Snow White and the Huntsman
Snow What: Latest iteration of fairy tale irritates and bores, just like Kristen Stewart.
Thursday, May 31, 2012
We’re seeing a lot of Snow White lately – see also: Mirror, Mirror – and I’ve been trying to figure out why. It’s probably down to the backlash against women daring to demand agency over their own selves: Why else would we be getting multiple renditions of an opportunistic, narcissistic career woman as, literally, an evil imperial witch who does as she pleases losing out to a young innocent pure girl with no apparent desires for her own life?
It’s kinda ironic, then, that Snow White and the Huntsman fails, in part, because its Snow White is so badly miscast. Kristen Stewart so far has not demonstrated a wide range as an actor, but some things she does very well: surliness, petulance and rage. These are not emotions that girls in real life are encouraged to express, and they’re certainly not female emotions often depicted onscreen. So to see them embodied by someone so popular as Stewart is a good thing. But even while you might expect a bit of petulant rage from a teenage girl who’s been locked away for a decade in a tower – as this Snow White has, by her evil stepmother – this Snow is also meant to be ethereal. Like a Disney princess, even, little birdies alighting on her slender white fingers and whatnot. But there is nothing ethereal about Stewart – she is all id. And still, apparently everyone (but us) can see the inherent goodness of Snow and her rapport with nature. There’s a bit here, in which Stewart’s Snow communes with a commanding symbol of The Forest, that manages to remain only just this side of laughable, and probably only by the sheer, deep yearning on the part of the film to be Weighty and Epic.
THERE ISN’T A COHESIVE WORLD HERE, AS IN LORD OF THE RINGS OR STAR WARS, BOTH OF WHICH HUNTSMAN DESPERATELY EVOKES.
Director Rupert Sanders is a commercial director, making his feature debut. He really really would like for you to feel the grand, sweeping, larger-than-life mythos, so much so that he borrows willy-nilly from Peter Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro, what with his helicopter shots of the many dramatic panoramas of Snow’s realm, and his intimate encounters with soulful monsters and other strange beings. But he can’t work with more than he’s been given, and the script is a mess. There isn’t a cohesive world here, as in Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, both of which Huntsman desperately evokes: Instead, there are random bits of magic and landscapes that make no organic sense but are strung together because, hey, ya gots to have snowy mountains and swampy Pits of Despair and castles on the ocean all within easy walking distance of one another in a fantasy flick.
And then there is the Huntsman – he has no given name – played with a strapping authority by Chris Hemsworth. The wicked Queen (Charlize Theron) commands him to pursue Snow when she escapes from her tower, which he reluctantly agrees to do. In this pseudo Euro-medieval fairy-tale dominion in which everyone speaks with an accent that ranges from vaguely English (Stewart, Theron) to down-to-earth actually English (almost everyone else), the Huntsman sports a Scottish accent. Why? Who knows? Christianity makes one brief, jarring appearance, then disappears… except for a few bishop-y old codgers in funny hats performing a ceremony here and there. What do they think of the Queen’s very public dark magic? Who knows?
There’s no context for anything, on scales large and small, from the jumble of unreal ecosystems to lines of dialogue that are meant to have some resonance but don’t. Snow, free from the Queen and plotting to take back the throne the Queen stole from her father, says to an old friend she was a child with, in a place we haven’t seen before: “It’s as if nothing’s changed here.” Where are they? How did they know this place before? Why does it seem unchanged? What the hell?
If Huntsman feels overlong, it’s because it’s crammed with too much stuff for one movie, and no one aspect gets enough attention. It wants to give the Queen a backstory for her evil, and that ends up feeling empty. It wants to give the Huntsman a backstory for his desperation, but there’s no there there. It wants to give the inevitable dwarves a backstory for their banditry and despair, but it glides right over them. It wants to make Snow White into a Joan of Arc archetype, and yet her big speech is literally nonsensical. Huntsman tries to do too much in too little time, and ends up unsatisfying all around.
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2) • Directed by Rupert Sanders • Starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron •Rated PG-13 • 127 min. • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Lighthouse Cinemas.