My kingdom for K-Stew ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Saturday, June 16, 2012

My kingdom for K-Stew

Snow White and the Huntsman
My rating:

I gotta say, I had an interesting reaction to the trailer of this a few weeks ago while I was watching another movie - and by "interesting", I meant I thought it was all so ridiculous. Taking a children's fairy tale that is best remembered as a syrupy-sweet Walt Disney animated film, and turning it into this dark and angsty fantasy flick with CGI sorcery and shouty overacting? It was practically every bad joke ever written about the Hollywood "gritty reboot" in 2-½ minutes. In hindsight, that reaction was largely sparked by Kristen Stewart's character's poofy-sleeved dress, that seemed a direct callback to the Disney Snow White - which is itself an extremely sanitised version of a folk tale that had plenty of darkness and gruesomeness, as most fairy tales do in their original form. Nor is this the first time a dark fantasy version of Snow White has been filmed (and I saw that one and quite liked it). It is, however, the second time a Snow White movie is being released this year alone, and since I reviewed the first one with a promise to also catch the second, I made sure the inner voice that kept saying "but it's all so ridiculous!" was shushed as I went in to the cinema.

Turns out this one is definitely the winner of the Duelling Snow White Movies of 2012.

The evil sorceress Ravenna (Charlize Theron) has murdered the king on their wedding night and taken over the kingdom, and imprisoned the princess Snow White (Kristen Stewart). After years of Ravenna's despotic rule, Snow White manages to escape captivity, prompting Ravenna to send her brother and henchman Finn (Sam Spruell) after her - and when Snow White flees to the Dark Forest, they hire a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to guide them and help hunt her down. But the huntsman turns against them and decides to help Snow White instead, escorting her to the castle of Duke Hammond, the one safe haven from Ravenna's grasp. Along the way, they will encounter and be aided by a band of dwarves (Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Nick Frost, Brian Gleeson and Johnny Harris) as well as William (Sam Claflin), the Duke's son and Snow White's childhood playmate.

I am often quite annoyed by the online vitriol against Kristen Stewart, stemming largely from the hate directed against the Twilight series. Regardless of how bad that series is - and as I've mentioned before, they're not all bad, at least in movie form - Stewart does not deserve being slammed as a terrible actor. Not when she's done pretty good work before, especially in the indie dramas she used to do before she became the lead in a billion-dollar franchise. As usual, she took plenty of flack for starring in this movie, a lot of which took issue with how, as the titular character, she was meant to be "fairer" than Charlize Theron. Look, even I think Theron is drop-dead gorgeous whereas Stewart is merely pretty, but are we going to place objective standards of beauty onto two women and blame one for being "lesser" than the other?

Not here at Casa TMBF. Here, we judge movies by their merits and actors by their performances, and I'm glad to report that both Stewart and Snow White and the Huntsman are pretty good. What looked like laughably overblown emo-ness in a 2-½-minute trailer translates to a commitment to taking its dark-fantasy trappings seriously, in the vein of '80s fantasy flicks like Dragonslayer, Legend and Ladyhawke - and that's a complimentary comparison in my book. There's a conviction in everything from the acting, to Rupert Sanders' direction, to the occasionally cheesy dialogue, and while not all of it works (e.g. the dialogue), enough of it does. After all, one thing it has over its '80s forebears is the SFX technology to realise its fantasy visions; the nightmarish Dark Forest, and the conversely wondrous fairy wood, are two standout sequences. The dwarves even sing a song or two in the vein of Lord of the Rings. When a film like this aims for gravity, the pitfall it risks is silliness, and this one succeeds at avoiding it on the whole.

Where it doesn't succeed is at plot and characterisation - despite its aspirations towards gravitas extending to giving backstories to its principal characters. The huntsman (who is never named) is a broken-hearted widower, and Ravenna is traumatised by past wrongs done to her by other kings, but only the latter succeeds at fleshing out its character - largely through Theron's sheer conviction to her scenery-chewing performance. Snow White herself is largely a blank slate with little personality or motivation; she is another in a long line of Chosen Ones, foreordained as the saviour of the land through her mystical affinity with nature. (Which seems like another grittily-reimagined callback to the Disney version - but by then, it didn't seem silly to me anymore.) Its plot is also none too well-structured; the entire second act is a somewhat aimless series of unrelated setpieces, and we don't even encounter the dwarves or William till close to the midway point of the movie.

Which also renders the character relationships inert; there's supposed to be a love triangle between Snow White, the huntsman and William, but I didn't even really care that it ends unresolved. Whatever goodwill I felt towards the characters stems primarily from the performances, which are all quite good. As mentioned, Theron is the most over-the-top, and while she yells a little too much sometimes, her commitment to portraying the depths of Ravenna's psychosis is commendable and compelling. Hemsworth is rather dull, largely because his purpose as Snow White's protector gets diluted after the dwarves and William show up. Even duller is Sam Claflin - although he does have a few nifty archery movies - but Sam Spruell as Finn, who seems to have a borderline-incesty thing going on with Ravenna, wasn't bad. And the cadre of British character actors playing the dwarves (whose heads were attached to dwarf body doubles via the wonders of CGI) are effortlessly fun, even if there's too many of them and not enough screentime to go around.

And then there's Stewart - who, again, I think did a fine job. It's not her fault that her role is underwritten, or that she doesn't really do anything heroic. I found her performance convincing, even - nay, especially - during her big Rousing Speech. I'm a big fan of the trope, and I say this one deserves inclusion into the pantheon of greats. And I haven't said enough about Sanders, the commercials director making his feature-length debut, who has a great eye for fantastical scenes of stunning beauty. I'm quite pleased that Snow White and the Huntsman made enough money for the studio to greenlight a sequel, although I'm not sure what that sequel would be about. Before I watched this, I thought the huntsman would be the franchise character, doing his thing in dark and gritty adaptations of other fairy tales. (Doesn't Red Riding Hood have a huntsman? Or was it woodsman? What's the diff anyway?) But now, I'd be perfectly satisfied to see more of Snow White.

NEXT REVIEW: Prometheus
Expectations: oh dear, mixed reviews, Ridley Scott what has thou wrought?


Doc Smith said...

Hmmm, interesting. I was thinking about going to see it but I may just save my hard-earned. But you gave it a 3-and-a-half stars same as Zhang Yimou's 'Flowers of War' which I really liked. What did you think of Helmsworth? I rated him as Thor so what did you think of his performance as the Huntsman?

I've just seen Prometheus and am a Ridley Scott fan so I'll be very interested to read your review of that too!

BTW - you are a serious good reviewer - you should get in touch with my blogging pal Dezi at Hollywood Spy - he'd appreciate intelligent comment like yours!



TMBF said...

@Docsmith: Hemsworth was rather dull, to be honest. His tortured widower character had little opportunity to showcase his natural charm.