Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) – Review

Review: Snow White and the Huntsman is visually compelling, with some good action moments but lacks great characters and fluid pacing. The film is a new, supposedly darker take on the classic Snow White story – Snow White is a prisoner after Ravenna seduces and kills her father. However, as she comes of age, Snow White is able to escape and takes refuge in the dark forest. The Queen (Ravenna) needs Snow White’s heart to become immortal, so she enlists The Huntsman (who seemingly has no name) for his knowledge of the dark forest to lead her men in finding Snow White. However, once The Huntsman lays eyes on her, he is enchanted by her beauty and rallies to her cause helping her to further escape. But, the Queen will stop at nothing to regain Snow White and consume her heart, while Snow White tries to gather an army of her own and take back her kingdom. Director Rupert Sanders gets a lot of things right, especially the look for this fairytale action adventure. The world of the film is stepped in magic, fantastical creatures, knights, and castles. To some extent, the film at different moments feels like past releases (especially, Willow and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) and somewhat lacks its own identity (a bit like 2010’s Clash of the Titans which was trying too hard to be a mix of Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers and not its own thing). Sanders does a good job introducing the world and characters and the final battle is well done, but in between the opening and the third act the film drags horribly. Not only does it meander along seemingly wasting time until the final confrontation, but it also does not take the opportunity to flesh out the characters of Snow White, The Huntsman and Ravenna (all three of which are fairly weak, depending solely on the actors’ performances walking, running and yelling – providing only exposition and being almost completely void of real dramatic moments). From the time Snow White escapes the castle in the first act until she encounters the dwarves (who are one of the bright spots in the film), the narrative trudges almost to a complete stop, killing all momentum and interest in the characters and story. Thus, when the third act finally does arrive, as enthralling as it is, the audience no longer cares and there are no real stakes as a result. The relationship between Ravenna and Snow White is ripe with dramatic possibility, but utterly squandered. Though, Ravenna is probably the most interesting character in the film, as she appears at different moments both evil and power hungry and emotionally weathered and even scared and fragile. It is an interesting dichotomy that could have been further explored. As for Snow White, there is no real internal struggle for her, no emotional journey. She is resolute about who she is and what she must do almost right from the get go (which is fine, but does not make for an interesting protagonist). The Huntsman is the only character to go through any kind of emotional change (and even his narrative is not fully exploited or resolved – though, I have read that this is potentially only the first film in a trilogy, which would then makes sense of why the ending is the way it is for the characters). The slow pacing and lack of complexity to the characters greatly detracts from the wonderful visuals, varying locations (the dark forest, a magical fairyland – that seems like something out of an old Disney film, a Lord of the Rings-like mountain side, and castles) and battle scenes. Snow White and the Huntsman is entertaining, visually superb and an almost great retelling for the classic story (and certainly better than Mirror Mirror from earlier in the year), but its major deficiencies overpower what could have been something special (there is probably a great film in there somewhere).

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Rupert Sanders makes his feature film debut with Snow White and the Huntsman, having a background in commercials. Unfortunately for this film, great visuals do not trump having interesting fleshed out characters and a tight narrative – both areas Sanders needs to work on for his next feature. James Newton Howard’s score reinforces the visual and narrative tone of the film, but has sort of a generic adventure film feel to it and does not stand out (here is a sample). Greig Fraser’s cinematography does exactly what it needs to do. Snow White and Ravenna project beauty corresponding to their character – Snow White is innocent and pure, while Ravenna is more striking and bold. Fraser also does a great job with the different places the narrative takes the characters. His lighting and photography gives them each a unique tone and feel. Dominic Watkins, along the same lines, does a great job designing the look of the film. His sets have the appropriate level and mix of fairytale fantasy and epicenes, while also keeping the characters grounded in the gritty realism of battle (or at least as realistic as a PG-13 rated battle can be). Personally, I really liked the costumes (especially Ravenna’s wardrobe and Snow White’s armor). Colleen Atwood did a fantastic job. The cast, despite the lack of great character moments, is good. All eight of the dwarves are fantastic with Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins standing out. Sam Spruell is great has Ravenna’s emotionally oppressed brother. He plays him to be quite a tragic character. Sam Claflin (who is given almost nothing dramatic to do really, and thus has no depth) plays Snow White’s childhood friend William all grown up fairly straightforward as a heroic rebel striking out against the Queen’s tyranny. Chris Hemsworth is good as The Huntsman, showing off both brawn and sensitivity. Charlize Theron’s performance is easily the most interesting and compelling, but also not entirely great. While she amply portrays both the strength and terror within Ravenna, her performances is mostly comprised of her screaming at other characters, without tact (and maybe that is what Sanders wanted out of the performance). Kristen Stewart (who gets a bad rap for being a lead in the awful Twilight Saga, despite being good in a number of indie films) does a good job with Snow White. She is strong, but maintains the allure and purity of innocence. If only she was given more dramatic work to do.

Summary & score: Snow White and the Huntsman is a spectacle of a film with great battles and visuals, but with weak characters and horrid pacing it is not much more. 6/10

1 comment:

  1. Good review Geoffrey. It was stylized in a more dark and gritty way, than we usually see from fairy-tale movies, but I still liked that about it even when the story started to get weaker. Also, just couldn't take my eyes off of Theron.