Monday, June 25, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman: A Review

On Friday, June 22nd, 2012, my fiancée and I engaged in an activity that we had yet to do in our twenty months together, an activity that most couples knock out within the first few dates.

This activity we did--our first time together ever, my first time in two years--was the following: we went to see a movie in a theater.

What the hell, right?  One of the core perks of dating someone is having a movie partner, so how is it possible that we made it this far without slapping down twenty dollars and sitting in a massive air-conditioned chamber of complete strangers while images flickered across a screen as large as our living room?

It was pretty weird, actually.


Not just a clever title.
The movie was Snow White and the Huntsman, a film that didn't really possess any quality to justify being our first movie together, except that (1) we knew it was time to finally do this going-to-a-movie-thing, and (2) we were both willing to see it.

Besides, a certain perverse part of me kind of liked the idea of ending our cinematic drought with a movie that neither of us quite felt a burning need to see.  Why add the pressure?

Gritty remake of a fairy tale that happens to have mediocre-at-best reviews?

Let's do it.


It isn't as if we haven't seen any movies, of course, we've just watched them in our basement on our big ass television.  As such, home always had the following advantages over theaters: convenience, price, the ability to pause for a whoa-did-I-drink-all-that pee break.

On the other hand, theaters have the advantage of not being directly adjacent to three cat boxes.


I was expecting Snow White and the Huntsman to be watchable but lackluster, both of which the movie is.  I was not expecting it to be a Lord of the Rings knock off, which the movie also is.   Snow White and the Huntsman features a fated hero on a quest to topple an evil and godlike overlord, a journey that transforms the hero from a sheltered babe in the woods to a knife-swinging unlikely warrior.

The Huntsman, i.e. "Strider-on-the-sauce."
Assisting on this journey is a dirty, sweaty ranger-type of initially questionable character, and the party is later joined by a lithe, pretty boy archer and a gang of wisecracking dwarves.  All of this culminates in a climactic battle with armored armies clashing with as much clanging intensity as a PG-13 rating allows.

Add to this a heavy dollop of Guillermo del Toro-ish fairy tale visual detail, a Pan's Labyrinth-like inspired combination of fantasy and horror.

Unfortunately, any movie imagined at the words "Lord of the Rings with Guillermo del Toro" is far better than the one that actually made it to the screen as Snow White and the Huntsman.


As the theater initially dimmed and the first trailer whirred to life in front of us, I had this enormous sense of getting reacquainted with something that once was incredibly familiar.  The entire ritual of watching a movie in a theater was suddenly novel, and the fact that it was novel was also, well, novel.

"I know this," I thought.  "I can do this."


It isn't that Snow White and the Huntsman is a bad movie, of course.  It holds together just fine and delivers a solid three acts.  If I find the concept of a serious and dark retelling of a fairy tale not exactly fresh, well that's just my fault for going to see a movie clearly advertised as such, right?

Sometimes Snow White wears armor.
The acting is pretty solid, if you ignore the parts where people shout real loud.  Kristen Stewart is far more convincing as Snow White than I'd heard, although she lacks the weight to make the third act transition into a warrior general--her attempt at shouting an inspirational speech conveys all the charm of a teen having a tantrum over a confiscated iPhone.

Charlize Theron steals the show as the evil queen, a woman whose facial expression alone conveys fathomless depths of icy menace.  Well, except for the few instances where she unconvincingly shouts and momentarily drag the movie into the territory of Sci Fi Channel originals.

Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman, though, can shout pretty well.


Charlize Theron: in no real danger of being upstaged by Kristen Stewart
in this whole "fairest of all" business.
Things my fiancée and I have done together instead of watching movies in theaters:
  • Cooking
  • Dancing
  • Gardening
  • Painting
  • Geocaching
  • Hiking
  • Cleaning (unglamorous but sometimes necessary)
  • Travelling
  • Swimming
  • Enjoying a beer outside at a micro brewery
  • Perusing farmer's markets
  • Attending local festivals
  • Going to art fairs
  • Drinking spiked hot chocolate while doing crossword puzzles
  • Purchasing a giant ceramic white deer head
  • Driving to a soapbox derby that was held on the previous day
  • Other things

Snow White and the Huntsman was directed by someone I've never heard of before named Rupert Sanders, and the new kid gets a bit of a mixed grade.

Rupert clearly did his homework studying the Battle of Helm's Deep, but he never quite gets the hang of battlefield choreography in Snow White and the Huntsman.  There is no escalation of tension before the fighting breaks, and the violent mayhem itself lacks rhythm.  Perhaps most odd in a $170 million dollar movie, there is also frequent breaking of the 180 degree rule, rendering the battle a confused mess.  There are still some decent bits, but aping Peter Jackson isn't the best idea if Peter Jackson is a lot better at this sort of thing than you.  Grade: C

An evil witch taking a milk bath is but one of the
splendors Rupert has up his sleeve.
Outside of battles, scenes mostly unfold without truly engaging, remaining entertaining but lacking the structure and timing to really invite us in.  It takes time to establish why we should care about anything that happens on screen, and Rupert doesn't quite have the innate sense yet of when it isn't all coalescing together, even if he's close.  Grade: B

Where Rupert truly excels, however, is in imagining crazy-ass fantasy shit and bringing it to the screen intact. Ravens fly together to form a woman, hands melt like wax, fairies pop out of the feathery chests of birds like benevolent parasites.  Rupert has the skill to visualize a heady blend of magic and nightmare, and he's not afraid to toe the line between awe-inspiring and disturbing.  Even better, most of his CGI creations have presence and weight--I could almost smell the fetid breath of a lumbering and snuffing forest troll.  Grade: A

Final Verdict: the new kid's first film is a bit of a mixed bag but he's definitely got some skill.  Grade: B


When we were driving to dinner before the movie--classic date business, folks--I turned to my fiancée and said, "I hope this movie has dinosaurs in it."

She paused, thinking, and said, "What movie are we seeing again?"

We both laughed at this.

The movie does deliver on fantastic and eye popping visuals.
Two hours later, the forest troll suddenly appeared on screen in all its massive otherworldly glory.

"I thought I was being funny," I thought.  "But this movie could very well actually have dinosaurs in it."

It didn't, but this all underlined just how little we had invested in Snow White and the Huntsman.  But we were long past due to finally see a movie together, and sometimes you just go see one particular film because hey, it's Friday night and why not?

Snow White and the Huntsman most definitely isn't a great movie, but it was an enjoyable enough way to step back into the world of seeing movies in theaters.  Rupert Sanders may not have constructed a masterpiece, but he's talented enough to possibly have one in him.

And you know who just might head out to see it in the theaters?

Me and my fiancée.

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