It’s been a slow summer for movies thus far: aside from the box office phenomenon that is The Avengers, the last few weeks have been filled with films that disappointed (critically, commercially and in the court of public opinion). So I was looking forward to some revisionist grrrrl-feminism from Snow White And The Huntsman this weekend to get the party started. Alas, I should have braced myself for more disappointment.
Let’s bitch it out…Major spoilers ahead (mostly because I don’t think you should see it) It’s been a big year for fairytales in entertainment. We had dual “fairytales are real” television shows in Once Upon A Time and Grimm, and now we have competing feature films. First up was Tarsem Singh’s Mirror, Mirror, a family film featuring Julia Roberts that flopped last month. Now we have the darker, “more adult” version (still PG-13 rated) version of the classic Snow White story with K-Stew, Charlize Theron and Avengers hottie, Chris Hemsworth. Unfortunately, this one looks like it will be the one to break out. I say unfortunately because it’s a pretty terrible film that doesn’t deserve success.
In the interest of being fair, however, let’s break down the pros and cons:
- The costumes: Everyone’s outfits look runway ready, especially Charlize’s sweeping gowns and crowns combos. If there was a “crazy beyotch” version of Toddlers & Tiaras, Queen Ravenna would take the cake. Tops is her crows jacket outfit (seen in many of the promotional images); its the perfect look for poisoning young girls in the woods. The fact that everyone looks so great is hardly surprising considering the costumes were done by Colleen Atwood, a three time Oscar winner for Alice In Wonderland (2010), Memoirs Of A Geisha (2005), and Chicago (2002).
- The visuals: The special effects are quite well done for the most part (unless the scene is mostly comprised of them, such as the woodland scene populated by CGI animals). Just as appealing are the legitimate locations on display: the film was shot around the UK and Wales and the scenery is breath-taking. I was especially taken by the mountains in the walking montage with the dwarves before Snow’s poison apple ‘incident’.
- Charlize Theron: I’m highlighting Theron’s attempts to wring an intriguing performance out of a one-note character (more below). I know that the film is explicitly not about Ravenna (see the title). And, if we’re being honest, the Evil Queen is traditionally relegated to the role of villain with uncertain or shallowly developed motivations, so it’s impressive that Theron makes us not only interested in Ravenna, but root for her in the big climax of the film. I just wish that she didn’t yell quite so frequently.
- Queen Ravenna: Yes, I just highlighted Theron, but I was talking about her performance, not the character she’s playing. Ravenna – as written – is more developed than we’ve seen for most fairytales villains and yes, we’re made to understand her motivation for being a narcissistic harpy-shrew-b*tch because she was stolen by a King as a young child and cursed by her mother to soak up the beauty of other women. Sounds like a great character, right? Nope! The problem is that the writers construct this backstory like it explains everything about Ravenna, but never bothers to go any further. Why does she plunge the entire kingdom into doom and despair after killing King Magnus (Noah Huntley)? If she doesn’t like men, why doesn’t she surround herself with women? Why isn’t there more time spent addressing the fact that she’s can’t get close to anyone because she doesn’t trust men and she seems to eat all of the women? There’s juicy stuff here, but no one is taking advantage of it.
- Another example of how poorly developed Ravenna is? There are hints that she’s mad (and not just because she looks prepared to rip off a piece of the set with her weird MJ claws). Consider the scene when her brother Finn (Sam Spruell) observes Ravenna talking to the mirror. From his perspective it appears that she’s talking to herself. Is this because she has magic and he doesn’t, or because she’s mad? We don’t know…and apparently it’s not interesting enough to explore. It’s as though by throwing in a few lines about how men only care about beauty, the screenwriters felt they’d done enough with her. Yup, because that sure explains everything! Admittedly it’s better than most other Evil Queens from other pieces, but that’s damning with faint praise
- Kristen Stewart: I’m actually a K. Stew champ most of the time (outside of the Twilight films, which seem to be the teen girl equivalent of the Star Wars films: they suck all the acting talent out of their casts). I loved Stewart in Adventureland (go rent it, it’s awesome), and she’s solid in many of her early teen efforts. Here, however, she alternates exclusively between two expressions: lost and confused. In some scenes, especially early ones, this is fine because Snow White is lost and confused. But when we’re nearing the two hour mark and she still looks that way while delivering the big Braveheart speech to the troops? It feels like Stewart is waiting for someone to direct her…or maybe she just needs a syringe full of adrenaline to the chest? It’s hard to cheer for a protagonist who not only doesn’t act like a leader, but seemingly survives the film based on luck and a two second fighting lesson from the Huntsman
- The love triangle: It’s clear from the title who we’re meant to cheer on as a couple. So why bother inserting the childhood romance with William (Sam Claflin), especially mid-way through the film? It’s not only obvious that Snow won’t end up with him – he’s clearly the ‘wrong partner’ because he’s absent for significant portions of the film, and he fails to wake Snow up after she’s been poisoned. Oh wait…that’s right: there is no right partner because at the end of the film, there is no hook-up! There’s only an awkward look exchanged between Queen Snow and the Huntsman that remains unexplained/unexplored. In one way I appreciated that they didn’t get together because Snow and the Huntsman have very little chemistry and coupling them up would have reinforced the conventional message that women need to end the story with a hero. The fact that Snow is Queen and she’s independent is a great message…so why bother padding an already long film with a love triangle (or a love story at all)?! This reads like a studio executive’s decision after reading the script and asking how they’ll pull in the teen girls without some kind of romance. The result appears to be this half-hearted kindasorta effort.
- The homages (that are clearly not intended as homages): At this point it’s hard to make a film that doesn’t end up feeling like another, especially when it’s a fantasy epic with battle sequences. So I was willing to forgive any scenes filled with armies fighting in armor in castles or other genre fare because it will inevitably feel like Lord of the Rings or maybe even Game Of Thrones. Snow White And The Huntsman trades in conventions because we expect them – they’re there to remind us what kind of movie we’re watching and reassure us that the product is safe (raise your hand if you actually thought the Queen might win? No? There you go). The problem is that Snow White And The Huntsman goes beyond that – it’s like it doesn’t have enough of its own ideas, so it borrows liberally from other (superior) efforts: I’m talking about Ridley Scott’s 1985 fantasy film Legend and Ron Howard’s Willow (1988). I’ll concede that neither are extremely popular, but that’s not an excuse to lift whole scenes from them! The worst offender is the scene when Snow wakes up and follows the fairies (why are they living in the birds???) to see a shining, white mystical creature. The scene is almost beat for beat the same as the scene in Legend (jump to around 7 mins) when Lily (Mia Sara) touches a unicorn just before it is attacked. Both scenes even take place in a stream and feature a slow motion aftermath with the creature rearing up! I smell plagiarism! The connection to Willow is less obvious but the final showdown between two women in a castle tower with magic felt very reminiscent of Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) and Fin Raziel’s (Patricia Hayes) epic magical battle in Willow. The biggest difference is that Snow can barely muster a blow against Ravenna to save her life, whereas Fin Raziel – who may very well be an octogenarian – kicks all kinds of ass. Maybe Snow and Willow aren’t actually all that comparable; perhaps it’s more that I wish the final battle in Snow had been more epic instead of around two minutes of Stewart getting thrown around.
- The hair: Apart from Ravenna’s mostly perfect coif, the hair in this movie (including the wigs) are truly terrible. I get that the rain makes everything more atmospheric, but everyone is constantly talking with a mouthful of wet and/or greasy looking hair. And it’s not even consistent! As you can see above, after biting the apple, Snow’s hair is immaculate. What was in that apple? Conditioner?! And don’t even get me started on that Rastafarian ponyhawk do she’s sporting for the battle scenes. A) When the eff did she have time to get her hair ‘did’? And B) No, seriously, what the hell is that?! A jump rope? The mane of a horse? I’m so confused.
- And finally…it’s boring: There’s an aura of “meh” presiding over the entire film. No one – except Theron – pops, not even the stunt-casted dwarves (Side Note: after you spend ten minutes identifying the famous British actors, they become far less interesting). The locations are pretty, and the action palatable, but everything just feels by-the-numbers. Generic action sequence with a giant CGI beastie (here: a troll)? Check! Pseudo-quasi feminist lead character to make the film look progressive despite the fact that she does virtually nothing? Check! Love triangle with a Hemsworth brother and other generic hottie? Check! Expensive battle sequences consisting mostly of CGI people killing each other? Check! Yeah, Snow White And The Huntsman feels like it has it all, but it’s heart isn’t really in it (zing!). When a movie clocks in at over two hours, you shouldn’t leave the theatre feeling as though you’ve escaped from prison or, more pointedly, that you felt Every.Single.Minute of those two hours.
Bottom line / moral of the story: Snow White And The Huntsman apes other, better fantasy films and you should probably just watch those instead.
What did you think, moviegoers? Was Snow White And The Huntsman a success to you? Did you want more from Ravenna’s backstory? Did you want Stewart to look excited just once? Sound off below!