Review: 'Snow White & the Huntsman' a Rocky Start to Sanders' Career
by Jeremy Kirk
June 1, 2012
Getting back to the darker roots of fairy tales is one of the many things Snow White and the Huntsman does right. The dark characters in muddy sets and strange creatures lurking in shadows are all on display, much of them effectively executed with spot-on aid by digital effects, though most of it pulled from other, similar stories. But a key ingredient to this applesauce mixture of witches, dwarves and knights is lacking - the direction. Without an interesting eye behind the camera, Snow White and the Huntsman winds up a cavalcade of rich items all shown in the blandest of ways, and the lifeless film is just barely saved by all the details working in unison. It leaves a taste of disappointment, but there's also room for growth.
A story that is told largely through its key monster, the film introduces Ravenna (Charlize Theron), a wicked witch who woos her way into a king's bed before stabbing her way into ownership of the throne. The king's daughter, Snow White (Kristen Stewart), is thrust into a prison tower and kept there unharmed apparently - The film doesn't bother to tell us why Ravenna doesn't just kill the girl. She's killed everything else with youth and beauty in the kingdom and taken their souls to keep herself young. And beautiful. But, on Snow White's 18th birthday, she becomes the fairest in the land, and the witch queen learns her only way to permanent youthfulness is by eating the young woman's heart. I told you. It's dark.
From there, the film turns into essentially a chase movie, with Snow White, who has escaped, as Willow and the horrible witch as, well, the horrible witch. The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) of the title shows up with his own baggage in tow. The monsters swoop in aplenty. The dwarfs are surprisingly not annoying as all hell. Everything seems to be clicking.
So why is there a feeling that it's nothing new? Because it's really nothing new when you boil it all down. Yes, there's a cool, edgy darkness to it all, something fans of Todd McFarlane might have displayed on their shelves. No, the creatures aren't groundbreaking in any sense, and the fleeting way in which they're used - one particularly cool monster shows up for a roar then disappears never to play into the story again - is only made more apparent by how dull it's all captured for our eyes.
Rupert Sanders, a commercial director for years who steps into his feature film making career here with a $100 million epic, doesn't bring any flair to the table. His dialogue scenes are very basic, one speaker after the other, nothing interesting occurring in the background to fill the frame. The action scenes throughout the film are standard movements back and forth with only a few key moments - a beach charge near the end of the film raises the bar on scope, but, again, it's only from two or three angles - standing out. It all reminds us of where we've seen those same shots with creatures who look similar to that in films before. Sanders' ability to really strike a chord with audiences was tested with this film, and, unfortunately, inexperience won.
And while that is a large chunk of what does or doesn't make Snow White and the Huntsman work, it isn't the whole, and there are certainly things to admire in the film. Most notably the dwarfs, the seven or eight - the film is kind of flaky on how many there are - miners Snow White and the Huntsman, who has taken her side after the queen orders him to kill her, encounter. The effects on the dwarfs' faces are seamless and give you a damn near flawless depiction at what Ian McShane or Bob Hoskins would look like were they little people. It's jarring at first, but quickly lets you embrace how fun it is. Ray Winstone's Gort is a favorite.
Turning the volume way past 11, Theron as Ravenna is doing everything she can not to literally slather butter on the set and start gnawing on it. She contorts her face to such extremes and seems to turn on her character's anger from somewhere deep in the soul. It falters into daytime melodramatic camp at times, more often than you'd expect, but Theron always pulls it back just before she loses you. While Stewart and Hemsworth are delivering fine, but nothing noteworthy, performances as the title characters, it's Charlize Theron as the villainous queen who commands something truly memorable. Is it good? That's for an acting coach to say, but it's more entertaining than Monster. That's for sure.
Wounded by a stab at its direction heart, Snow White and the Huntsman hobbles on in the capable hands of its visual effects artists, production designers, and cast. A film whose script went through three, different tear-downs and rebuilds, it plays as basic and as simple as you would expect from something that has a subpot about "the one." It tries too hard at awkward times to revisit and take left turns on the classic Snow White fairy tale, not enough times to ruin but more than it should. But, again, there's something in the way the details of the film are playing their hardest, working for a screenplay and a director who knows when something looks good. He just doesn't know how to show it to us in a new and exciting way. There's room to grow, and Snow White and the Huntsman could very easily go down as the introduction to the movie world to Rupert Sanders. He had a rough start. But it all ended up happily ever after...
Yeah. I did.
Jeremy's Rating: 6.5 out of 10