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Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

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Snow White and the Huntsman is a good idea that fell victim to almost every problem a good idea can fall victim too. It’s one of those films where the plethora of new ideas scream out in pain as the marketing, casting, writing and directing drag them away kicking and screaming.

And yet the basis for the film is still a good idea. Turning a fairy tale into an epic, Lord of the Rings-style film is a good idea, and every once in a while, despite the best efforts of almost everyone involved, that good idea shines through. Sadly, when that happens it just makes you dislike the rest of the film all the more as you watch the inkling of creativity get buried underneath another overwrought shot of Kristen Stewart or some of the worst dialog a fairy tale has ever seen — and that is saying a lot.

Snow White and the Huntsman
Director: Rupert Sanders
Release Date: 6/1/2012
Rated: PG-13

Like I said, turning a fairy tale into an epic fantasy film is actually a really brilliant idea. Most of the fantasy is already there and all the filmmaker has to do is toss in some sweeping vistas, a bit more action and a journey of some sort and they’ve got themselves what could be a cool film. Snow White and the Huntsman attempts to do all of this, and fails in almost every account. The biggest issue, once you dig through all the other issues, is that the movie can’t decide if it wants to be loyal to the the original fairy tale or veer off into high fantasy land. Caught between these two choices it decides to do both, and by doing so makes a two hour film feel like three. Since we all know the story of Snow White, and the film trucks through a lot of it early on, the movie is very front heavy. This leaves the last half of the film to trudge along attempting to cram the seven dwarves into the plot and still have time for an epic battle at the end.

What ends up happening is that the dwarves become nothing more than useless characters while Snow White (Kristen Stewart) and The Hunstman (Chris Hemsworth) attempt to garner any interest from the audience. But the audience has lost interest in both of them even before the dwarves show up thanks to Stewart’s complete lack of screen presence throughout the film. Her waif-like demeanor may lend well to being protected by werewolves and vampires, but it doesn’t work for a hero. By the time she has to deliver the film’s big speech to rally the troops against Ravenna (Charlize Theron), the Evil Queen, it’s so obvious that she couldn’t motivate a crowd that the speech turns comical even before a word is said.

Of course it isn’t entirely her fault since she is delivering one of the worst written “big speeches” ever put to the screen. The screenplay for this movie is all over the place, but mainly firmly settled in an odd realm of cliche where everything seems like you’ve heard it before, but you’re sure you’ve never heard something quite so dumb. There’s so many things that could have worked really well if the screenwriters hadn’t been rushing and had actually written some lines that a human being could sound convincing saying. Instead every line seems to trample the good idea behind it.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with Theron and her Evil Queen. Forgetting the fact that we’re supposed to accept Stewart as fairer than Theron in the first place (seriously, who cast this movie?), Theron’s incredible performance is destroyed by the lines she has to deliver. Theron plays the Queen to the hilt, with manic bulging eyes and more crazy than you’ll find at an asylum, but the lines she has to say and the idiotic plotting of the film make her horrifically evil queen into a joke. Every scene with her could set a new level for over-the-top villainy, but instead we get sub-par camp because no one could decide what direction the film was going in. It’s just sad when great actors almost make crap into gold, but just get buried under the extra crap heaped onto them.

Despite the poor writing and inconsistent plotting the whole idea could have still worked if it wasn’t for commercial director Rupert Sander’s complete and total lack of originality in almost anything he did. Yes, the the story called for dwarves, and big guy with an axe guarding a weaker person and — believe it or not — an archer with Legolas-like skills to strike out on a long journey, but pretty much aping every aspect of Lord of the Rings possible is entirely the director’s fault. If there was one more slow motion shot of someone looking out meaningfully I’m pretty sure the entire film would have combusted. It really does give you an appreciation for what Peter Jackson did with LoTR when you watch a director so woefully mishandle a fantasy film. If there are any original ideas in Sander’s head he sure didn’t show them off here.

The costume designer and artistic director on the other hand must have thought they were working on a film where someone cared because visually Snow White and the Huntsman stunning. The costuming is easily one of the few enjoyable aspects of the film, and the set design can be particularly creative even if much of it is pointless fluff since Sander’s has no idea what to do with a well designed set. There’s all this great eye candy throughout the film and it’s just destroyed by poor direction and an even worse srcreenplay.

It was reported that Snow White and the Huntsman was a planned trilogy, and, despite pretty much despising the movie, I think it should have been. I’m not sure what they’re planning to do with these characters now since the crammed the Snow White story into one movie. What they should have done, and this would have alleviated a lot of the issues with balancing the original story and the new content, is made the story of Snow White into an epic three part film. The first part being about Snow White and the Huntsman, the second about her and the dwarves and the third about her defeating the evil queen. This would have allowed for the story to unfold in a way that wasn’t mind bogglingly convoluted and front heavy and, more importantly, given Theron’s Evil Queen a chance to shine all the more. That’s not what this movie was, however. Instead its a tired retread of both a fairy tale that’s been done far better many times before and the greatest fantasy films ever made.

Matthew Razak is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flixist. He has worked as a critic for more than a decade, reviewing and talking about movies, TV shows, and videogames. He will talk your ear off about James Bond movies, Doctor Who, Zelda, and Star Trek.