dir: Rupert Davies
So soon? Another new version within weeks of the last new version? Didn’t the pointless Mirror Mirror just breathe its first and last gasps in May, and now there’s Snow White and the Huntsman?
One studio hears that another studio is bringing out a new version of Snow White. They must think, “Damn, why didn’t we think of that first?” And then they think the idea, because it was had by someone else, will be a good and profitable idea, and so they need to do some spoilage work in order to dull the other’s profits.
Perhaps. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, like when two studios simultaneously have the same idea about a giant meteor threatening the earth (Armageddon and Deep Impact), or urban volcanos (Volcano and Dante’s Peak), magicians (The Illusionist and The Prestige) or animated insects partying hearty (Antz and A Bug’s Life), and the films come out at roughly the same time. It’s we, the audience, who benefits from this extravagant competition, surely, from this niggling desire not to let the other studio get away with anything, with the slip of an idea.
Whenever this happens, you invariably feel compelled to say which one ‘won’, as if it matters. From their perspective, from the studio perspective, the one that makes more moolah is the winner. From our perspective it tends to be the one we hate least.
I did hate Mirror Mirror, to be honest, despite the sumptuous beauty of its visuals, but that never predisposed me to liking this flick either. I expected it to be bad, and when I heard Kristen Stewart was in it as the titular princess, I was certain it would exemplify a Twilight level of awfulness. Also, from the title, I thought she would be fighting some huntsman spider, and, considering how sickly she always looks, I assumed the spider would win.
Shouldn’t laugh. I’m terrified of huntsman spiders. Maybe her battle would be one rich in psychological depth and nutty goodness?
In case anyone doesn’t know, those Twilight movies are utterly shite movies. There’s no doubt or argument. This Snow White is nowhere near that awful, in fact it actually gets a lot of stuff right, at least as far as I’m concerned. It surprised me how much it got right.
There's no real point going further into the multitude of reasons why I thought this couldn't, wouldn't or shouldn't work, because they're all so obvious and time consuming. I mean, Kristen Stewart is a gigantic red flag about the potential crapness of a flick; a red flag so large and broad it could be wielded with difficulty by that giant Jesus statue that overlooks Rio De Janeiro with that disappointed look on his gargantuan face.
And I knew she was in this, and yet I watched it anyway. The biggest absurdity people joked about, at least on the tubes of the internets, was that they couldn't buy a film whose premise depended on the idea that Charlize Theron played a character who desperately envied Kristen Stewart's winsome beauty.
That's the equivalent of Johnny Depp envying my looks and my bank account. It's an absurdity so profound it threatens to destabilise the very nature of reality, and not in a good way.
And yet even the mockery of that formulation ignored the fact that Charlize could probably play such a role convincingly (regardless of what Stewart is or is not capable of). Here she plays the evil queen with none of the smirking fussiness that Julia Roberts brought to the role a couple of months ago, and makes her a terrifying figure. This flick doesn't really do a revamping of the Snow White fairy tale, it just tells the Snow White fairy tale in the same manner, just 'darker' and 'grittier', with plenty of armour, grunting and battles.
I never thought about the use of the word 'gritty' before, but seeing it in so many reviews has compelled me to do so. 'Gritty' really seems to mean 'many of the male characters have stubble on their faces'.
This isn't 'dark' in the cartoony manner which Tim Burton brings to most of his flicks, but it's certainly not kids fare. I wouldn't exactly call it an 'adult' take on the subject, but it's more mature than we would expect, or at least I would expect.
It's definitely a dark fantasy take on the subject. Lots of people die. Look, I know in the original story the Dark Queen wants the poor pure girl's heart, but in this one she kills countless people, often by her own hand, and she's told she has to kill Snow White or she'll end up destroying her, just like with most step-children. Instead of just being a vain dolt who resents Snow White's beauty and acts out from envy, she's something more like a malign mythical creature, like a vampire monarch who feeds to stay eternally young, and who long ago stopped being moved by the cries of her victims.
Ravenna contrives to become married to a king, and plunges the kingdom into darkness just as she plunges a dagger into the king's heart. Right from the start she plays her hand, admitting that all she wants out of this life is the following: people whose youth she can steal as needed, a terrified populace cowering in the shadows, and backrubs from her creepy brother (Sam Spruell). I think Theron's take on the character is a good one. It's good in that it's terrifying. She's over the top, but she's not hamming it up. She's arch, and she over intonates everything, but it all works to put together a fearsome and powerful portrait of an evil queen.
The world as well that they conjour up, is less whimsical and more mythical than you’d expect. The story plays up the fantastical elements, with the Queen's evil powers and the magical elements within the realm playing a large part in the story. When Snow White (Kristen Stewart) contrives to escape from her dungeon, she receives help, seemingly, from two birds that appear to be showing her what she needs to do in order to get away. It's not coincidental, but it's only explained later in the flick, and when it is, it's left somewhat nebulous anyway.
The Dark Forest she escapes into is also a dark (obviously) and frightening place, where icky and horrifying stuff tries to get at Snow until she passes out from terror and sleepiness. The Queen, who's all-powerful but lazy, sends underlings after her, including her obviously incestuous brother, but what they really need is someone who knows the forest like the back of his handsome and masculine hand.
Enter Sandman. Uh, no, Enter Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth). So in one film he's always walking around with a hammer (as Thor), and in this one he's always, always carrying around an axes. The Huntsman is a guy who walks around with three things at all times: an axe, a bottle of booze, and a massive grief-flavoured chip on his shoulder. He knows the Dark Forest, and is forced to pursue Snow with the promise of getting to see his dead wife again.
Well, that's pretty grim. In case I didn't say it enough, there's a lot of death in this flick. Pity the poor six or seven-year-old kid who bullies or cajoles his or her parents into taking them to see this. Texas Chain Saw Massacre isn't this grim. Even with all that, in an earlier scene back in the castle, it's even implied that Ravenna's brother has had inappropriate relations not only with his sister, but with Snow, kind of.
The Huntsman, who grimly and grimily makes his way through this world, eventually decides to help Snow because there’s just something about her that’s quite nice. She exudes this healing wonderfulness to everyone that meets her, and most of this thankfully is conveyed not by Kristen Stewart talking, but by everyone else explaining what’s going on.
She is the One, the Chosen One, the Anointed One and all that, but only because of the ye olde merry feudal idea of Divine Right: that the land itself gets sick when there’s a usurper on the throne, and that if you restore the rightful heir or line to the throne, then everything will immediately get better again.
These propagandist arguments were bullshit five hundred years ago and they’re bullshit today, but the film at least portrays Snow as something more than human, perhaps, in that she’s almost the embodiment of Nature. When she and the Huntsman, and several dwarves, travel through a place the little people call Sanctuary, stuff gets really weird.
And beautiful. Yes, I've been around long enough to know where they possibly got the imagery for Sanctuary from (I don't want to say it's lifted wholesale from the films of Hayao Miyazaki, but, you know, it looks like it was lifted from Princess Mononoke), but that doesn't change the fact that it's really exquisitely beautiful and strange. The place, lorded over by a giant deer-like spirit with trees for antlers (!), is so super verdant that there's plants growing on top of even the animals, and the plants have animal characteristics.
I was, I'm not ashamed to admit, moved by much of this imagery. Much of this imagery is both resplendent and stunning, and it makes up for a lot of shortfalls that otherwise would have ruined the experience for me.
I've avoiding talking about Kristen Stewart's performance in the film, and I'm going to continue to avoid talking about it. She's not good, but they find ways around it, and the film still works. It mostly works when she's not talking, and that's fine with me.
The film's climax depends on Snow White getting dressed up in full plate armour and leading warriors against the Queen's dark army, and, yeah, I no longer cared at that point about the plot. The early elements, regardless of where they were cribbed from (the film's clearest debt is to the Lord of the Ring flicks, but then the effects people are the same, so it's no surprise) were enough to leave me with positive feelings regarding the flick.
It's enough, sometimes. It’s a pretty strong production, except for its one fatal flaw, and I enjoyed it despite the pointlessness of Stewart in anything and the ending.
That Queen and her awful reign is the stuff of nightmares, and Sanctuary, and Nature’s desire to fight back against her is the stuff of dreams.
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“Lips red as blood. Hair black as night. Bring me your heart my dear, dear Snow White.” – could you pick up a six pack of something as well? – Snow White and the Huntsman