Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) Review

Snow White and the Huntsman

Movies like “Snow White and the Huntsman” are the toughest to come to a decision on. There’s nothing overtly bad about them and quite often, as in this case, there are multiple things about them that make it recommendable. What these movies are the kind that rest in the nether region between good and enjoyably flawed. After immediately coming out of “Snow White” I thought, “Nice, I enjoyed that more than I expected.” After being able to mull over my thoughts for a while (and checking back with my ratings criteria page), I’m going to end up going slightly lower than the initial impact.

Despite being updated with an epic fantasy tone complete with dark visuals and elaborate special effects, the plot remains much the same as the story everyone knows so well. The magic mirror says Snow White is fairer than the evil queen, the queen wants the huntsman to cut out Snow White’s heart, the huntsman changes his mind, Snow White eats the poison apple, etc. It follows that basic through-line but with some tweaks to shake things up. The biggest change is the fleshing out of the huntsman character, who now joins Snow White instead of just refusing to kill her. He’s complete with a more detailed backstory, and Chris Hemsworth channels much of his burly “Thor” charisma that makes him such a commanding screen presence.

The evil queen also gets her fair share of extended screen time, and Charlize Theron chews up every piece of scenery and dialogue with icy cold glee. She was the driving force behind the movie’s marketing, and sure enough is absolutely the best thing going on. Whenever she shows up you can practically feel the movie spring more to life. One issue though is that the filmmakers wanted to add more character development to who is essentially a pure evil villain, but couldn’t find an organic way to do it. The two scenes in particular, the milk bath scene that is also in the trailer and a flashback to her childhood, are either weirdly unnecessary and strange (milk bath) or awkwardly shoved in between the Snow and huntsman adventure (flashback).

Meanwhile, Kristen Stewart has a lot to go up against when it comes to sharing the movie with Hemsworth, Theron, and the wide variety of great British actors playing the dwarves. If nothing else, this movie proves that Stewart is in fact a decent actress when not restricted by the melodramatic and stilted writing of her “Twilight” role. She’s definitely trying much more than I’ve seen her do recently; her problem is the same problem with Taylor Kitsch in “John Carter.” They both put in fine performances that get the job done, but are so overshadowed by everything else around them that the main character is comparatively boring. It also doesn’t help that the Huntsman and the queen get more screen time than her, often shoving Snow White to the sidelines in her own story.

Almost everyone I’ve talked to has complained about the pacing and that it should have been tightened up. There were definitely places where it slowed down in the second half, especially once Theron is offscreen for a significant portion, but there was never a point where I thought things should have been cut. The real issue is that the first half is packed with so much action and plot that when the characters finally get to spend real time with each other and interact in the second half, the second half feels slow when it actually hits about the right balance. The first half should have focused on less sword fights and chases and more on getting us engaged with the story.

That said, to first time director Rupert Sanders’ credit, those action scenes are really well executed. Every action bit with the Prince character contains some of the coolest choreographed archery work I’ve seen in a long time. The multiple entanglements between the queen’s creepy brother and the Huntsman have dynamic swordplay, and Sanders’ visual effects department fills out this fantasy world with some very creative designs. The sections in the forest strike the right chord of dark and creepy fantasy that the original Grimm’s fairy tale evokes in its story.

The real issue with “Snow White and the Huntsman” is that, despite all these admirable things to say about it, it never fully leaps to life. Sanders is clearly a decent director, but he’s the kind of director that needs a strong script to carry him through the movie, and “Snow White’s” script is merely adequate. The drama written in to fill in between the action and special effects is serviceable, nothing more. It doesn’t help that there are at least a couple scenes that are blatantly and laughably ripped off from both “The Neverending Story” and “Princess Mononoke.” If a derivative story can make me care about the characters and absorb me into its unique variation of that story, then I could look past that, but “Snow White and the Huntsman” never quite reaches that marker.

2.5/4   Ratings Criteria

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