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Snow White and the Huntsman
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by Brett Gallman

"Grimm and Gritty and Mundane"
2 stars

If the point of the latest “grim and gritty” Hollywood take on a well-known story is to imagine a Snow White tale where just about everything is more interesting than the title character herself, then “Snow White and the Huntsman” is a success.

Actually, it’s not that much of a re-imagining; like many Grimm’s tales, “Snow White” featured a macabre, violent streak anyway, and the setup here is similar: there was once a good queen who gave birth to a fair princess named Snow White before passing away. Upon her death, her husband, the king, takes a new bride, who ends up being the treacherous Ravenna (Charlize Theron). She betrays her new beau to seize power and rules with such an iron fist that even nature itself rebels, withers up, and dies. Ravenna is death personified, a raving lunatic who seeks approval of a possibly non-existent magical mirror who convinces her that she’s the fairest of them all.

At least until it decides to lie its ass off and declare that Snow White, all grown up to become a sad-eyed and morose Kristen Stewart, is the fairest. After the young princess escapes the queen’s first murder hit, she takes off to a black forest, where she’s pursued by a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth).

From there, the vaguely familiar signposts form the fairy tale show up--there are dwarves and even Disney-esque frolics in enchanted forests, but it’s all been reconfigured into a mostly lifeless sword and sorcery movie that never quite escapes the typical failings of that genre. Most disconcerting is the middle stretch, which degenerates into the same old quest structure, as the decidedly somber Snow White and her somewhat more merry men seek out the help of a nearby duke, so there are encounters with snarling beasts and some sword fights, with none of it rising above typical hack and slash junk.

Even if this stuff was remarkable, it’d still be difficult to get too invested because “Snow White and the Huntsman” botches the one thing it especially can’t afford to botch, and that’s Snow White herself. This script sort of re-imagines her as a messiah figure (complete with a resurrection) who will restore the land to its liveliness. Everyone discusses her radiance, beauty, and vigor, and you certainly have to take their word for it because Kristen Stewart injects Snow White with the energy of a zoned-out Adderall addict.

You'd expect a film like this to bring some life and conviction to this role, but Stewart brings very little, and it doesn’t help that the script doesn’t even really bother to make her anything but the sad, lonely girl who spend most of her teenage years locked away in a tower. Perhaps because of this, Stewart mostly plays her like she’s bummed about life and stuff, and, quite frankly, Ravenna’s goal to suck the life out of her doesn’t seem like it should be too hard.

It’s easy to knock Stewart, but her awkward girl shtick is woefully miscast here, and the decision results in a central vacuum of charisma from which everyone else is attempting to escape. Theron does so out of a sheer force of will--her Ravenna is like a psychotic Miss Havisham, a voracious man-hater realized with a delightfully over-the-top theatricality. She even manages to find some subtle nuances, as her searing eyes sometimes betray a sadness beneath them. That I felt more empathy for the evil queen than for Snow White may be the most telling sign here.

One of the other bright spots is Hemsworth; his huntsman is a recent widower who only agrees to track down Snow White because Ravenna promises to return his wife back to life, a wrinkle that could add honest-to-god conflict if it weren’t almost immediately dropped. Still, Hemsworth carves out a burly, affable charm; really, it feels like he should be at the film’s center since the huntsman has the faintest sense of character development that Hemsworth takes and runs with, though it doesn’t carry the film too far.

Similarly snuffed out by all of the surrounding mediocrity is the dwarf ensemble that actually manages to be kind of incredible. Nick Frost, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, and Toby Jones are especially noteworthy, and the effects that shrink them down are seamless. The camaraderie and warmth between them is economically relayed. Like the huntsman, they’re afforded the slightest bit of on-paper depth that scrapes its way on screen due to the well-inhabited performances. These familiar faces aren’t just believable as dwarves, but as dwarves who have a history and have endured suffering under the queen’s reign.

That Stewart herself isn’t able to do the same for the underwritten Snow White is the film’s poison apple. Given that this is meant to be a feminist revision, it’s even more perplexing since her Snow White is no more or less interesting than any previous incarnations; sure, she’s not cleaning the dwarves’ house, but it takes more than trading in a broom for a sword to make a statement. The film’s more overt overtones are most obvious in Theron’s femi-Nazi take on the queen, who sneers and snarls contempt at men, all of whom “use women.” She’s been raised to place all of her value in her looks, as opposed to Snow White, whose true beauty is on the inside--presumably.

Despite this obvious juxtaposition, this take is still a little too beholden to the fairy tale tropes--Snow White still needs her prince charming to bail her out sometimes, and the only thing that’s really different is the identity of her savior. It’s great that it’s no longer a wandering prince that falls in love with her dead body, but the half-baked romance here isn’t any more believable. Thankfully, the possible love triangle stays muted--there is an actual Prince (Sam Claflin) who was Snow White’s childhood friend that shows up to also save the day, but his presence seems obligatory, as if to show just how deconstructed this fairy tale is. While this prevents the film from being submerged by teen romance soppiness, it also results in a confused script that can’t quite figure out why there needs to be two guys in its feminist revision. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a deeper love triangle was cut to avoid any comparisons to “Twilight.”

Or maybe anyone involved with such a decision figured out what that series cannot: that it’s ludicrous that anyone would fight over Kristen Stewart, or at least the character she plays both there and here. For a story that values inner heart over superficial beauty, “Snow White and the Huntsman” sure doesn’t practice what it preaches, as its brief whimsy trampled under its plodding, grim-faced approach and vacuous main character.

It’s a well-shot, slick movie with some great visuals and an outstanding score by James Newton Howard, but it might as well be comatose inside of a glass coffin for most of its run-time.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22537&reviewer=429
originally posted: 06/01/12 18:46:34
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User Comments

9/24/13 Sidhe Beautiful movie with one horrible flaw. Stewart. (The magic mirror needs an eyecheck!) 4 stars
10/23/12 lee beautiful and epic 5 stars
9/09/12 action movie fan snow white meets lord of the rings could have been alot better 2 stars
6/11/12 KingNeutron I liked it, but it was a trifle long 4 stars
6/04/12 Janine Usually can trust Peter S., but this wasn't bad and Mirror Mirror was NOT better. 4 stars
6/03/12 Abby Fisher Forgot the script in lieu of cool visuals 2 stars
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  01-Jun-2012 (PG-13)
  DVD: 11-Sep-2012


  DVD: 11-Sep-2012

Directed by
  Rupert Sanders

Written by
  Evan Daugherty

  Chris Hemsworth
  Kristen Stewart
  Charlize Theron
  Sam Claflin

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