by Mike Hansen
Short answer: I liked this a LOT more than I thought I would.
The story actually works, at least for the first 90% of the film. Instead of treating the source material as a safe story for small children, this movie goes the other way and reminds us how difficult and cruel life was for most people back when this story was created. This is a hard PG-13, and I really appreciate how the material isn’t dumbed down or softened for a younger crowd. Kids already have the immortal Disney version, and this is now the best alternative telling of Snow White for a more mature audience. It’s restrained enough to not go over-the-top or excessive with the violence or death, but there are moments that are likely to give children nightmares, and I say that as a compliment.
The design is incredible. Even though Snow White & the Huntsman is based on a fairy tale, this film treats its subject matter seriously and makes the world feel as real as possible. There are some moments in the “happy/good” forest with the dwarfs that are truly breathtaking. And there’s actually dirt under the characters’ fingernails, including Snow White (though she keeps her disturbing, impossibly white teeth). Similarly, the special effects are, for the most part, fantastic.
This film is much closer to Tolkien-ish realistic fantasy than the cheesy immaturity of the Narnia films and books. This film doesn’t need its characters to stare wide-eyed in wonder at everything, because it looks good enough for the viewer to do this on their own.
Charlize Theron is brilliant as the wicked queen – she completely gives herself over to the role, and is absolutely believable in her vampiric quest for immortality and power. And the script is very, very smart in giving her a genuine motivation for her actions beyond just being evil for its own sake. When she explodes with rage or keeps herself coldly separate from other people and the world, I bought every moment – having seen people in my own life exhibit similarly sad behavior. Theron is so great and dangerously sexy (a vampire in all but name) that I have a hard time buying that she isn’t the fairest one of all – even though the script does a surprisingly impressive job making Snow White an inspiring figure, Kristen Stewart’s performance didn’t quite sell it to me (though the blame for this could go to the director or editor as well).
Similarly, Chris Hemsworth continues to impress me. After his fine work in The Avengers and Cabin in the Woods, he’s having a hell of a good year with some terrific roles, and his Huntsman is given a lot of material to play with.
Kristen Stewart. She’s a talented enough actress, but there were waaaay too many shots of her with sunken, dead eyes instead of the wide-eyed innocent look you’d expect of the character. She spends most of the film looking really tired, which is too bad because I thought she looked pretty great in Adventureland. I fear that the Twilight films may have permanently damaged her ability to sell a believable character.
The “Prince William” character (which seems like some sort of Prince Charming) seems completely unnecessary – the film should have ditched it along with its hints of a love triangle; it would have been stronger without it.
When Snow White is shown being imprisoned for years, we see her recite the Christian Lord’s Prayer. This didn’t work for me at all. I understand that a person of her rare beauty and inner resilience would need to draw faith and strength from somewhere, but instead of it being from within or from the memories of her loving parents, we get something taken straight from the real world – and that pulled me right out of the movie during that scene.
The dwarf effects. Although the dwarf characters – with the heads (and voices) of recognizable actors on the bodies of actual dwarfs – generally worked within the film itself, I have to question the ethics of even doing this. Surely in 2012 there are talented actors who happen to be dwarfs who would have been perfect for these roles? It’s bad enough that celebrities are taking voice-acting roles away from much more talented voice actors in animated films, but actually having to watch talented dwarf actors be credited solely as “doubles” and have their faces hidden really rubs me the wrong way. (And it looks like I’m not alone – I found several links (below) as I wrote this that suggest this seems to be blowing up.)
On a similar note, there was no reason for this film to contain pretty much only white actors. A fairy tale as universal as Snow White has room for everyone. Just because the story originated in Europe doesn’t mean the film has to look European, especially when one of the best Hansel and Gretel films was made in Korea with an entirely Asian cast. Shame on Hollywood for continuing to whitewash its roles and films.
The ending kinda sucks. As the trailers have shown, there is a great battle between an army led by Snow White and the evil queen’s minions. And without spoiling anything, I can say that the whole thing is formulaic and rings false, especially with how Snow White is suddenly portrayed as a hardened warrior for no good reason. Does Snow White really need a character arc that transforms her from an innocent victim into a strong, independent fighting woman? Not in this story. The film is advertised as “from the producer of Alice in Wonderland,” which explains part of the problem, as that film suffered from its own pointless and illogical title-character transformation. This bizarre ending feels rushed and blemishes an otherwise mostly excellent tale.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Recommended to anyone who liked the Lord of the Rings films and wants to see more breathtaking fantasy (and can forgive minor story-logic problems and occasionally flawed acting).
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- A Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman – Hi hi-hi ho-politically correct we go! (marjoriekayesbookblog.com)
- ‘Snow White And The Huntsman’ Sequel Confirmed (news.moviefone.com)
- Is It Only Visual Vanity At Stake? SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN Review 2 (thepeoplesmovies.com)
- Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman (dawn.com)
- Little People Angry Over Dwarves in Snow White and the Huntsman (newsfeed.time.com)
- Film Review: Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) (themodernallegory.com)
- Snow White and the Huntsman gets a completely unnecessary sequel [Snow White And The Huntsman 2] (io9.com)
- Warwick Davis criticises ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ dwarf casting (digitalspy.co.uk)
- Warwick Davis: Dwarf Casting in ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ Is ‘Inexcusable’ (aceshowbiz.com)
- Danny Woodburn angry at lack of real dwarves in Snow White and the Huntsman’ (hollywood.com)
- Snow White and the Huntsman: No, the Huntsman does not ever get a name (popjudgment.com)
- Snow White and the Huntsman #Review (mombloggerbuzz.com)
- Fury as Snow White filmmakers snub dwarfs (thesun.co.uk)
- Snow White and the Huntsman (verynormal.wordpress.com)
- CJ Powers Review: Snow White and the Huntsman (illinoisreview.typepad.com)
- Spoiler-laden review of Snow White and the Huntsman (infieldrules.com)