Review: Snow White & The Huntsman

 

First, let me state for the record that I have no built-in fondness for the fantasy genre: of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy I can only stomach the first; Legend and Willow, two 80’s fantasy films that cinephiles of my generation are want to praise, likewise leave me cold. I do however have a fondness for escapist cinema, and occasionally these two aspects overlap, but with fantasy there is a nerdy tendency to preoccupy with the minutiae of the ciphers to the detriment of any kind of forward motion and attention to fundamentals of storytelling. Escapist cinema appreciates that the world created is in service of something more lofty than Easter eggs and curiosities of names, that the goal is to create something immersive, allow the viewer to daydream in the peripheries but not get lost there without a tether, that tether is story, a story that unfolds without being barnacled by commentary and self-importance. It ought to be fun in a visceral sense, anything cerebral to be mere ornament towards that end.

With the juggernaut success of The Avengers it has become patently clear that bright, flashy and optimistic is the new black. Even closer to the point to be made, Mirror Mirror (which I have not seen) is the boldly ironic incantation of the Snow White story, which I am guessing is likewise, bright, flashy and optimistic. Snow White & the Huntsman, say what you will, is offering up something considerably unfashionable in this sardonic culture of winks and nods: a sober, grimy, Grimm fairytale with women no less as the pitted adversaries. Add the much reviled Kristen Stewart into the mix and you have a powder keg to y-chromosome film geek sensibilities (we mustn’t upset the status-quo of what constitutes ‘fun’). The tendencies are there to hate the movie, I knew early on this was going to be divisive, and irrespective of what legitimate claims people may have to disliking or hating this film, you got to admit, the deck is stacked against it and the tendency is to go Hulk Smash on it because, because it would rather tell a story then make a commentary on one, it would rather create a fully realized world that is committed to its story with a genuine sense of wonder then be beholden to a consensus view with reductive brand positioning in the guise of characters, plotting forward to sell merchandise. It would rather take a recognizable Disney property of everything sweet and magical and dunk it in the mud and put a woman in the lead that is unforgivably dour, and you know what, she fits. This is not an Amy Adams wonderland, this is a universe of dark happenings of actual stakes, pitted in a kingdom run by a hormonally crazy psychopath that eats bird hearts and sucks souls through people’s mouths.

You got a problem with that? Then go back to your Marvel-generic, canned fun, and be all optimistic and shit, I like my blockbusters dark and muddy, like my heart.

Like Ridley’s Scott’s Legend it is unfashionably dedicated to its fantasy roots, but unlike Legend, it doesn’t entirely lose sight of its story and drift away listlessly. Snow White finds a perfect balance, a synergy that not even Peter Jackson got right. It softens the sentiment and heightens the dark recesses of fantasy, or at least of the beast that is blockbuster fantasy. The closest comparison I see being the final Harry Potter film, in tone and look at least. But not needing however many movies to complicate and contextualize, and be self-contained and clear; that is its virtue. There is Snow White, who becomes a Joan of Arc outcast that needs to find her way back to reclaiming her rightful throne, and there is the Wicked Queen, the usurper and Dark Lord of this story who sets out a quest to find and destroy her, lest she lose her prestigious position and youthful looks. There are the dwarves who come to recognize the importance of this castaway and seek to help her find her way, and there is the Huntsman who like a Han Solo type leading the princess though inhospitable territories, comes to realize what is important in life, and where his allegiances lie. Done. The movie commits to its fairytale, makes it lived-in and perilous, following a path of adventures that lead to a woman-on-woman battle to the death that everything previous was building towards. Oh, and it looks like a bazillion bucks well spent.

Now let’s talk about Charlize Theron as the Queen. She is my new favorite It Girl of 2012, having caught Young Adult in January and here, chewing scenery like a mother-fucker. The best comparison I can make to what Theron is doing here is Tim Curry as the Devil in Legend. Was he overacting? Probably, but that is kind of the point, to be bigger than life. It is true that Theron is not consistent in her performance of the Queen, she is shown at times as someone with some depth and nuance and then at other times, bellowing like a cartoon villain. This is not a failure on her part so much as an interesting take on the fragile mania of this character who is trying to hold together to be desirable but underneath is batshit crazy. What you get onscreen is this dichotomy manifesting, which, to me at least, made her all the more terrifying. Kristen Stewart as Snow White is not your typical Disney vision but she is able to muster something, however minimalist, that stands in for the righteous the story requires. When she goes all Joan of Arc it works, there is some fire beneath her otherwise stoic-slash-constipated look. Hell by the end you even see the faintest glimmer of a smile (CGI perhaps but still). Even Thor is pretty good as the huntsman, who gets the likeable jerk quality better than most. The dwarves are a charcter actor’s paradise from Toby Jones to Ray Winstone to Bob Hopkins, and while they play things more Game of Thrones than Disney there is the odd pun employed that hits. Again, they are not there to be their own distraction, but to move the plot forward with the right amount of ornament.

Snow White & The Huntsman feels like the real deal to me. It has that rare combination in a summer blockbuster of confidence, patience and vision that makes it feel like a modern classic of the genre, balancing the fantasy and drama perfectly. Ambition and wit have become incredibly overrated in our culture of personality, and blogs fuel this craving for the authorial imprint. It should serve as an example for aspiring storytellers: just tell a fucking story as sincerely and graciously as you can, the story matters, not your prowess as a storyteller. There is still an audience for well-told stories, even if our numbers may be dwindling.

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Kurt Halfyard
Admin

I’m coming from the other end of the spectrum. This feels like a film that was written by too many voices and focus-grouped into mediocrity. It lumbers from set-piece to set-piece (where each set of characters seem to have no history other than to be there when Snow & Co. show up). There is ZERO chemistry between Thor and Bella (the former too earnest and subtle for the part, the latter, a mere pawn of everything going on around her failing both as damsel in distress and Joan of Arc)

The Dwarfs are an astonishing waste of fine British character actors. The battles have little to no consequences, everything either too slow or too rushed.

The film simply cannot decide if it wants to be Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood (i.e. realistic) or Peter Jackson’s LOTR Trilogy (high-fantasy) and it fails miserably at both.

The saving grace is indeed Charlize Theron, but the whole damn film should have been completely about her and her hinted at Game-Of-Thrones-lite incestuous relationship with her brother. Who cares about Snow White Or The Huntsman (and the less said about Sir William the Archer and his dear old dad, the better…) Still, I’d rather go back and watch AEON FLUX than get snippets and bits of Theron under a cloak of CGI.

If you want dark. There is only one of these, and that is John Boorman’s EXCALIBER, a film that actually delivers on its promise, rather than hedging every gosh-darn bet.

I find the silly Grove-sequence which alludes to Princess Mononoke the height of offensiveness.

Likewise, there seems to be little consequence after the Queen is (easily, and trivially) defeated, to the point where Lily Cole doesn’t even remain aged? Talk about pulling your punches. The film is all CGI bluster and no bloody follow-thru.

If this is the new face of fantasy-film-by-committee, I want no part of it!

Jericho Slim
Guest

I didn’t realize it until I read this, but that lack of “wit” in this movie was refreshing.

Charlize – and every scene she was in – was incredible. I think she is the most memorable character – at least villain – that I’ve seen on the big screen this year. Maybe Jack Black of Bernie is up there as well.

I’ll dissent a little on Miss Stewart. If her performance were more than just fine (in my opinion), this could have been a really special movie.

Goon
Guest

Someone explain to me how Stewart’s Snow fits into our year of empowered women positively. Unlike Lily Collins’ Snow, who swashbuckles and has a true arc of leadership, not relying on the prince but intead upending him and the queen at every turn….

Stewart is just tagging along for the ride, just brooding and choosing between two dudes. Just like Bella.

It’s insulting, regressive, and counter to the successful empowered women. You give me Tyrion Lannister’s big pre-battle speech one week, and I see this Snow White big battle speech the next, and still dare say the latter is of any merit whatsoever, and you’re absolutely nuts.

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

I found White’s speech hilariously nonsensical, it seemed to be a bunch of nonsquiturs and poorly thought out metaphors, and the ‘rag-tag’ army totally buys it. Not on that, these untrained peasants have a gorgeous suit of armour and matching shield magically prepared for her, and seemingly everyone else to pick up and charge the castle upon a moments notice.

Nothing makes sense in this movie. This is not necessarily offensive in a film, but when you play yourself with the tagline, “This is no fairy tale,” then take all the lazy fairy tale shorthand, well then you are kind of asking to be crapped on.

The creators and the marketers should really get together and agree on what the film actually is. I don’t think anyone knows…

Goon
Guest

I also love stuff like how the queen poisons the king, you see his veins going black, and she cant just let him die.. she’s gotta stab him too.

And so yeah, the King is dead and nobody feels the need to investigate. Not even a halfassed denial or excuse or lie to cover it up. Yup. King’s gone, dead in bed, Queen’s in charge now. We’re good. Let’s move on to the next B.S., like a useless army that shatters because they are glass, that at the end is now completely amazing for the same reason? Did we miss a glass-army training montage? And this guy who could lie to Thor and tell him they’ll bring back his wife when they return when he has Snow White captured immediately, but instead sneers at him and taunts him?

Nobody makes any fucking sense in this movie.

Matt Gamble
Guest

I like that Kurt lauds Robin Hood for its “realism” and then purposely forgets to discount or nitpick it for how nonsensical and unrealistic it is.

Jericho Slim
Guest

Matt, we haven’t had your full take on it, yet. What the haps, cap? Or are you saving your cherry for the podcast?

Matt Gamble
Guest

Oh I’m saving it. Should be fun.

Marina Antunes
Admin

While everyone else is cowering in the castle arguing about how stupid it would be to go up against the queen, Snow White comes in, rallies the people and leads them into battle. Just because she found herself in need of help earlier in the movie doesn’t make her any less of a strong woman.

I didn’t find her weak – just human. And there’s a hint of a love triangle but there’s no acting on it. That was the furthest thing from my mind as the movie wrapped.

Goon
Guest

it highlights how weak she is when there’s no actual arc of her becoming a leader.

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

There is no actual arc of anything happening in this movie. They just happen when they need to, all the pieces in place, but no organic feel otherwise. It wreaks of storytelling by committee

Marcus
Guest

What’s really disturbing is that Kurt and Goon find Mirror Mirror’s comedy intended for 6 year olds entertaining.

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

In the same way that Looney Tunes are designed for six year olds?

Goon
Guest

…are you suggesting the dialogue of Snow White and the Huntsman is adult, intelligent, of any depth whatsoever?

Can we get a snapshot of your DVD collection and start putting X’s over everything bright, colorful, scatalogical, whimsical, etc as “for 6 year olds”? I’m sorry, but anyone who assumes that a family film equals “For 6 year olds” has his head up his ass. Double so if they assume that an adult alternative is automatically superior by mere nature of frowning and muted shades. There’s virtue in making solid PG entertainment well.

Mirror Mirror has spirit and craftsmanship. You can’t get any more soulless than SW&tH.

Goon
Guest

…if anyone wants to back up Marcus’s “intended for 6 year olds” line of thinking, think for a few seconds about how many superhero movies are in their collections and how BS it is when someone applies the same dismissive jargon there.

DavidM
Guest

I greatly enjoyed this review, and I’m bemused at how there’s a war of words raging on this site between twos sets of grown-ups who’ve taken hardline stances on different Snow White movies.
And although I like Stewart and Theron, I’m not all that interested in seeing Snow White & the Huntsman. It doesn’t look as bad as Mirror Mirror though, which looks like a film for people with a really, really terrible sense of humour.

Oh no, I’ve been sucked in!

Jericho Slim
Guest

Goon, calm down big fella.

1. An empowered female is not a prerequisite for a good film. And an empowered woman doesn’t make a good film either. (Whether SW is empowered or not is up to debate, though.) Also, didn’t Lily Collins cook and clean, too?

I think that praising a film for an empowered female is good in that Hollywood needs to better represent over half of the planet’s population. However, the mere fact that a movie has a strong woman shouldn’t be a plus or a minus when critiquing any film. A film has to be judged on its own merits.

For an example that hits closer to home for me, Red Tails had a lot of strong black characters. Good thought, but so what?! That movie was an abomination.

2. She killed the king and let in her real (not just glass) army, and they took over the kingdom. Who’s going to investigate? Who investigated Rome when they conquered Germany?

3. The glass army that was defeated at the beginning was a ruse, just so the queen could meet and seduce the king. They were easy to defeat on purpose. They are magic, to be summoned at will by the queen whenever she needs them.

4. So she poisons him and stabs him. The poison would have done the job, but she is insane, so she stabs him as well. Is that really a big deal? It fits in perfectly with her character’s insane hatred of males, and what they’ve done to her. And the speech she gives to the dying man as well as the intimate nature of the stabbing is necessary to illuminate her character.

And there is intelligence and social commentary in SW&H if you wish to see it:

1. The queen gets SW to bite the poison apple by posing as a man.

2. The evil queen’s mother, not a man, is the person who sets her along the road to valuing beauty above all else when she is a child.

3. The queen’s mirror could be just a split personality – a psychological embodiment of society’s emphasis on beauty.

Matt Brown
Admin

EPIC.

Goon
Guest

It’s worth noting when she’s not doing anything other than brooding and staring at things. When she’s eventually leading an army it begs the question, “Wait, what? How did she get here?”, and if the film has not laid out the arc to where we’re supposed to buy her as a leader of a rebellion by the end, it matters.

As for Lily, she’s bartering with the dwarves and negotiating for a hiding place using the skills she does have. Unsolicited. They appreciate it so much they teach her to swashbuckle and she ends up their leader, inspirational figure, and they never lead the prince. Never their slave, never just tagging along.

So you’re going to give her credit for laying down this ruse to get in, a long con, but you can just toss away any other senseless action with craziness.. I don’t know if I can bother arguing here when you’ve already given yourself the easy outs of “But its magic!” and “But she’s insane!” – I don’t know if you were actually stimulated by these supposed commentaries since you wrote “if you wish to see it”… you could bother to say more about what you think the first 2 points mean.

Or maybe I let a few things disappear from me once I reached the point-of-no-return one gets from being as bored as I was. At the end of the day I can rest easy with things that don’t hinge on glass armies: Kristen Stewart’s Snow has no personality, it looks generic, sounds generic (the score is godawful), dialogue is generic, it’s slow as molasses, and humorless.

Goon
Guest

*need the prince

Goon
Guest

“An empowered female is not a prerequisite for a good film. And an empowered woman doesn’t make a good film either. ”

I should make it clear I obviously agree with this.
But when this is your poster:

comment image

Your heroine should probably be empowered, and better than a sword than the girl in this poster:

comment image

Jericho Slim
Guest

Goon,

You’re characterizing the magic and insanity as “easy outs” because to you they are explaining stuff that you don’t buy into. To me, they’re not outs, because I buy into what is happening. They are just motivations and the rules of the world. Just like every other fantasy tale ever told.

The same thing for the commentary – I saw loads of it, but you had probably checked out, so you didn’t.

As far as leading the army, she doesn’t. She just motivates them to action because she is the “chosen one” and a symbol. She’s not barking out orders or even really fighting. She’s gets to the castle and basically goes inside to get the queen. Remember how she “defeats” the troll – not by ineffectually fighting it like her male protector, but by who she is.

But you didn’t like the film, so you don’t see those things. That’s fine, that’s what I feel about Cabin or the Hunger Games.

Goon
Guest

Fair enough.

Comments read, just turning out at this point. After seeing Cosmopolis last night my mind has suddenly been quite preoccupied with the umpteen million goodies in there.

Marina Antunes
Admin

Friday can’t come soon enough!

Brittany
Guest

You guys do realize your arguing over Snow White and The Huntsman, right?

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

We’re a sad bunch, but cannot resist the lure of arguing about minutiae and minor movies.

Goon
Guest

I’m pretty sure we’re mostly just keeping idle until Promotheus comes out.

Right?

Marina Antunes
Admin

Sure…. Though I can tell you that on first watch, I liked this more than PROMETHEUS.

Cringe
Guest

This very depressing. Though I’m not shock because I haven’t loved anything Ridley has done since Black Hawk Down.

In you opinon is Prometheus closer to Sunshine or Mission to Mars?

Marina Antunes
Admin

Oh Christ – SUNSHINE for sure. But I’m convinced much of the buzz around Lindelof is just whitewash. Most of my problems with PROMETHEUS are script

Cringe
Guest

Having never watched Lost, the only work I’ve seen of his is Cowboys and Aliens and I turned that off midway through. But then again there was like 20 writers on that.

DavidM
Guest

Frustrating incompleteness with the script aside, Prometheus is stunning.

Marina Antunes
Admin

I’ll give it that. It looks superb. And the performances are great all around. Theron chewing screen again!

DavidM
Guest

Well, Prometheus is better than Black Hawk Down, for what it’s worth. And Sunshine, for that matter. (and I like both, btw).

Cringe
Guest

^
FTW

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

We were going to see SWATH (cool acronym) on Saturday, but we were both too under the weather to feel like going out. Now I’m kicking myself for not sucking it up and going just so I could participate in this thread. :p

Matthew Fabb
Guest

While I enjoyed Snow White & The Huntsman, many times it got me thinking of Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples. Gaiman’s take on Snow White is to tell the story from the queen who is not evil but fighting against Snow White because she is a vampire. It might seem strange off hand, but Gaiman makes so much of the story click together. Certainly when the Queen drains the King turning his veins black that Goon keeps pointing out makes me think of it.
The story story is online (legally too with Gaiman’s blessing) if anyone wants yet another take on Snow White:
http://www.holycow.com/dreaming/stories/snow-glass-apples/
It was also made into a great audio drama, with staring Bebe Neuwirth (known best as Fraiser’s ex-wife from Cheers & Fraiser).

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

Dana Stevens over at SLANT on K.Stu:

“But Twilight’s Kristen Stewart as Snow White—especially this particular version of Snow White, a Joan of Arc-like medieval action heroine? Not gonna happen. I won’t argue, as some have, that Stewart isn’t beautiful enough to be plausible as the winner of the “Who’s the fairest of them all?” face-off—they’re both lovely, so maybe the magic mirror just prefers slight brunettes to statuesque blondes. But Stewart’s whole manner, her slouchy bearing and general aura of sulky passivity, make her ill-suited to play a deposed princess whose irresistible charisma enables her to lead a peasant revolt. Stewart may have a limited range, but I don’t mind her in contemporary roles—she’s just right as the moony Bella in the Twilight movies or Jesse Eisenberg’s object of desire in Adventureland, and she even made a passable Joan Jett. Still, the image of her leading a castle siege in full battle armor is so incongruous it might come from one of those parody trailers that opened Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder.”

Andrew James
Admin

I watched this movie tonight.

Whether she’s happy, sad, excited or dead, Stewart is in a perpetual state of constipation… or so her face would appear.

Kurt
Guest

I still stand by her solid supporting performance in INTO THE WILD.

Jericho Slim
Guest

Method acting. I bet SW didn’t get a lot of fiber locked up in that tower.

Marina
Guest
rot
Guest

Entirely agree, nice find. Reminds me of the criticisms hurled at Costner in Prince of Thieves, and the whole why isn’t everyone jolly? Costner fit that muddied universe, as Stewart fits this one. She is not meant to be the male ideal fantasy woman, and I think that is kind of an interesting twist in the story where it is from the Queen’s perspective about looks, where fairest with Snow White becomes an innate beauty, not one that needs to be flaunted garishly. Likewise, having the Huntsman being the Prince Charming as opposed to the expected suitor, centering on this under the surface quality. Works within the theme of the fairy tale.

rot
Guest

and it does skew the conversation about female empowerment, why DOES it have to fail or succeed according to the measure of masculine gestures of empowerment? The thing I noticed too, in the final battle is she doesn’t fight anybody but The Queen, she is protected in the center as the fight goes on. She is revered through the film like a woman pregnant with some gift to the world, that is her empowerment, recognizing this power she has, the men just fall into place like in a hive. Why does she have to be incredibly charismatic to win people over? Why does she have to be skilled as a fighter? She shows compassion, she shows determination, she shows courage in the face of adversity (huntsman tries to fight the troll whereas she tries to actually respond to it with kindness).

Marina Antunes
Admin

Exactly! I think it may have been earlier in this thread that someone mentioned they didn’t buy her rally speech – I didn’t have a problem with it because she didn’t really need it. The mere fact that she’s alive when they all thought her dead would have been enough to get people behind her for the sole fact that she has this inner power.

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

I buy all that, (From both Rot and Marina) but after that speech, you’d have thought that the towns folk would tie her up, burn or as a witch, or just put her out of her misery for being so un-articulate.

rot
Guest

they’re peasants, if she was articulate, then they would burn her as a witch.

Jericho Slim
Guest

I made much the same argument earlier in this thread about SW’s character, and I think that some of the quotes cited in the article are borderline offensive.

However, I will say that KStew didn’t do a great job of acting. Nothing to do with her outward appearance or her lines, just acting. She was fine, but not to the level of “very good”, in my opinion. Her performance of that speech left something to be desired (I never care what the words are in those types of speeches) – not a whole lot, but something.

Andrew James
Admin

Where’s your homework assignment Jericho? You got about 4 hours left.

Ready? GO!

Jericho Slim
Guest

I have given the homework a lot of thought and I really don’t have good answers for any of the three. I’ll be listening, though!!

rot
Guest

So I watched Mirror, Mirror: the last time I saw something like this it starred Brian Orser and was on ice.

You do realize that the film is panto theatre? And I mean that not in a hyperbolic, derogatory way, but as just base fact, the script could as just as well been borrowed from a well-established amateur stage run, where has-been actors and American idol rejects get there one last chance to grab a starring role, paste themselves in silly costumes and wink broadly in their pantomimes of very familiar stories. That is what this is, wholly, entirely, and to make sure you don’t forget it you have Nathan Lane setting the high mark of the tone throughout. Panto theatre IS for 7 year olds and old grannies because everything is made so exceedingly broad, the amusement is in watching somewhat familiar faces fart around for kids. Tarsem has done very, very little to make the cinematic equivalent of this broad theatrical style any different from its predecessor, he clearly wants to portray this same naive look.

I can’t believe I was being challenged for my opinions on SWATH by people who held this unapologetic camp to be a high standard for how character development and the nuance of the Snow White story ought to be told. This feels like a made-for tv mini-series, where you can kind of just go with the idea that Julia Roberts is wicked (wow talk about menace and a sense of stakes), and female empowerment comes in the guise of a character who sets the table for the dwarves to win them over, and in one montage is suddenly able to wield a sword, but let her also do a cute sing-song number at the end like a Bollywood object of desire, because man nothing says female empowerment like Bollywood.

I had thought this was going to be witty, a meta play like Enchanted, and I am grateful it really isn’t, its aspiration are not above the level of broad comedy that typically comes with a laugh track.

Kurt
Guest

Yea, and the Muppets are no fun either. Right? Just because something is pleasant, that doesn’t make it bad. At least Snow White in this film actually makes smart decisions once she comes of age and leaves the castle, and earns her leadership by making half-way decent decisions, instead of SWATHs postulation that Snow White simply: “Is.”

rot
Guest

actually rewatching the first season of The Muppet Show, I would say, yeah, it isn’t much fun because it is extremely broad and my appreciation of comedy has changed since being a kid. I think in later seasons, Henson and crew try harder to make the comedy more than bad puns, and by the time you get to the latest Muppets movie it is a different beast altogether, striving for actual emotion.

Goon
Guest

You are a bad man.

rot
Guest

Florence + the Machine doing the music for Snow White & the Huntsman

http://caughtinabookromance.tumblr.com/post/24587130773/breath-of-life-florence-the-machine-another

Quality all around.

Marina
Guest