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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Snow White And The Huntsman


Taking familiar stories and repackaging them is the name of the game in Hollywood today.  Snow White And The Huntsman has got dwarves, magic mirrors and poison apples, as is necessary to nominally be considered a Snow White tale.   But this misbegotten reinterpretation feels less like the magic of Walt Disney than the entire long agonizing slog of The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy jammed into one two hour endeavor.  The movie, which was directed by Rupert Sanders and stars Charlize Theron as the evil queen, Kristen Stewart as Snow White, and Chris Hemsworth as the hunky huntsman, has the same feudal-filth stylistics as the popular historical fantasy Game Of Thrones, but in its mish-mashed approach it only sullies the enchantment of the classic story with Dark Age gloominess.  Muddy, loveless and as over-produced as the worst Hollywood assembly-line epics, this revisionist fairy tale is far more grim than Grimm.  

Besides a handful of technically impressive visuals—Theron’s Queen Ravenna ages forward and backward like a perpetual motion machine, her skin withering into pockmarks and wrinkles before magically resurfacing into splendid Neutrogena cover girl smoothness—this is a rather joyless affair.  It begins with Ravenna usurping a king’s throne with a black widow’s ruse—marrying him then sticking a knife in his heart—and locking the prepubescent princess in a tower until she grows up into the inescapable and insufferable Kristen Stewart.  (The Twilight actress tries her hardest for an English accent and fails, miserably, but that’s hardly the biggest problem with her performance: Stewart acts as if constantly suppressing a migraine.) 

Regardless of any self-serious, swords-and-shields reimagining, the essence of the Snow White character has and always will be absolute kindness and generosity, almost to the point of masochism.  The ultimate message of the Snow White fable was that, despite the queen’s best efforts, she could never be as beautiful as Snow White because Snow White had an untouchable beauty of spirit; the queen was overflowing with festering hatred.  Stewart, with her Got-Milk gawkiness and two or three expressions, is so sullen an actress that she comes off as enormously self-centered, a most antithetic character trait.  When Snow White is invited to dance by a love-struck dwarf, she obliges, but Stewart is so phony she has to force a smile, like a preteen brat reluctantly dancing with the class dweeb at her Bat Mitzvah.

Admittedly, Stewart, green eyed and raven-haired, does have a natural on-screen beauty, most clearly in evidence early on.  But compared to her breathtaking costar, Charlize Theron, Stewart is a feather battling it out with an anvil on a triple beam balance.  When it comes to screen radiance and explosive histrionics, Theron’s incendiary turn as Ravenna sporadically set the theater aflame.  Other times, all the shrieking and overacting prompted a good amount of unintentional giggling (from this viewer particularly).  For better or worse, though, the Oscar winner is at least wholly committed to role, affording the archetypal evil queen far more sympathetic depth than any previous incarnation.  Of course, I use the term sympathetic rather lightly; she’s still the “evil” queen, after all.  When her old consigliore, the magic mirror, warns her of Snow White’s potential beauty, Ravenna decides to devour the girl’s beating heart, absorb her purity, and achieve omnipotence (or some other magical jargon I can’t remember). 

Snow, instead, escapes to the Dark Forest, where she allies with a widowed huntsman named Eric (Hemsworth, in his third feature this year already) and seven dwarves played by famous British actors with their faces graphically placed on little bodies Benjamin Button style.  They trudge through a sludgy fantasia filled with gravelly trolls and effulgent sprites for what feels like eons, get chased by the Queen’s inept guards, and then arrive at the base of the Rebel Alliance, where the messianic Snow White gives the most laughably unconvincing of rally-the-troops pep talks before leading an army to defeat Ravenna and take back the kingdom.  The script, which is credited to Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini but was probably passed down an entire batting order of Hollywood hacks, is symptomatic of the Twilight-cancer, adding a superfluous second love interest named William, an ace archer with curls and dimples. 

He’s kind of like Prince Charming, but in all honesty, he and Eric should probably just be one character.  The writers think they’re being subversive, or at least clever, by hinting toward an inevitable romance between Snow White and her burly anti-prince, Eric.  But the two have zero chemistry.  (Probably because acting opposite Kristen Stewart is like acting opposite a frozen freezer door.)  Teutonic with an oceanic ocular glimmer, Hemsworth also has a cheeky self-knowingness to go along with his movie star looks.  Putting on a Scottish brogue and donning ragged, greasy threads of hair, the Australian doesn’t quite shine in this picture like he does as the Norse demigod Thor, but he has an earthy, aggressive charisma that seems as inherent as it is irrepressible.    

At times, he reminds me of a young Brad Pitt, perhaps if Pitt had moonlighted as a rugby enforcer.  But the movie is a thankless death-march for the entire cast.  It’s the cinematic equivalent to long unrefrigerated String Cheese: processed and produced, spoiled into a putrid miscellany of fashionable plot devices and visual tendencies, and repackaged and resoled.  Snow White And The Huntsman doesn’t care a lick about genuine adventure, romance or heart—only box-office returns.  If you choose to indulge, I don’t think any magic kiss will raise you from this movie’s sickening spell.

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