Monday 31 December 2012

Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

Year: 2012
Director: Rupert Sanders
Screenplay: Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth

Synopsis is here

Snow White and the Huntsman is one of the films in which every element surrounding the film itself seems to align with the moon and the agreement of the gods. Epic Fantasy is still in, so are re imaginings, things being made "dark and gritty" and Kristin Stewart. A Grimm tale for the twilight crowd was possibly mentioned in a production meeting somewhere over the Hollywood hills.

Yet, somewhere along the way the makers of this film, decided that the best thing to do with a film like this is make it eye glaringly po-faced. In the same way many can't stand the brooding nature of the recent Batman trilogy, Rupert Sanders and co have decided that a darker take on Snow White should take every moment of itself seriously. I reminded myself of the tender dance sequence within Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1). Credit is due that a series, which got as heavy as that, managed to counter balance itself with a moment of lightness. It's one almost fleeting moment, but it carries itself so well, we see just how far the films have come. Nothing in Snow White and the Huntsman approaches the nature of that moment.

The film comes off as if someone had wished to create a child friendly version of a Bergman feature. The starkness of its visuals nearly bleeds into every orifice of the film. Stewart's Snow White may be the fairest of them all, but unfortunately she's been hanging around Bella Swan a little too much. And while there's less moping, there's an awful amount off grimness about the character. Stewart's disaffected performance feels similar to Keria Knightley's dreary Guinevere from the drab 2004 film, King Arthur. While both avoid the damsel in distress template that Hollywood loves to set up them, their characters are blander than bread on a brunt tongue. Nothing they say stands out, none of their actions widen the eye, and both lack any charisma to make them appealing.

This is not to say that Sanders doesn't try. The scandal of the affair between the star and director that preceded the film shows up in the visuals. The camera stares about Stewart lavishly in close ups, and yet there's a strange belief that simply lobbing a scimitar and armour at her, is all you need to make a female character more appealing.

During a discussion about comic book movies, a friend make the comment that a hero is only as good as their villain, which is possibly where I felt there was an imbalance. Charlize Theron's portrayal of an aging evil queen captures very real fears that inhabit certain areas of feminine discussion: being usurped by age. Her performance literally drips of not only evil, but desperation. She engages the material with an energy that Stewart could only dream of. With the use of flashback and Theron's performance, we connect with why Queen Ravenna has become who she is. The film doesn't seem to have the time (despite it's slow, uneven pacing), nor Stewart the acting chops, to make it's lead character as interesting. 

But this may not have been an issue if the film had been so dogged with it's tone. Snow White takes itself so seriously that it becomes an annoyance than a highlight. Everything is spoken with such grave seriousness and hushed tones that even what little comic relief the film has feels strained. The film is also as overlong as it is overwrought, doing it's best to make Chris Hemsworth's huntsman a nobility that feels as forced as his Scottish accent.

The appeal of making twisted dark fantasies is not totally lost on me. I do not need happy endings on everything, and when one of your favourite directors is David Lynch, you’re usually fine with how deep the rabbit hole is willing to go. However, Snow White and the huntsman, seems far too preoccupied with its doom and gloom it misses what it was doing quite well. It glances on feminine issues with a fair amount of intelligence (craftily invoking Joan of Arc and Cleopatra) and does so with a certain visual flair. But I wonder what it could have been if it took a step back and took a breath of fresh air.