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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Snow White and The Huntsman

I haven't seen The Three Stooges but as it stands, this is probably the most noteworthy film being released this week. That doesn't necessarily means it's the best but if it is, it's probably best to stay home this weekend and rent a DVD. 

This review is also up at Channel24 

What it's about

A retelling of the classic fairytale where a young princess, Snow White, has to escape the clutches of her evil stepmother before finally returning – with eight (?) dwarves and a huntsman who was sent to kill her in tow – to defeat her stepmother and return peace and tranquillity to her kingdom.

What we thought

Like so many “re-imaginings” and “re-interpretations”, Snow White and the Huntsman neither re-imagines,nor re-interprets the classic fairy tale enough to ever stand up as more than a forgettable cliff-note within the long and storied legend of Snow White.

The film does stick rather closer to the original fairy tale than the classic Disney cartoon without fully ignoring the latter version, but the film's raison d'etre is that it tries to mix the familiarity of the classic story with a more “gritty and realistic” take on fantasy that has made George RR Martin's Game of Thrones such a success. Sadly, aside for giving the story a welcome feminist slant, it's a mixture that not only doesn't work but is one that constantly undermines its constituent elements.

The complexities of Martin's strand of fantasy storytelling gets lost in the intentional simplicity of the original tale, while the magic of the fairy tale elements seem out of place and/or are superseded by the brutal harshness of this nu-fantasy. This oil and water combination is never more apparent than a scene in the middle of the film where after Snow White and the huntsman meets the dwarves, they all find themselves in a land of fairies that feels like a live-action outtake from the 1930s Disney film.

For the most emblematic proof of just how misjudged the film is, one sadly need only turn to Charlize Theron's wicked stepmother – in this version named Ravenna. Theron is clearly an excellent actress as she proved most recently with her sublime central performance in Young Adult so presumably it is first-time director, Rupert Sanders, who is responsible for her embarrassingly wrong-headed turn here. While the rest of the film boasts a down and dirty feel, Ravenna looks and sounds like she belongs in another film altogether as Theron lays on the camp hamminess to levels that would make William Shatner blush.

To truly appreciate how off her performance is, one need only hold it up against, well, damn near every other actor in the film. The dwarves are probably the highlight of the film as they get the best lines and are played by a terrific selection of top-notch British thesps who look staggeringly authentic thanks to some jaw-droppingly effective CGI (though is it just me or is this not just a breath away from being a more technically advanced form of “black-face” for dwarf/midget/little people actors?) but they are still played with a much higher level of earthy bawdiness than their Disney fairy tale counterparts. Chris Hemsworth, meanwhile, is clearly having a whale of a time as a less pompous and less magical version of Thor, while the rest of the supporting cast look like nothing more than Game of Thrones rejects.

As for Kristen Stewart, her performance is the polar opposite of Theron's, but it is equally ineffective. I have no time for the view point that she is miscast because “there's no way that she is fairer than Charlize Theron” because, lets be honest, “fairer” or not, she still looks like Kristen Stewart. I also will stand up for the fact that, regardless of her involvement in the woeful Twilight saga, she has more than proven to be a very fine actress in her own right Don't believe me? Just check out The Runaways and Welcome To The Rileys to see how much more there is to her than Bella Swan. For all that though, she just seems like a non-presence in the film. Whether it's because she is simply miscast or because she simply isn't given much to work with, despite being the feminist hero of the piece, I cannot say.

Worse than all this, however, is the film's biggest problem: it's simply really, really boring. It is, dwarves aside, entirely without humour; it has some Titanic-level creaking dialogue; its colour palette is almost entirely grey; it is entirely lacking in characterization and its action scenes are dull dull dull dull dull. Worst of all, at over 2 hours in length, it feels extremely padded.

Overall, Snow White and The Huntsman may have its strengths - not least of which is its recasting Snow White as a tough, no nonsense hero who can look after herself thank you very much – but considering its rich source material and impressive cast, it really has no excuse for being as mundane and uninvolving as it ultimately turned out to be.


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