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David Poland

By David Poland

Review: Snow White & The Huntsman (Conceptual Spoilers Only)

I whispered to my wife as we watched this film that Snow was about to get her period… and sure enough, no discussion on screen of feminine plumbing, but all of a sudden, within 2 minutes, she was “of age” for the first time, according to the mirror-mirror.

What seems to have been writer Evan Daugherty’s original notion, later rewritten by John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini, and shaped by director Rupert Sanders (and no doubt, Charlize Theron), lives at crotch level. It’s not profane. Kids are safe, if not too easily freaked out, to enjoy the visual wonder of the movie. But makes no mistake. This is a movie about sex and death.

Disney’s Snow White was also about sex & death, but in a much for subtextual way. It was a Walt Disney fetish. If you watch his movies, he always sexualized the evil women, not the pure ones. They were always the stars. And Charlize Theron is, here, pretty much the owner of the movie. But with Kristen Stewart as the only greater beauty, still unsullied, all Joan of Arc-ed up, it is a fair fight.

In fact, swimming through the thick subtext, Snow White is, really, what evil Queen Ravenna (Theron) could have been… had she had the opportunity to remain unsullied… beauty and kindness and toughness. Ravenna is not only trying to kill Snow for her direct benefit, but she is trying to kill the representation, in flesh, of what she might have been.

When, early in the film, Ravenna’s creepy brother Finn (Sam Spruell) threatens to molest young Snow while he is on his mission to bring her to the queen, there are layers that you don’t have to think about, but I sure did. If he plucked Snow’s flower, would he have unwittingly doomed his sister, whose youth would be preserved by Snow White’s pure heart of beauty? If Mr. Yeeks is after the most beautiful of them all and has spent a lifetime with the previous title holder… have bro & sis had something creepy going? What does he want? What are his needs?

Snow White’s relationship with The Huntsman (eventually) and young Prince Charming (here named William) is right out of Star Wars, which was right out of… and so on and so on. The Huntsman is Han Solo and William is Luke (pre-bro/sis insight). Both come to love Snow. But one is a man and one is a boy. (Will William turn out to be Snow’s brother in the sequel? Tune in same Snow time, same Snow channel!!!)

And is this just a big horror show about losing your virginity? Ravena’s countdown clock started early, without her consent, and there began her obsession with losing the power of her youthful beauty. Snow just doesn’t seem to give a damn. She is effortlessly beautiful. She is instinctual and immediate as Ravena is deliberate and reliant on others (her brother, the mirror, black magic) to simply be.

Thus, the cruelty of man (literally, those of us with low hanging fruit). Everyone in the film is turned on by Snow White and her pure beauty… even the seemingly desexualized dwarfs. Yet, the subtext of this tale offers, from the moment that the prize is obtained, the purity man steals is the lost, distraction begins, and the woman is left to fight to resurrect that purity, in hope of keeping the man she gave it tom, by any means necessary.

Perhaps Zwick & Herskovitz should do the sequel, Snow White: Honeymoon’s End.

All this and I still haven’t written about how cool it all looks…

It looks really cool.

Oddly, given that we are on top of Prometheus, I thought about 20 minutes in that Rupert Sanders has a very Scott-ian skill set and style. We’re a long way from the flawed but beautiful Legend. Sanders takes that kind of imagery to the next step here, mixing Scott with Guillermo del Toro at times to create a new era Wizard of Oz.

In some ways, if the cause of Dorothy’s entry to Oz wasn’t a tornado, but a blackout coming from good ol’ Professor Marvel trying to pluck her innocence away behind the tent, you would get Snow’s journey into the Dark Forest here. Nature is even more treacherous here… even more treacherous than the humans (flying monkeys) that she enters the woods to escape… but also clearly motivated. The Dark Forest is a dark sanctuary… a place where Black Magic cannot enter. Nature defends itself from the world.

Snow has an odd hero’s journey here, as the Dark Forest lightens only for her. (I’m not sure how any screenwriter of director can ever allow, “She’s THE ONE” to be used without irony in a post-Matrix movie world. It’s like having The Huntsman say, “I coulda been a contender.”) In many ways, the Dark Forest is another representation of the virginal trust theme. The Dark Forest will kill you for trying to enter… and every time it/she opens up a bit, it/she is reminded why it was so dark/guarded. Man behaves badly.

I loved a lot of what happens in the Black Forest… which I will reserve comment on for the sake of spoilers for now.

I especially love the Eight Dwarfs. Yes, eight. (If Yul Brenner was alive, he might be one, so he could say, “Now we are seven!”) I also loved the dwarfs in Mirror Mirror. But how much fun is it to see taller actors you love turned into not only dwarfs, but such great versions of themselves? (Rhetorical question… but answer: LOTS!) Hoskins, McShane, Marsan, Toby Jones, and Nick Frost (who made me laugh a little every time that mug came on camera) are all such big personalities. Great stuff. And it was inspired to have Brian Gleeson, with a short resume and status as spawn of Brendon, get one of the meatiest dwarf roles, instead of giving it to one of the big names. It kept his dramatic moments from feeling too gimmick-laden.

And I felt that the super-serious Kristen Stewart was dead on through most of the movie. Her purity of spirit is as central to the story as Ravena’s impurity. It wouldn’t have made sense for her to play it larger or more emotionally.

That said… and there is a big “but” in this review… the film was lacking something that kept it from being truly great.

Was it that the film failed to catch fire in Kristen’s St. Crispin’s Day speech? Maybe. I went with it. But I wasn’t knocked out by it.

But I don’t think blaming K-Stew for being quiet is the real issue. Element for element, this film absolutely rocks. Looks GREAT. Effects are GREAT. Colleen Atwood is a sure Oscar nominee and how can anyone beat her for this work. Chris Hemsworth is the best he’s been – best character he’s had to play – and absolutely delivers. Theron is fucking EPIC. I don’t know that, all said and done, it’s awards work… but it was flawless and fearless.

So why wasn’t I jumping out of my seat in the third act? At the climax? Ever?

The analogy that strikes me – fitting the film – is a person you are crushing on… attractive, sexy as hell, smart, similar interests, basically perfect… and then you sleep together and everything the other person does is “right,” but somehow, it just isn’t great sex. You can’t point to this move or that, to enthusiasm or skill, or to your own enthusiasm. It just doesn’t have that SCHWING!

The movie had me. The performances had me. The ideas had me. And then, somewhere in the murk… somewhere as they prepared to go confront Evil… I was aware that I was watching a movie, not lost in the excitement.

It’s a very rare thing, to like this movie as much as I did, and not to be able to fall in love. And from that odd place, I have no idea what audience reactions overall might be. I would be happy to watch this movie again. I’ll support Atwood’s and production designer Dominic Watson’s Oscar pushes energetically and be completely open to Theron’s. I hope the film does plenty of business. It is smarter and more challenging than most teen girl empowerment events…. certainly a huge step up over the Twilights that I have seen (not the last one) and Hunger Games 1.

But as Sinatra might sing, “I wish I were in love again…”

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28 Responses to “Review: Snow White & The Huntsman (Conceptual Spoilers Only)”

  1. Paul D/Stella says:

    I wish I liked it as much as you did. Stewart did not work for me at all, though the role is incredibly underwritten. For 90+ minutes she hardly speaks and is given nothing to do. Then suddenly she is in battle armor giving William Wallace-type motivational speeches. She looks like a small child playing dress up. I found it impossible to pull for her because the character is completely blank.

    The supporting cast is good. And as you mentioned the production values are spectacular. Great effects and make up and costumes. But they can’t disguise a weak story and a movie that forgets to loosen up and have a little fun. It is deadly serious, as if it yearns to be Lord of the Rings, and often pretty dour.

    It definitely looks cool though.

  2. Daniella Isaacs says:

    But how does it compare to that oddball footnote of film history, the never-released-theatrically big-budget write-off: SNOW WHITE: A TALE OF TERROR with Sigourney Weaver?

  3. Jen says:

    Your review is really amusing to read after all the ones I’ve read today that have totally scorched it.

  4. anghus says:

    I think this movie is scorch proof. I read a 4 star review that praised everything but Kristen Stewart and they had two dozen angry kstew fans blasting them within an hour.

    Her fans are legion and theyll show up to see their precious bella in anything grand and romantic.

  5. spassky says:

    “But how does it compare to that oddball footnote of film history, the never-released-theatrically big-budget write-off: SNOW WHITE: A TALE OF TERROR with Sigourney Weaver?”

    For some reason, I am obsessed with this holy piece of shit.

    MMMMMM. DELIciooooose

  6. Sorry, I’m on the opposite side of the fence here. Theron is great but is barely in the movie after the first act. This leaves a comatose (by virtue of the script, not the actress) Snow White to command our attention while doing next-to-nothing for the next hour until the abbreviated climax. Like John Carter, the film gives us a blank lead character, immediately establishes a core conflict but then sits around while our passive hero arbitrarily waits until the last reel to actually solve said conflict, with nothing narratively-interesting happening onscreen to bide our time. The film is indeed rich in subtext, but again I’d argue it abandons most of it by the first 30 minutes or so. The action is brief and limp, while the dwarfs have nothing to say/do and basically waste eight damn-good actors. I was not a fan of Mirror Mirror, but at least that film’s Snow White had a somewhat proactive character arc and a token moral, even one cribbed from the insanely underrated Ella Enchanted. This time, Snow White just stares off into space until she eventually decides to charge into battle. I’m seeing Prometheus tonight, so hopefully I’ll like that better. Otherwise, July 20th is going to be a long wait…

    For those who care –

  7. David Poland says:

    GIven the script, I think KS was just fine… until that last 20 minutes, when, indeed, she didn’t have the power to blossom.

    But I disagree that the film was inert for over an hour in the middle. I liked the romantic twists – which are only in that middle. And I don’t know what the dwarfs have ever done that really mattered, aside from fighting and pushing the story along.

    I don’t consider this a rave by any means. But I guess the last third of the review doesn’t matter if the first 2/3rds wasn’t harsh enough.

    I am, as I wrote, thinking about how it would have been improved significantly. Not sure what actress would have pulled off the part KS pulls off so well. But complaints seem to be that her silence defines her as an actress, when it was very clearly defined by the screenplay and every ounce of intent in the film.

  8. Fair enough. If that was directed at me, “Opposite side of the fence” is a bit simplistic. Let’s just say you liked the first 2/3 far more than I. My beef with the dwarfs was mainly in that they ate up screen-time and thus slowed down the 2 hour+ film by virtue of their irrelevance. I felt the same way about Mirror Mirror, and I wish one or both films would have merely streamlined/eliminated the dwarfs altogether, since it’s supposed to be a re-imagining (no spoilers, but Mirror Mirror was willing to ditch an iconic element that SWATH kept to little good use). I will say that I rather liked how subtly they played what romance there is. No petty jealously, no ‘who will she choose?’, etc. And I think Stewart is as good as the material allows her to be, it’s just a shame that the part plays into a somewhat false meme about the prototypical Kristen Stewart performance. I think the perception that its her performance rather than the passive character in the script. And I too sat there last night thinking “this movie is doing quite a bit right, yet I’m not feeling anything”. It’s a better movie than John Carter if only for narrative coherency and bothering to have any subtext/depth.

  9. David Poland says:

    Sounds like we are on similar sides of the fence, with some differences in specific preferences.

  10. Jennifer says:

    I agree some with Scott says here, and in particular, what was said about the story and narrative. To me, too much exposition up front left us somewhat bereft of action in the middle. It wasn’t that Kristen played the part poorly. In fact, I thought she was radiant through much of the film, it’s that the script gave her little salvo with which to really develop Snow in a full-film character arc.

    I also was stymied by the almost immediate change of heart in the Huntsman’s character. I had expected a darker, more menacing role here, where there was conflict about how to move forward, and a longer, more anger-ridden road to acceptance (and attraction) to one another. The fact that they trusted each other and allied themselves almost immediately gave them little to chew on for the remainder of the second act, or even in discussing any kind of need to plot against Ravenna, or by what course of action that was to take.

    I was almost of the idea in seeing an early still that the writers were going for a trojan horse kind of scenario, where Huntsman and the dwarves offer a dead Snow to the Queen as a token of allegiance, only to unleash hell upon her armies once they penetrated the castle. Alas, the final action sequence and mano-a-mano conflict between Sno w and Ravenna fell flat.

    Visually the film was stunning, and from an acting standpoint, I was willing to jump on board (Theron’s over the top Ravenna, while at points annoying, worked although Hemsworth’s drunkard buffoon didn’t until his final confessional at Snow’s death bed).

    I’ve never before seen a film that has pulled critics in so many different directions, and to me it seems for those who hated it, most of their spite is directed at Stewart for reasons other than her performance. Taking the film as a whole, I believe it is a fun twist to a classic fairy tale, and one that will have some reasonable staying power, at least among younger audiences.

  11. anghus says:

    it is funny how people are using Snow White to take potshots at Stewart for Twilight. Its like their passive agressive way of doing what they should be doing in Twilight reviews but are afraid of alienating the teen legions

  12. chris says:

    I think Ellen Page, for instance, could have been really interesting in “Snow White and the Huntsman.”

  13. Geoff says:

    Fun review, Dave! I am more intrigued to see this now. But I have to say with all of the sex talk, you’re veering closely into Harry Knowles territory (albeit with MUCH better grammar and punctuation) – I’m hoping that might remember his now-legendary review of Blade II. 🙂

  14. Luke K says:

    Geoff, was thinking the same thing about Blade 2. I’m still scarred by that review to this day. DP is much more Skinamax late night though as that one was gonzo.

    I’m intrigued by all of the back and forth on people’s stance on this. I have my expectations set for a decent experience but I’m hoping mostly that this is the beginning of a great career for Sanders and we have another visual director enter the fold. Coming from commercials I’m also hoping he veers more towards Fincher (as the high bar) rather than being Tarsem. Time will tell.

  15. JKill says:

    SNOW WHITE & THE HUNTSMAN is one of the more visually stunning and interesting looking big movies to come out in a good while. It’s worth checking out on that score alone.

  16. Krillian says:

    I plan on seeing SWATH tonight, then I can belly up to this very intriguing-sounding fence.

  17. movieman says:

    Am I alone in thinking that Hemsworth has the stuff to become his generation’s answer to Mel Gibson?
    If he picks his roles carefully–and mixes and matches badass dudes w/ sensitive/lover guy roles–Hemsworth has the makings of a long and rosy career ahead of him.
    He just has to be careful not to overdo the comic book stuff.
    Has there ever been an enduring star who began their career playing a super hero?

  18. Joe Leydon says:

    Movieman: Well, we’re never going to know what Christopher Reeve would have gone on to do, will we?

  19. movieman says:

    Not so sure about that, Joe.
    Reeve’s career pre-accident was pretty much “Superman.”
    “Monsignor,” “Somewhere in Time,” “Switching Channels,” etc. didn’t show me–or the industry, apparently if the non-Supe jobs he got (or didn’t get) were any indication–that Reeve had the makings of one of
    the all-time (i.e., enduring) greats.
    He had a facile, if undeniable charm that worked for him in one (admittedly big; perhaps too big) role.
    I don’t think the charm/grace/ease/whatever you choose to call it ever really translated successfully to anything else he tackled as an actor, though.

  20. LYT says:

    Joe – we had an idea. John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned.

    Schwarzenegger got his start playing Hercules and Conan, if that counts.

  21. Joe Leydon says:

    I dunno. Noises Off — and, yes, Switching Channels — made me think Reeve might have smashed it out of the park if he’d been cast in the right comedy. And laugh all you want at Somewhere in Time — that one generated enough of a cult thanks to homevid and cable that maybe if he’d had another crack at an old-school romance…

    But, really, who knows? He was, what, 42 when the accident happened in ’95? Anything could have happened.

  22. hcat says:

    Reeve chased some truly awful projects in an attempt to be taken seriously after Superman, but as Joe notes he did show some great promise as a comic actor. He was great in Deathtrap (with that other actor whose name escapes me, little help Joe?). And did very well with the Ralph Bellemy roles in both Switching Channels and Speechless. Not to mention how abely he played Ralph Bellemy to his own Cary Grant in the Superman movies.

    Was his career in the wilderness all that much longer than Travolta’s was? The right vehicle for a one-time star whose biggest role was remembered fondly? Its not outside the realm of possibility.

  23. bulldog68 says:

    I don’t think that Hemsworth has that world weary look that Gibson has. He still looks like a male model. I think that fellow Aussies Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman have done a pretty good job, and if there ever was a Lethal Weapon 5, Jackman fits the bill.

    Damon would be my first American choice, but he has already done a variation of this with Bourne, but he certainly has the comedic chops. I’d like to see Christian Bale try something like this, we know he can bring the dark side, but can he have a sense of humor about it? Or even a Gerald Butler, a guy I think is a good action star and needs to stop doing terrible romantic comedies.

  24. movieman says:

    Bulldog- Gibson was awfully pretty at the beginning of his career, too.
    Age brings seasoning and adds gravitas.
    I think Hemsworth brings a sort of Gibson-ian, gruffness-mixed-with-gentleness to his Huntsman.
    Could serve him well in future years.
    I think the ship has sailed on Jackman and Butler. Neither lived up to their early potential.
    Crowe and Bale have something else, and neither quite has the old-fashioned “Movie Star” quality Gibson brought to the table for many, many years. They’re more interested in being Method actors than stars.

  25. Joe Leydon says:

    Hcat: Actually, now that you mention — or, to be more precise, allude to — Michael Caine: Here’s a dude who has been playing starring (even now, occasionally) and prominent co-starring roles in movies over six decades. Who among some of the thirty- and fortysomething guys we’ve mentioned here will be able to match that?

  26. movieman says:

    Add Tom Hardy to the list of actors (pace Bale and Crowe) more interested in perfecting their Method than becoming old-fashioned, Mel Gibson/Tom Cruise-ish “movie stars.”

  27. tbunny says:

    I like the review but the business about having a hard on but not wanting to marry the movie seems curious.

  28. David Poland says:

    Did I mention marriage?

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