing as the leading beauty, commands a huntsman to take her young stepdaughter Snow White into the forest, kill her and return with her heart as proof of her death. The huntsman, in a crisis of conscience, instead leaves Snow White in the forest, presumably to die, kills a deer, and brings its heart to the queen as proof of the child’s demise. Snow White, found by dwarves (not named Sleepy, Doc, Dopey, etc.), is raised in relative peace until the wicked witch rears her ugly head with that infamous poison apple.
Here we have the case of a wicked stepmother born on the dark side with a well-earned distrust of men who used women only for their beauty and then discarded them. She would, instead, use men to further her ends, pluck out their hearts with a device too gruesome to describe and suck in the youth of pretty girls to maintain her own immortal beauty. Snow White is, of course, the sticking point. Unfortunately there is no upside. Granted the evil queen was betrayed as a youth and is out for revenge, but abandon hope all ye who enter here because she is totally unsympathetic despite what could have been an explanatory and rather humorous prototypical feminist backstory. But I digress, because none of this really matters when there is no discernible story, just action moments and visual effects.
The acting is passable; it’s just that the roles are so bad. I suppose a 15-year-old boy (who sneaks into this R-rated film) might think that “Twilight” star Kristen Stewart is more beautiful than Charlize Theron; certainly she’s more kick-ass in a kicking ass kind of way, but I’m betting that most of the Western world will disagree. Stewart has her moments and acquits herself well in the action, but there is an innate coldness in her eyes that builds a wall between herself and the audience. Not a good thing.
Gimmicky, perhaps, but one highlight was the appearance of the dwarves. How much more fun this all might have been if they had appeared earlier and more prominently in the film as they always have in the tale. Sanders’ only humorous gift to the audience was the way in which he used famous British actors in the roles of the dwarves, now the last representatives of a brave race ravaged by the queen and her henchmen (go figure). It was fun, if rather distracting, to try to see how Sanders attached the heads of the likes of Nick Frost, Toby Jones, Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins (unintentionally hilarious as the wisest of the dwarves) onto the bodies of actual dwarves.
If there is a star, however, it is clearly Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman. Charismatic, movie-star handsome, natural and as much at home in a sword fight as a bar brawl, Hemsworth is, actually, too good for this film. Already an action star in “Thor,” it is hoped he will be cast in films that entail actual plot and nuance in the future.
Most surprising, however, when dealing with an ultra-violent action film thoroughly based in the fantasy world, is how boring the film was. Stealing a bit from my fellow critic and friend Avi Offer (check out his website: nycmovieguru.com), I looked at my watch four times during the film. Although I didn’t have to elbow Larry to wake him up – sleeping would have been impossible due to the noise – he did ask if the film lasted four hours or did it only feel that way (it’s a very long two hour movie).
Opening wide on June 1. Neely also writes a blog about writers in television and film at www.nomeanerplace.com. ER

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