Snow White & the Huntsman

Often in movies, we see a child being lulled to sleep by a parent reading a fairy tale from a book.  I don’t know about you, but my parents weren’t the bedtime story type.  All my exposure to fairy tales was either via books I read myself or in cartoons.  Most of these were morality tales about telling the truth and the consequences of lying, loyalty in the face of adversity, the benefits of hard work and the power of love.  None of these tales were, to me, terribly scary.  What peril they contained was mild and didn’t really imply that anyone would get hurt.  Even when there was death, like in the Three Little Pigs, the deceased had a way of coming back.  The stories were meant to convey a simple message that a young mind could absorb.  Apparently, back when these stories were new, they had a darker, more menacing edge that got dulled over time.  Now, Hollywood is bringing one of these stories to the big screen in a lush but violent retelling that would give most children nightmares.  The question is, will adults like seeing “Snow White and the Huntsman” or will they drift off to sleep?

Snow White (Kristen Stewart) has been locked in a tower of her father’s castle ever since the King was murdered by the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron).  Snow White’s mother died when she was a child and her father rescued Ravenna from a Dark Army he had recently defeated in battle.  Ravenna used her beauty to trick the king into marrying her then killed him on their wedding night, taking over the kingdom along with her brother Finn (Sam Spruell).  Ruling the land with an iron hand, Ravenna’s evil has caused nature to turn against the kingdom:  No plants grow.  Animals run away in fear.  The kingdom is under a perpetual cloud of doom.  Ravenna consults a magic mirror to make sure she is the most beautiful woman in the kingdom.  She maintains her beauty through evil magic, including sucking the very youth out of all the young women in the land.  The mirror informs her that Snow White is now the fairest in the land and she is also the key to staying young forever.  If Ravenna cuts out Snow White’s heart and consumes it, she will never age.  Snow White manages to escape from the tower and runs into the countryside, followed by Finn and his men.  When she enters the Dark Forest, the horses and soldiers refuse to follow her.  Ravenna tells Finn to find someone who knows the Dark Forest to go in and find Snow White.  The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), a widower who drowns his grief with alcohol, has hunted in the Dark Forest before and is ordered to find Snow White.  Accompanied by Finn and his troops, the Huntsman discovers Snow White but refuses to hand her over, suspecting she will not fare well with Ravenna.  He guides her through the Dark Forest, saving her from a number of attacks from Finn and his men, when they run into eight dwarves (played by Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Johnny Harris and Brian Gleeson) who have history with the Huntsman.  Initially antagonistic, the dwarves realize who Snow White is and her importance in restoring the kingdom to its former glory.  They offer to help her fight against Ravenna’s evil reign.
“Snow White & the Huntsman” is a visually flawless movie.  From the costumes to the set design, the special effects to the landscapes, the film is a visual feast.  There was obviously a great deal of time and money spent to make the film look amazing.  I wish the same care had been taken with the story as the movie is a visual feast but an emotional famine.
Many will watch the film and be perfectly happy with the eye candy on display.  I would have liked to be more emotionally invested in the story and characters.  While I was never bored by the movie, I was never caught up in the events unfolding before my eyes.  I was just watching a movie and not having an experience.  That may sound kind of “hippie-dippy” but I really do require a film to touch me in some way.  It should reach into my mind, grab my interest and hold my attention so that my whole consciousness is transfixed by what I’m seeing.  Again, I know that’s very imprecise and wishy-washy but that’s what a good movie should do and this film felt like it was holding me at arm’s length.
Charlize Theron is fantastic as the evil Ravenna.  She oozes malevolence from every pore.  Her screams of rage are only exceeded in their menace by her quiet, purring threats.  These are usually followed by someone dying by her hand.  She smolders and crackles like a dying campfire only to flare up again and again with new heat.  It’s a great performance that is one of the highlights of the film.  Another highlight is the group of dwarves made up of some of the best actors from the UK digitally shrunk down to little person size.  Each of the group is given a funny moment or two and as a whole they often steal the movie from the full-size stars.  While some of their accents are so heavy it makes understanding their dialog a little difficult, I still would have liked more screen time for the dwarves.  While not an award-winning performance, the real surprise among the actors is Kristen Stewart.  Best known as the vampire-loving, werewolf-teasing Bella from the “Twilight” movies, Stewart is able to avoid much of what she is criticized for in those performances; namely, she’s able to express more than her two usual emotions of pouty and pouty-er.  There’s some actual range of emotion in Stewart performance.  She’s able to convey her fear, her rage and those fleeting moments of joy the character experiences.  While her rally-the-troops speech near the end of the film is somewhat lackluster and uninspiring, for the most part, Stewart handles herself pretty well.  It’s too bad the script wastes all these good to great performances with a middling story.
“Snow White & the Huntsman” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality.  There are numerous battles amongst armies and fights between individuals.  We see several people shot with arrows and hit with axes.  We also watch as Ravenna consumes the organs of a small bird straight from the corpse.  The sensuality is brief with no nudity.  We watch as Ravenna walks nude into a bath of thick, white liquid.  All her naughty bits are covered or out of frame.
“Snow White & the Huntsman” has many points in its favor.  There are great performances and the visuals are terrific.  While it has many things going for it, the film is undone by a dodgy script and the feeling that it depends too much on impressing your eyes while ignoring your heart.  The heart wants what it wants and this movie leaves the heart wanting.
“Snow White & the Huntsman” gets three disappointed guitars out of five.
An animated sequel and a long-awaited sci-fi prequel arrive at theatres this week.  Vote for the next film I review.
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