Snow White and the Huntsman is a clichéd epic fantasy. Which doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. In fact SWATH is a visual treat, given heart and soul by several fine performances, and is in general a great deal of fun. The problem is that it has no voice of its own, and rather than being inspired by the set texts of modern fantasy filmmaking, SWATH just feels like mash up of other, better films. As such, it is indicative of a major issue of Hollywood fantasy: an example of the most imaginative genre being hamstrung by overreliance on formula.
SWATH is a darker reimagining of the classic fairy tale, retaining the main story beats (broadly speaking), but ultimately reshaping the tale into a more epic mould. In an overextended prologue, we are introduced to a fantasy kingdom, a noble king, and his daughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart). Following the death of his wife, the king is out fighting when he happens across a mysterious, beautiful woman named Ravenna (Charlize Theron). Deciding on the spur of the moment to marry her (royal inbreeding not producing the best decision-makers), everything seems to be going swimmingly. Until that is, she turns out to be an evil sorceress, kills him, and imprisons Snow White. Years later, Snow White manages to escape and flees into the Dark Forest. In response, Ravenna calls on the only person who might brave the forest to find her: the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth).
So, the good stuff. Well, this is one damn good looking film. It’s adventurously shot, though occasionally enthusiasm seems to get the better of the cameraman: at some points the action is more messy than chaotic. The level of design work is also very impressive. Whether it’s the barren ruin of Ravenna’s kingdom, the alien horror of the Dark Woods, or the fertile beauty of Sanctuary, wherever the characters go their environment has a richness and emotional character all its own. The costumes are also great. My favourite has to be the design of the knights, a riot of colours and heraldry that looks especially spectacular during the charge. The creature design however is less impressive. It’s still good mind: the creature/nature combos look great, particularly the troll that pops up in the second act. But then again, they look great because of how much they ape the design choices of Pan’s Labyrinth and Princess Mononoke. Pretty: yes. Imaginative: no.
The same goes for plot and characters. The former feels pretty much like a miniaturised LOTR: smaller world, smaller armies, smaller stakes (the fight is against an evil individual, rather than the ultimate source of evil). Doing it that way was a good decision. The smaller size of this onscreen world fits the fairytale aesthetic much better than LOTR grandiosity. But you get the feeling that SWATH really wishes it could have been LOTR. There’s all the same talk of destiny and light vs darkness and big inspiring speeches and singing, comedic dwarves. Frankly, it’s slightly depressing how enslaved SWATH is to Tolkien’s legacy.
It’s also problematic because, in aping LOTR’s epic questing, SWATH is forced to be way too economical. It doesn’t have the runtime to be a true epic, and watching it, it felt like the filmmakers were really pushed to cram everything in. The problem this causes is that some of the vast cast of characters get lost in the rush of places and events. The dwarves in particular are starved of time, only being present because, well, who would greenlight a Snow White film without dwarves? Though admittedly, their presence is somewhat justified by the casting director, who, in a moment of utter genius, decided to cast Ray Winstone and Ian McShane as dwarves by CG-ing their faces onto little people bodies. Nothing got a bigger laugh from the audience than tiny Ray Winstone.
As for the three main characters, well, here we get into interesting territory. Kristen Stewart remains a personality vacuum, but then again, she is not working with great material. Snow White is a goodie, and that’s all. Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman gets a bit more backstory, and when the film calls for some drama, Hemsworth has the talent to put on a good show. But honestly, if there is anything memorable about this film, it’s Charlize Theron going absolutely batshit insane as Queen Ravenna. One of my main worries leading up to the film was that the evil energy Theron channels in the trailer would turn out to be a trick of editing. I am so happy that was not the case. The level of crazy Theron puts out in the trailer is NOTHING on the level she puts out in the film. She screams. She whispers. She has a fantastic line in evil looks. And the best part of it is, is that amidst all the insanity, Theron actually does some brilliant character work too. Ravenna is a surprisingly smart villain, a woman warped and twisted by a world where beauty is everything, and set on punishing it for its unfair demands.
In the end SWATH is a good film. As Real Steel demonstrated last year, cliché is forgivable as long as the movie still has soul, and SWATH certainly has that. This is an energetic, enthusiastic and frankly fun night out at the movies. But aside from Charlize Theron and Ravenna, it does feels like nothing more than a well-executed rehash of the same old stuff. It’s good. But in its total lack of innovation, it is an unfortunate reminder of just how stagnant Hollywood’s approach to fantasy has become.
Snow White and the Huntsman Official Movie Trailer 2 [HD] 2012 Published via LongTail.tv