Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
12Sep/122

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

This year we got Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, working that same strange coincidence-based magic that brought us The Illusionist and The Prestige in 2006.  It's appropriate Danny was the one who decided to review Mirror Mirror with it's sparkling production courtesy of director Tarsem and focus-group approved leading smile of Julia Roberts.  That film went so far over the top with pristine romanticism it circled back into good territory.

By contrast, SWatH is treading dark, sexual grounds that I absolutely love.  It caters more towards the crowd who think that fantasies need to pay a debt to the Grimm fairy tales that spawned them.  As the film opens it is clearly heading in this direction as a brooding narrator comments on a new queen bleeding over the fresh snow after trying to pick a rose in the dead of winter.  After birthing a daughter of nearly impossible to reconcile attributes (hair black as a raven to oppose her pale skin, for one) the mother is lost and soon the king brings step-mother (Charlize Theron) into the family.

Until this point the film is a great mix of fantasy and just the right amount of over-the-top melodrama.  But on the night they are set to consummate their relationship we hear a cracking on the soundtrack, just as the king enters his new wife.  His face curls in pain and she begins to hiss in his ear, "Men use women.  They ruin us, and then they are finished with us."  She turns him over and pierces his heart with a dagger as her brother (Sam Spruell) launches an all out invasion of the kingdom and, in a very creepy moment, caresses the now-captive Snow White's neck and cheek while smiling through his Prince Valiant haircut.

Yup, this is fertile territory for analysis and I love it.

Sam Spruell is a more than capable partner in properly melodramatic acting as paired with Charlize Theron.

For it's first act, SWatH is playing with the psychosexual impulses of each of the leads with amazing dexterity and visual aplomb.  This continues on into the state of the now older Snow White (Kristen Stewart) who, after a watery escape from her step-mothers castle, finds a white horse she rides bare-back as her dress barely clings to her body.  The symbolism, blunt though it is, finds its effectiveness in dealing with this magical, amazingly coincidental occurrence by playing it as straightforward as possible.  Of course Snow White gets to discover her sexuality on her own terms, she represents the freedom her step-mother was violently denied.

Unfortunately, the amazing first act gives away to more conventional swords and sorcery for the next two thirds.  The transition is marked by the arrival of the titular huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) given the task to hunt down the escaped princess.  I love the reasoning, that the step-mother has to consume her pure heart to maintain her youth (which feeds back in to the battered cynicism versus realistic optimism regarding sex,) but the results are a little unfulfilling.

I admit it's partly because Hemsworth has yet to really stir me as a performer.  He's been an adequately stoic if boring performer previously (Thor, The Avengers) and doesn't improve too much here.  His success in this film is the way he is successfully positioned as a contrast to the amazing performance from Charlize Theron as the evil step-mother.  Where he embodies a now old-fashioned mythic figure she is the rage of female oppression personified.

Their scenes together highlight just how precarious and wonderful Theron's performance is.  In the same line she will scream, close to a whisper, then roar in just-intelligible syllables.  She finds the perfect balance of theatricality and the way she is written provides very plausible reasons for her rage and incoherence.  We find hints in the dialogue between she and her brother (brother: "Have I not given everything to you?" and she: "Have I not given you my all?") and in flashbacks where she was ripped from her home but protected by the blood of purity.  She's not another simple villain, but someone who has genuine reasons to be angry with Snow White's purity.

I loved many of the little details, like the moss and foliage growing on this ancient turtle.

First-time feature-film director Rupert Sanders does a great job providing the occasional knockout visual to go with the situational metaphors on display.  There are the bright ones, like the white horse, or the darker moments, such as Snow White fighting against the snakes of the dark wood that the huntsman sees as simple trees.  He also does an admirable job with the multitude of characters on display, especially when the seven dwarves get involved and need personalities established immediately.  Equal credit needs to be given to the screenwriters, Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini, who find the best way to minimize each scene for maximum impact.

So much is done right with SWatH that I wish it didn't abandon the ambition of those earlier scenes.  Last year Joe Wright's Hanna did not shirk at all from the implication of putting a young girl in mythic danger.  SWatH approached that greatness but shied away, instead providing a fun, if rote, battle with a troll and more drunken dwarves.

Special note: this is the last film, barring a medical breakthrough, that Bob Hoskins will star in.  He is one of the seven dwarves, the most spiritually attuned, and provides a sense of god-like reverence and optimism amongst the violence.  I have been a huge fan of his for years, from The Long Good Friday to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Unleashed.  He went out in style and I will miss him terribly.

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
Directed by Rupert Sanders.
Screenplay written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini.
Starring Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, and Chris Hemsworth.

Posted by Andrew

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Interesting to compare my very negative review and this one, you seem to be focused on the matter of symbolism and meanings around different aspects as I was just cut away from all that by the dislike towards the casting and the way to re-invent the timeless story. As I appreciate different opinions, I think a movie that is carried by visuals and visual symbolism is not always a good movie.

    • Thank you for the comment! It’s ok to dislike the casting but I disagree as overall it was very effective. Charlize Theron and Sam Spruell were the big stand outs and each of the actors playing the seven dwarves had a great moment to shine. Kristen Stewart was the anchor through all this so her placidity didn’t bother me too much, and Chris Heimsworth has yet to show he can be anything other than boringly stoic but at least the director knew how to play off that with Theron.

      Looking through your review I find it a tech bit odd you were so obsessed with the behind the scenes shenanigans as well as the need for logical consistency in a story with a talking mirror. The white horse part you hated was the last scene I absolutely loved before it went into the more standard Hemsworth-helmed fantasy. Snow White escapes from her step-mothers lair, a fortress she built around herself because of her sexual disgrace and subsequent retaliation, entirely on her own strength and then finds the horse, that impossibly perfect horse. It gets up in slow motion, this symbol of purity and virility, completely tamed by Snow White, and they ride off together.

      True, visual symbolism alone doesn’t carry a film, but the strength of that image as tied with the narrative in such a melodramatic manner was fantastic. Grimm fables aren’t known for their subtlety, and I thought it was greatly used here. That said, melodrama is a weakness of mine, particularly when filtered through a psychosexual lens, and the first act was absolutely magnificent in this regard. The rest of the film, pretty good, it just couldn’t top those opening moments.


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