Monday, December 10, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

Directed by Rupert Sanders.
2012. Rated PG-13, 127 minutes.
Sam Claflin
Bob Hoskins
Christopher Obi
Sam Spruell

The gang’s all here. Of course, there’s Snow White (Stewart) and, eventually, seven dwarves. It should go without saying that we have a wicked stepmother/Queen (Theron) and her knowledgeable, talkative mirror (Obi). Like any fairytale worth its pixie dust, there is also a prince (Claflin). Finally, there’s the guy who takes the dwarves’ place in the title, the huntsman (Hemsworth). The general parameters of the story are familiar. Mama White dies and a short while later her widowed hubby, the king, re-marries and finds himself all killed by his new bride. She takes over the kingdom, locks Snow White in a foreboding tower and brings in her mirror as her top consultant. Years later, Snow White manages a daring escape into the Dark Forest, a bit different from the most famous versions of the story. Since the queen’s powers are useless in that particular part of the kingdom, she hires the huntsman to track her down and bring her back.

Why the queen needs our heroine alive is part of the twist that provides this reimagining a darkness missing from the tale we’re used to, but a few steps closer to how it was originally told with regard to tone. The queen’s main purpose in life is maintaining her beauty, some semblance of youth and remaining fairest of them all. No matter what. To do this, she has young maidens hauled into the castle whom she robs of the qualities she desires, leaving them old, wrinkled and near death. She soon finds out that if she does the same to Snow White, she’ll no longer have that craving to satisfy.

There are some other twists, none hindering our recognition of the story we all know. The magic lies in the tricks played on our eyes. The purposefully drab interiors and pristine white snow filled exteriors make wonderful canvasses for splashes of color and quick striking, well executed special fx. All along the way we’re treated to images that seem sparse, but are deceptively lush. Our pupils dart around the screen grasping at fleeting flourishes of cgi goodness. Though not as big or overwhelming as in something like The Avengers, they’re perhaps more believable in their presentation. This includes our dwarves, all played by, for lack of a better term, normal sized actors. Apologies due to any little people who feel slighted by the phrase or being excluded from the cast. Still, it’s very nicely done.

Of course, fx alone don’t make a movie. The meat we readily chew on is the performance of Charlize Theron. She dominates the film much the way Julia Roberts does in the same role in 2012’s other Snow White flick, Mirror Mirror, but in a different fashion. Where Roberts’ queen cackles maniacally in the self-aware manner that lets us know she’s playing as much for laughs as she is menace, Theron’s queen has no clue she’s a character in a fairytale. She seethes, hisses and vampirically gains strength by literally draining it from others. Like the bloodsucker, she earns both our dread and the pity we reserve for one whose seemingly boundless power is really fueled by a fatal flaw. Perhaps, this flaw is really a thinly veiled commentary on our mass obsession with defeating Father Time. A less talented actress might have unconsciously imbued the character with more of the Roberts qualities, but being in the wrong movie, would undermine the seriousness with which this fantasy is approached. It would be like Cesar Romero’s Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight as opposed to Heath Ledger’s. Perfectly suited for the 1960s TV show, he’d be sorely out of place in the more realistic Gotham City. Obviously, the kingdom is not meant to be realistic but it is meant to evoke the Middle Earth of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (and upcoming movie The Hobbit), not Gilligan’s Island.

Since we brought up vampires and less talented actresses, let’s talk about the person whose character gets top billing, Kristen Stewart. Unsurprisingly, she’s a weak link but not as much as one would think. Thank goodness for low expectations, I guess. She “Bellas” her way through another role, albeit less depressingly, as her character actually wants to live as opposed to just yearning to be undead. Our rooting for her is due to our Pavlovian conditioning to do so for “the good guy,” not because she’s the least bit compelling. Trust me, she isn’t. If there is a movie where she is, I’d have to say it’s The Runaways, an underrated biopic about the 70s all-girl rock band of the same name. Even there, Dakota Fanning acts circles around her.

Our heroine’s shortcomings aside, I find Snow White and the Huntsman an enjoyable spin on the old tale. Admittedly, Theron is hamming it up, but she is so good at it we can’t help but be spellbound. Then there are those enticing visuals. They help drive the story rather than smother it beneath an avalanche of pixels. Liberties taken with the narrative are fun, if a tad predictable. In any event, they enhance the telling of this version, not desecrate our memory of others. It is by no means perfect, but it is fun without the corniness and boring stretches of the kiddie-fied Mirror Mirror.

MY SCORE: 7/10

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