BOTTOM LINE: Overstuffed, schizophrenic attempt at a dark fairytale — when will Hollywood abandon this insufferable trend?
It seems Hollywood still can’t get enough of fairytales. First there was last year’s atrocious Beastly, then came the mind-numbingly awful Red Riding Hood. Now, with Relativity’s lackluster Mirror Mirror in the process of being phased out of theatres, eyes turn to Universal’s more adult-oriented Snow White adaptation, Snow White and the Huntsman, with the expectation that it will finally salvage what’s left of the genre. Unfortunately, while the gothic take on the classic fairytale may enchant with its impressive special effects, not even the strongest spell can conceal the lifeless script, cheesy acting, and a storyline with more personalities than the seven dwarves.
Director Rupert Sanders’ goal is simple enough: reenvision Snow White and the Seven Dwarves with Kristen Stewart as the fair maiden, Charlize Theron as the evil witch, and Chris Hemsworth as the handsome love interest. (There’s a prince of sorts, too — Sam Claflin — but he’s pretty useless in the grand scheme of things.) The story begins with the queen of some faraway land pricking her finger on a rose and losing three drops of blood, an act that somehow leads to the conception of her beloved Snow White (Stewart). Not long afterwards, the queen dies and the king takes a beautiful new wife: Ravenna (Charlize Theron), an evil witch who feasts on young girls to maintain her youthful looks. Ravenna overthrows the kingdom, imprisons Snow White, and begins a new terror-filled reign with creepy brother Finn (Sam Spruell) at her side. The years go by and Snow White eventually comes of age, at which point Ravenna’s magical mirror warns her that the girl will be her undoing. Enraged, Ravenna orders her brother to kill Snow White, but she escapes, leaving Ravenna no choice but to send a village drunkard (Hemsworth) to bring the girl back. So lovely is Snow White, however, that the Huntsman, rather than joining her, switches sides and becomes her protector. Thus begins an adventure of epic proportions as Snow White, the Huntsman, and a number of new friends journey to the safe haven built by Snow White’s childhood friend William (Claflin) and his father — the only one who can help them take the kingdom back — with the queen’s men hot on their trail. Throw in some snow, blood, and scary forests, and you have the twisted, PG-13 version of a classic children’s story.
The root of all of the film’s problems mostly lies in the unimaginative plot. It plods along heavily, dying periodically along the way and having to be revived by a sudden attack on the protagonists. Even the flurry of swords and arrows can’t distract from the fact that there is nothing of worth in the entire two hours (which feel more like four) for the actors or the viewers to hook onto; the script is merely a fraying net stretched thin under the weight of a bulging mass of cool CGI. Storylines start and stop abruptly at odd points in the film. Characters are introduced and never brought back. The narrative relies on conceits and glaring plants and payoffs to feably tie everything together at the end (and even so, many subplots are still left dangling with no resolution). Even the writing itself is amateurish. The few jokes fall flat, and the dialogue is heavy-handed and melodramatic — there’s one lengthy speech Stewart gives near the end of the film that had people rolling their eyes so hard they were straining themselves.
Then again, it could just be Stewart’s flat delivery. She is quite possibly the worst choice imaginable for Snow White. Anyone who’s seen any of Stewart’s films knows she’s only capable of pulling off one emotion, and that’s emotionless with a hint of depression. Unfortunately, the film establishes Snow White as a bundle of joy sent from heaven early on by showing her prancing through meadows with a toothy grin and cuddling with injured birds. The jarring switch from beaming angel to stone-faced warrior undermines the very premise of the story — that Snow White inspires and radiates joy, love, and life itself — making it difficult to go along with anything after the first 10 minutes. Not once does Stewart smile or do anything but breathe heavily in a attempt to convey emotion. It’s difficult enough to believe that seven hostile dwarves would follow her through the forest; being told to accept that an entire army would follow her to their almost certain deaths at the hands of the queen is plain insulting.
The rest of the acting isn’t much better. Theron is a talented actress, but she isn’t given much to work with; Ravenna is not so much an evil queen as she is a caricature of one. Seeing her gnaw on a tiny, bloody bird heart and suck the soul out of a wibbling young girl is more amusing than it is terrifying. Theron’s reliance on dramatic wails and spastic writhing only serve to make the witch an even more humourous character, removing all of her credibility. Hemsworth’s prettiness provides one of the film’s few moments of relief. Unfortunately, his only job in the film is to run around swinging an ax in the air with an expression of enraged grief on his face, so not much else can be said of him. Claflin is as limp as a damp towel; pitting him against Hemsworth in the film’s tenuous romance is like ordering a bear to fight a golden retriever puppy to the death.
The visual effects are the film’s only saving grace. The atmosphere in the film is appropriately dark and creepy; even in the lighter moments, there’s a certain sinister feeling lurking in the air brought about by the design of the scene. Some scenes in the film will take your breath away with the immense level of detail and imagination they contain. One of the coolest uses of the digital effects is in the transformation of the actors who play the dwarves — the result is so convincing that you’ll forget Nick Frost isn’t 3 feet tall. The best way to put it is that Snow White and the Huntsman respects rather than abuses the capabilities of CGI, utilising them to their fullest capacity but never overstepping the boundaries that so many CGI-heavy films today cross.
Unfortunately, as pretty as Snow White and the Huntsman is to look at, it never manages to find the footing it needs to put on a performance worthy of the mesmerising stage provided by its special effects. The film lacks an identity; it’s at once unbearably dull and over-embellished. Although it starts with a promising concept, somewhere along the way the story loses steam and discipline and starts to wander around in search of a destination that seems to have never existed at all. It’s a disappointing way to squander a massive investment in time and money, and one can only hope that this is the final nail in the coffin of the fairytale fad sweeping the film industry.