If the Brothers Grimm version of Snow White involves a jovial princess with a
sweet innocence, whistling dwarves with kind hearts, and a handsome prince who
thrashes his sword in demonstrating his undying love, then Universal Pictures' Snow White and the Huntsman, hitting theaters this Friday, probably has the brothers rolling in their graves.
Based on the famous fairy tale, the story revolves around Ravenna (Charlize Theron), the malicious queen who has powers that rely on youth and beauty -- which she acquires by feeding, literally, off the souls of the young ladies in the land. But a magical gold mirror, which takes human form and speaks in a deep voice, tells Ravenna her step-daughter, Snow White (Kristen Stewart), is the fairest of them all, and will be the downfall of Ravenna's power unless she consumes Snow White's heart.
That set-up drives the story, which kicks into action when Snow White, who has been locked away in a dungeon since the evil queen killed her father, manages to escape and hide in the Dark Forest. Ravenna sends the Hunstman (Chris Hemsworth) to hunt her down but he ends up becoming her companion, and along with the help of eight (not seven) angry (not whistling) dwarves, Snow White must make her way to the Duke's Castle to join a revolution against the Queen.
Part of the disappointment in Snow White and the Huntsman is its failure to create a unique setting for its world. Sure, the imagery is gorgeous -- and the special effects are incredible -- but you can't help but get the feeling you've seen everything before: The castle and city settings closely resemble the Game of Thrones set, the scenery offers whispers from Lord of the Rings, especially the troll they borrowed from the Fellowship of the Ring, and the magical fairy scene appears as though someone spilt Lisa Frank juice on The Land Before Time sketches, with the fairies stripped from Avatar.
Where the film lacks in originality, it equally lacks in consistency with the characters. Throughout the film, Snow White is described as "the fairest of them all" for her innocence and kindness, and yet Stewart's red-painted lips speak few words in a monotone disposition. (She smiles twice in the film.) Stewart is also emotionless throughout the story, although she made sure to slip in plenty of the heavy breathing she patented in Twilight. Later, she tells the Huntsman she can't use a sword, and yet somehow turns into a courageous knight who eagerly leads an army.
While the film offers an open opportunity to reassess women in fairy tales as the damsel in distress, Stewart does little to persuade the audience her heart is in it. She treats both the Huntsman and Prince William, played by Sam Claflin, with bland -- if any -- affection, even though the audience needs to be convinced that somewhere there is a love strong enough to break a spell.
While Hemsworth's physical appearance certainly plays in the role of the Huntsman, with soundtrack experts laying down extra effects every time he swings his ax for a Tron effect, the Huntsman does not provide the romance this fairy tale needs. His motives behind escorting Snow White appear to be based on convenience, as opposed to love, and for a character who is supposed to be a drunk most of the time, the Huntsman handles himself all too well.
Snow White and the Huntsman also misses the opportunity to create substantial characters of the dwarves, who are hardly on screen. The occasional comic relief is supposed to come from their dialogue, but the broken accents often make their remarks inaudible, and
considering they originally wanted to rob and roast Snow White and the Huntsman,
the affection that follows doesn't flow.
Many pieces in the film leave unanswered questions: Why Ravenna decided to have all the dwarves killed? How Ravenna's brother and right-hand man, Finn became involved with her spell to stay young? What is that white base she bathes in?
The film will certainly captivate some with its beautiful cinematography, excellent soundtrack and special effects, and most of all, the impeccable costumes worn. But which audience Snow White is aiming to please, however, is unclear, since the steamy, could-be romance in a potential triangle between Snow White, the Hunstman and Prince William is not present for the teenage girls demographic, the fighting is not nearly gory enough for the boys, and the plot is too dark for children, and too tacky for adults.
Perhaps the saving grace is Theron's performance as Ravenna, which is reason enough to see the film. She glides across the screen, sending chills with confident glares as she drips with vanity, although her over-dramatic acceleration from zero-to-hundred in rage is occasionally unconvincing. The scene that explains how Theron got her powers and why she is so obsessed with beauty makes her the most substantial character throughout the film and leaves room for the audience to root for her instead of Stewart. In the end, Snow White and the Huntsman proves that -- contrary to the film -- Theron is the fairest of them all.
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