Thursday, May 31, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

The Fairest of Them All In My Books

From time to time Hollywood will have this one big idea that everyone wants a piece of the pie of. From asteroids to fairy tale remakes, this year sees two completely different takes on the classical Snow White story, with Mirror Mirror firing the first salvo under director Tarsem's powerful but kitschy imagery and Julia Roberts hamming it up as the one-liner spouting evil Queen, and Snow White and the Huntsman under director Rupert Sanders offering a more grounded, grittier version of the girl blessed to be the fairest of them all.

Really, do we need more than two hours to tell the story of Snow White once upon a time? Unless one is deprived of fairy tales when growing up, the story is probably amongst the most well known, and Disney's version would have permeated the subconscious of many, and everyone has their preferred interpretation. Unfortunately both movies take on extremes in their approach, when I felt a middle ground will probably provide for a more even narrative for the modern audience. With Mirror Mirror, Tarsem loaded it up with plenty of nice looking visuals, and you can label his Lily Collins as cute, coming complete with a singing voice put to good use at the end of the film. Julia Roberts on the other hand fell short and was woeful as the Queen whose second career as a stand up comedian tanked hard.

Here, it became the opposite, with the wicked witch being a more compelling watch than Snow White. Charlize Theron, as the icy Queen whose magical prowess depended on the number of beautiful maidens she sucks the life out of, simply mesmerizes, and makes it all the more believable that a King in bereavement would be enchanted to take her as a Queen and become Snow White's stepmother, only to spell his downfall. The story by Evan Daugherty gave her character of Queen Ravenna plenty of back story, from her origins and reasons to be hell bent on chewing up kingdoms, in what would be soul devouring hate begetting hate. She hisses and gets her body all twisted, hell bent on completing the final piece of advice given by the mirror on the wall to devour the heart of Snow White in her quest for immortality. Even her bad apple ploy was more ingenious as compared to the half-baked one designed by Mirror Mirror's Queen.

Kristen Stewart doesn't look at all like Snow White, and I suppose being better known as Bella from Twilight just made her snow pale skin here reminiscent of the other more (in)famous character she plays. There's no nice looking costumes and dresses for Snow White, and the acting range here by Stewart is limited. To portray Snow White as some kind of warrior queen, on Stewart's lithe shoulders, was a bit of a stretch as well. She doesn't have the charismatic presence of, nor the innocence of traditional Snow White, since her version harbours desire for revenge and to retake her kingdom, having escaped from the clutches of Ravenna, and having the reluctant titular Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) assist her in getting past scenario after scenario, village after village, to one of her father's loyal servant Duke Hammond (Vincent Regan) and his son and one time playmate William (Sam Claflin) serving as romantic fodder with a hint of a love triangle bubbling underneath. Action sequences involving the Huntsman were pretty much standard, with no surprises thrown up, with a secret hope that he would be wielding a hammer at some point.

It is this flight from the dark that played out with its handbrake on, tedious in execution with the same run-fight-hide routine taking place so frequently you'd wonder just how long it is to finally complete her journey in one direction, then having to take the reverse direction all the way back again to Queen Ravenna. Given it's no Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the Dwarves themselves got pretty much sidelined for the most parts save for two specially designed action sequences, and in many ways distanced the bond formed between Snow White and the Dwarves. What more, this version had the likes of Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Toby Jones et al who play these characters, so a little camera trickery got employed to shrink them to the right perspective. And I really wonder why the big names for the roles that turned out to be less than 5 minutes for each actor, and are more grouchy without personality as seen by those portrayed in Mirror Mirror.

And as if having a Snow White that's no longer that damsel in distress but possessing a steely willpower isn't enough, this version also made her very much like a Christ figure, in a strange amalgamation of having swords and sorcery mixed with Biblical references, including having the Lord's Prayer being recited. One cannot deny, given plot developments, how the writers found opportunity to include death and resurrection efforts, and from the latter, fast-tracking the faith amongst the downtrodden to follow her into battle against the devil as personified by the evil Queen. But listening to what's supposed to be a rousing anthem to rise up against oppression, it actually fell very flat and uninspiring to say the least.

Sure the fairest of them all can command plenty of animals and fairies into a loving frenzy in a strange, trippy scene. but I reckon a better Snow White film would see Charlize Theron's Queen pitted against Lily Collins' Snow White. Now that I would pay money to watch another round of story revolving around the same themes and narrative structure.

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