Monday, June 4, 2012

Squalor: Snow White and the Huntsman

If I'd met Snow White and the Huntsman at some point in my childhood, I suspect I'd be more susceptible to its charms. As a film, it seems to exist in an uncomfortable place of sweeping aspiration; an enchanted forest sandwiched between the palace of the grandiose, self-important epic and the theme park village of melodramatic cheese.  Director Rupert Sanders chose a wildly ambitious bit of lore for his first feature, and in doing so seems to oscillate his focus between too many different concentrations.  In this particular iteration of the well-worn fairy tale we begin with a bare bones version of the once upon a time: Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is a princess hidden away as a child by a wicked, murderous stepmother (Charlize Theron).  As she grows into her raven hair and pale flesh, she becomes a naive target of the Queen's powerful bloodlust and is essentially chased into the woods by a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) who would serve as her assassin where she manages to go on living and befriend seven dwarfs.  In Snow White and the Huntsman, the brevity of that tale is squashed by the addition of Game of Thrones-esque political vendettas, battle sequences, and a fitting appropriation of the mythos surrounding the Countess Bathory.
Right off, the film displays a tremendous amount of promise.  It's a beautifully designed piece of work, and one loaded with costumes, set pieces, and transformations that inspire a modicum of wicked queen-esque envy. Yet, as glorious as Theron's rib cage shoulder pieces and eerie milk baths are, they can't make up for the lack of attention given to basic storytelling elements like, say, character development.  Massive reserves of time and energy have been willingly handed over to the aesthetic marvels at play here.  If you've seen the trailers, you already know that there are things happening in this film that look like something concocted in a fever dream hosted by the late Alexander McQueen and Tarsem Singh (isn't it strange that his Snow White telling looked so very different?).  There are points at which this film seems to strive for Lord of the Rings-level heights.  It reaches, and it reaches very high.  For all its efforts, though, it doesn't meet its target.

I'd love to blame the studio and say that somewhere along the way they decided that the best audience for a Snow White remake was one made up of Twihard tweens and the K-Stew curious.   It would make for an easy out, and a excellent excuse for all the half-baked purple romance, vacant staring, over-dramatic yowls, and the plain and simple fact that Snow White seems to have been diluted somehow further beyond the flat fairy symbol we already knew.  This isn't the Kristen Stewart who pulled a dead-on Joan Jett out of her ass.  This is the K-Stew who mopes around Forks and pines for a vampire.  She is a pretty little thing, but as dull as the film is long. Hemsworth, too, provides little more than eye candy.  His dialogue makes one long for any scrap of pompous boasting that hit the cutting room floor on last year's Thor.  Together, they stare.  They seem to stare at absolutely everything.  Into the distance, at each other, at awakened trolls, into the darkness, at the leaves, all over the place.  Everything here relies on the presence of an icy Theron, and as divine as her character may be, even she's doing some over-the-top dial-a-meltdown work here.  In a camped up fantasy, those meltdowns could have worked.  Snow White and the Huntsman, though, is not a work built for levity.
Of the two Snow White adaptations this year, this was the one I though would be able to coast effortlessly into the dark terrain of its genre.  The fairy tale is a mercurial object built, paradoxically, on consistency.  It's repeated, expected, standard, and yet opens up the possibility of something grotesque and abnormal (sometimes wonderful) happening as in our boring old world.  In its visuals, Snow White and the Huntsman achieves this in part.  Yet, in doing so, it forgets its way and accumulates the detritus of generations.  In complicating the simplicity of the story, too many threads are picked up and lost, too many elements are not considered in full.  Where we receive the expected 'once upon a time' and the requisite 'happily ever after', we leave without knowing what it is we just watched.  For most audiences, Snow White will be missing something.  It's a bit tedious, a bit too self-important, and though exceedingly fair...too dry.  Yet, I suspect this is a film with a built in age window.  Younger audiences willing to look through shaded glasses will find enchanted adventure here.  They'll see things that they have not considered before, and will marvel at the thorny prettiness of the object without concerns on wooden dialogue or unanswered questions.  As I mentioned before, if I'd seen this at a younger age, I sense I would have loved it. It's a movie much like the fantasy films of the 1980's (The Neverending Story, Willow, Labyrinth, even Ladyhawke), and with the same tricky point of entry.  See it too early and it scares you to bits.  See it too late and it seems rather silly.  See it at age 7 or 11?  Soft spot for life.


  1. Haven't even seen the movie but the description of the staring just made me laugh because I can so imagine that happening in the movie. Stewart sadly, has an empty stare (not like Tilda Swinton for example), she just seems so blank.
    Anyway, lovely blog! I've been looking for a movie blog to follow since like forever. Especially fond of the outlook of the blog, movie blogs love to go all black and dark for some reason..

    Also check out my movie blog if interested. Not as clever and witty as this though. :D

  2. Wonderful review. I thought the film has very nice visuals and good score, Theron was truly fantastic and it was great to see the Queen given a backstory, but the movie was definetly too long and boring. They should have focused on Ravenna.

  3. Good review Alexandra. A lot darker and grittier than most fairy tales we see on the big screen, but it worked and gave this film a new edge to it that I think it needed. Story could have had more tension to it though.


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