Jun 06 2012
Back when I was a movie news hound for JoBlo.com, on the hunt for stories the minute they broke, it seemed like a day wouldn’t go by without some new salvo in the “war” of the two Snow White projects.
Mirror, Mirror and Snow White in the Huntsman would trade barbs with title announcements, plot synopsis and teaser posters released often with a day of each other. But it was only when the trailers were finally released did it seem like game over. Tarsem Singh’s Mirror, Mirror was a goofball comedy with evil Julia Roberts trying to make the fairy tale into The Devil Wears Prada. Huntsman, on the other hand, looked like a visually astonishing fantasy epic that make you forget all about bluebirds and dopey dwarves.
In the end, Snow White in the Huntsman is far and away the superior feature, and though flawed, is a solid attempt to modernize a classic story. Mark my words, the live-action-ficiation of Disney movies is coming. It’s happening with Mulan (look it up), and Snow White marks the first effort of the upcoming trend to actually be released. Don’t believe me? I’ll print out and eat this review if there isn’t a live-action Aladdin film announced within the next five years.
I’d give her my kingdom too.
But Snow White is a tale older than Disney, and Huntsman goes into its darker fairy tale roots. All the pieces you know from the story are still there, an ageless queen, gold-mining dwarves, a rather nasty apple, but they’re assembled in a way that makes the story far more epic than we’ve ever seen it.
Charlize Theron is Ravena, an ageless beauty who seduces and kills kings for sport, and her latest victim is the poor father of young princess Snow White. The girl is kept on lock down in the castle until her teens, but escapes right as she “comes of age,” a moment when her heart becomes valuable as food for Ravena who must consume it to truly be immortal.
Snow White flees to the Dark Woods and Ravena enlists the help of a local Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to track her down. When he realizes the circumstances of his employ, he sides with Snow White, and the pair soon find allies across the land, including a former childhood crush of Snow White’s (Sam Claflin) and seven stalwart dwarves (Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan, Johnny Harris, Brian Gleeson).
They have the most one-sided pick-up basketball games ever.
The film is simply gorgeous in every way. The cinematography makes effortless use of a huge amount of CGI, and sequences like the Dark Woods or the Fairy Forest are right up there in terms of richness and creativity with anything James Cameron showed us in Avatar’s Pandora. It’s been a while since CGI in a film was truly worth nothing, but here every frame of the film is almost impossibly beautiful.
Another head-scratching technical feat is the creation of the dwarves. For years, effects artists have been trying to put big heads on little bodies, and you can reference Captain America and Benjamin Button for two of the most recent examples. But here, it wouldn’t even occur to you that the seven actors were not actually dwarves in real life, as the effect is seamless. Only when you start recognizing McShane, Frost and Jones from other features do you understand how insane of a technical achievement their dwarfism is.
Snow White and the Huntsman’s beauty is its focal point, and as such the story and characters take a backseat to the visual spectacle. Even if the Huntsman himself adds a new dimension to the story, we all know the basics, and as such, there’s nary a surprise to be found in the plot. The two performances from the leads are a bit wonky as well, with Charlize Theron going into full-on insanity mode as the mad queen in a way that almost doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. Conversely Kristen Stewart’s Snow White doesn’t say more than a handful of lines until the last twenty minutes of the film. The best performances rather come from Hemsworth’s Huntsman (even after Thor, this guy is going to be big) and the comical dwarves.
Can Stewart act outside of Twilight? I’m still not sure. The movie doesn’t give her much to do.
The film tries to insert a love triangle between the Huntsman, Snow White and her former crush William, but it’s not really explored and left ambiguous as if they simply didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings in the end. Such complications are supposed to make characters more compelling, but it doesn’t really feel needed here.
It’s a good film, not a great one, but worth watching for the eye-popping visuals alone. See you in 2015 when we can analyze a darker, grittier Aladdin.
3.5 out of 5 stars
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