THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"SNOW WHITE & THE HUNTSMAN"
My fear going into Snow White & the Huntsman was that it would represent the Twilight-ing of a classic fairy tale, kind of like last year's Red Riding Hood. I have nothing against making movies for a primarily tween-girl audience, but some of them are dumbed down to appalling levels. (Cute boys! Love triangles! Barely contained sexual urges! Ugh.) Much to my surprise, it seems as though the makers of this picture were trying to make a Snow White movie for guys. It's got a couple of gorgeous lead actresses, some dazzling CGI, and a handful of wild-and-crazy action sequences. I guess the theory is that women will go see a “guy's movie” more readily than men will go see a “chick flick.” Of course, I can only speak for one man – myself - and I found Snow White & the Huntsman to be unexpectedly entertaining.
Kristen Stewart plays Snow White, a fair maiden who is locked in a castle tower by her evil stepmother Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who took over the kingdom after killing Snow's father. Ravenna is obsessed with youth and beauty. A magic spell allows her to absorb those things from other women, essentially giving her eternal good looks, so long as she can continue to find new victims upon whom to prey. When her magic mirror informs her that the now-grown Snow White is officially the “fairest of them all,” Ravenna vows to fatally suck up the young woman's beauty. Snow escapes before that can happen, and the huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) sent to track her down ends up joining forces with her to defeat the evil queen. And then they meet a bunch of dwarfs.
Snow White & the Huntsman is a visually magnificent work. From a production standpoint, everything on the screen is stunning. The majesty of the costumes and sets are heightened by Greig Fraser's atmospheric cinematography. (He also shot the equally-impressive Let Me In, so that's no surprise.) There is a lushness to the film that you can get lost in; there were times when I was admiring the sheer look of it more than I was investing in the plot. It truly is eye candy. You could literally take any frame from this film and hang it on your living room wall as a piece of art.
But more than that, the movie is grimmer than you might anticipate. This is not a sweet-and-sugary big-screen fairy tale. There are moments of genuine menace, especially the sequences set in the Dark Forest, where Snow White gets hit with a cloud of hallucinogens and begins imagining all sorts of gruesome and disturbing things, including mushrooms with eyes. The combat scenes are staged like those in Gladiator, with shaky cameras and rapid editing, yet instead of blood, Ravenna's minions explode into shards of metal when hit. At several points, Ravenna is shown mercilessly turning helpless young women into aged hags. All of these things created sufficient drama to keep me hooked.
Aside from the visuals, a sizable chunk of the credit must go to Charlize Theron. She's superb as the evil queen. Theron takes the character to the edge without over-playing her. She also brings a tiny hint of humanity to Ravenna. Yes, the woman does cruel, cruel things, but you can see a tinge of insecurity underneath it all. This is a woman whose own lack of esteem has literally turned her into a monster. Only an actress of Theron's stature could give such a villain that extra dimension. She's the ticking heart of the picture. Stewart and Hemsworth are good too, as are the famous actors playing the dwarfs. Nick Frost, Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, and Ray Winstone may not look like little people, but the seamless special effects convincingly put their heads onto smaller bodies. They also bring welcome flashes of humor.
I'll be the first to admit that Snow White & the Huntsman is nothing more than a surface-level pleasure. Thematically, it goes darker than it does deep. The plot occasionally falls victim to clunky pacing, as well as a sense that more effort went into the visuals than into the words actually coming out of the actors' mouths. Giving the two lead actresses more screen time together could have amped up the tension, or even made the conflict between their characters more vivid. As it stands, they spend most of the movie apart, fighting one another from afar.
Those flaws went through my mind as I watched, but then there would be a fantastical scene in the fairy forest, or some new creature for Snow and her cohorts to fight, or Theron would pop back up and unleash her character's fury. And you know what? That was enough for me. Snow White & the Huntsman is slick and stylish, with an overriding desire to show you the grittier flip side of a famous fairy tale we usually see portrayed with more lightness. I surrendered to its pleasures, in spite of its shortcomings.
( out of four)
Snow White & the Huntsman is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality. The running time is 2 hours and 7 minutes.
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