Monday, July 8, 2013

Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

Nothing about Snow White and the Huntsman adds up. Not one thing.

I don't understand how a budget of $170,000,000 produced this simmering mediocrity. Where did the money go? Not on the scenery, for sure. The whole movie was clearly shot on small sets, often with foggy backgrounds so there wasn't even any green screen work, and those sets are deadly dull. The Forbidden Forest isn't particularly forbidding if there's nothing in it. There are only a handful of effects shots fancy effects shots, though they are successful. We hardly see any people in the movie, and even in the bustling scenes of towns, battles, and other confusion I'd guess there are at most a few dozen people on screen. Did the whole budget really go to the cast?

So what's with the cast anyway? Charlize Theron is so noticeably absent from the final three acts that they cut back to her every so often just so we don't forget she exists. Chris Hemsworth works as The Huntsman, mostly because he fills the same stiff, chivalrous, mold as usual. Here he's a sort of yeoman Thor, sans hammer. And please don't think that an exaggeration, for while he may be "The Huntsman," he's inordinately handy with weapons. Either The Huntsman–no, he's never named– actually is Thor, or he just really hates animals. Poor Kristen Stewart, obviously cast because she's pretty and popular, was just tossed into this movie and given no character, script, or help of any kind. How awful.

Speaking of the script, where is it? Was there one? It seems like they just loosely followed the Fellowship of the Ring pattern, fleeing from place to place, but there's no distinct impetus or activity which moves anything along or alters the course of events. In sum: Thor is taking Snow White somewhere, they meet a few people on the way, they get there, and then they come back with a few guys on horses to try and take a castle. The lack of plotting isn't even that problematic or unexpected, not nearly as problematic as the sheer lack of words in this movie. The director cuts to people looking at one another, fighting, walking, but no one says anything. Often the camera sits on characters poised to speak after some important event, yet they never say a word and everyone just stands there in awkward, preposterous silence.

For such madness two scenes stand out, both at the cost of Kristen Stewart. In the first, Snow White is set up to give a little speech to the troops before the final battle. She's all armored up and wide-eyed and standing in the middle of the people, and they give to her all of three sentences for this climactic scene. Worse, one of them is very short and another unintelligible. How can you do that to a young, inexperienced actor? Twice! The second time, Snow White has been crowned queen and she looks up with portent. . . and says nothing. The camera moves from character to character and everyone just stands around looking at each other. Where are the words? This movie makes The General look like Annie Hall. Most curious of all is that this movie has no fewer than four writing credits. This script is maybe a weekend's work for one person, and it took four people to write it?

So what do we have in this movie? A witch, Charlize Theron, steals the throne of the kingdom and imprisons Snow White in the tower. When the queen realizes she needs Snow White's blood to preserve her beauty, which is waning extra-speedily due to her witchcraft, Snow White escapes so we can have a movie. The queen doesn't really do anything though. She's stealing the youth from girls which is clearly bad, but that's not really a plot point and it doesn't create a sense of tension or purpose. The queen is also not terrorizing the kingdom so far as we can tell. In fact I don't know whether there is a kingdom. We only see one little town, actually we only see one road. And it's a really ugly castle in an awful location anyway, so who cares?

There's not even any romance between The Huntsman and Snow White. In fact there's so little dialogue and chemistry between them they could have shot the scenes separately and composited them together. I really think the plan was to put two attractive people on screen and just let the camera roll.

We do get a little humor, though, when the dwarves show up, inexplicably in the first rate cast of Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Brian Gleeson, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, and Nick Frost. I'm no expert, but if you're going to hire seven talented actors and presumably pay them money, maybe they should, I don't know, be in more of the movie! I mean they sing a little, they fight a little, and that's all well and good, but we're making a movie here, right? Can we at least try to do something special?

There actually are a few interesting moment in the movie. In one, Snow White is about to get bashed by a big old troll when suddenly the beast looks at her, is pacified, and walks off. There is almost some aesthetic or moral, well, idea at work here, as if she's so naturally pure and beautiful that even the ugliest in nature can see the perfection and will not harm it. In contrast we have the evil queen's unnatural magic which is aggressive and hated. The idea is completely undeveloped, but it's something that could have been with great result. The second moment of note is when the witch crashes into the ground as a pile of birds.

That's what you get for $170,000,000 these days.

This could have been a good movie, really, because all the pieces are here. They're just so badly handled, due laziness, incompetence, or haste, and the result so flat and lifeless–what a pity for a fairy tale!–that you can't even tell whether the movie fell apart or never came together.

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