Friday, 8 June 2012

Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

Snow White and the Huntsman poster

Snow White and the Huntsman
127 mins / Dir. Rupert Sanders

It seems to happen twice a year. Either by virtue of a well-cut trailer, or else my own excess of free-time and an Unlimited Card, I end up going to watch a film that is aimed squarely at 14yr old girls. Last year it was Red Riding Hood and I Am Number Four (okay, and Twilight). In 2012, I didn't go and see Mirror, Mirror (for reasons made obvious by the trailer), and the Breaking Dawn*1 Part II is some months away, which leaves one option…

And so, like a horrific car crash between Twilight and Lord of the Rings, The Other Snow White Movie arrives, with all the heft and attitude you'd expect of a 12A fantasy movie starring Kristen Stewart. Let's be honest, the main selling point of this take on the story is that it looks like the fucking X-Men compared to a Julia Roberts film.
All of the action, darkness and intrigue in Snow White and the Huntsman is in the trailer. By which I mean that there's less than three minutes of it. The film is visually beautiful, full of dirt, desaturated palettes and magnificent costume and set design. But it's twee. So, SO twee. Not content with having Kristen Stewart limply staggering from one scene to the next, being imprisoned /rescued /captured /rescued, and only literally suiting-up the final act, there's also some subplot about her being emotionally torn between two guys. Who will Bella Snow White choose? Her childhood sweetheart, now played by James Blunt, or McThor, with an accent that could be the most offensive thing to Scotland since Mel Gibson's Braveheart? The attempts to divert the myth down avenues of teen-angst derail the story with depressing regularity. In fact, I was genuinely surprised that after spending her formative teenage years locked in a tower with no education or significant human contact, the film doesn't feature Snow White as a socially awkward beserker/simpleton. She seems remarkably well adjusted, considering her stepmother killed her father the day after meeting him, imprisoned her while she systematically kills every other young girl she meets*2, and she's been "watched" by her pervy step-uncle on a regular basis. I suppose an incarceration of that length will at least rob her of the ability to judge the credibility of Scottish accents.
So leaving aside (as I must) the story structure of a literal Fairy Tale™, complete with its Happy Ending™, there are a number of internal stumbling blocks that I couldn't ignore. These range from the small (if the Queen can magically heal the scar running over her brother's eye that Snow White caused, why can't/doesn't she heal the one in the centre of his forehead?), to the baffling (why does the Queen leave Lily Cole alive when we see the dead bodies of her other victims?), to the large (why is there a completely un-barred human-accessible sewer leading from the castle courtyard to the outer-wall, exposed to the sea so that anyone with a small boat could sneak in undetected at any time? The fact that this is used twice in the film only underlines the sheer stupidity of it). But all of this I can put down to the Friday-afternoon draft of a screenplay aimed at people who don't watch films the way I do…

What puzzles me more is the underlying message of the SWatH; A really attractive evil person is killed by an even-more attractive good person, whose power seems to lie in being really attractive. The wicked Queen doesn't drain the life-essence from the munters, she only wants the good-looking chicks. Snow White isn't important because of her robust morals, bravery or inner strength - it's because of how pretty she is. The women of the village have had their faces scarred by their menfolk so the queen wouldn't abduct and kill them, and moreover, this seems to have worked. The Queen envies beauty, not specifically youth. It'd be easy to put this superficiality down to the Queen's twisted personality, but pretty much everyone else in the film fawns over Snow White's beauty, too. Any attempt to convey the idea that inner-beauty is more important than looks is half-arsedly offered up in Snow White's rousing inspirational speech before the final battle, which she delivers with all the gusto of a takeaway order. Even when she's in armour*3, she's wearing a bizarre kind of chainmail minidress, presumably offering the safety of enemy archers and swordsmen putting their weapons down to tug at their collars and let steam whistle out, On The Buses style.

You know who you're marketing this at, Universal. You put enough money into it to make sure the tween makeup and Claire's Accessories crowd is sitting there in the cinema. Is the message of this film the best thing to be shouting at them? No, really?
Oh, okay then, if you say so.

Ultimately, I can't hate Snow White and the Huntsman. It just wasn't made for me. Oh, and the Dwarfs. I should probably mention the Dwarfs. They're okay.

And it only gets a three for Charlize Theron. Even if her presence served as a constant reminder that Prometheus was playing in the screen next door.

*1 For the record, I don't mind the Twilight movies. They are what they are and they set their stall out pretty clearly. And I think the wolves are badass.
*2 Apart from Lily Cole, who doesn't get killed, only severely aged, and then magicked back into being young again at the end of the film. For reasons best known to the filmmakers and Lily Cole's agent.
*3 Armour that offers no protection to her legs, face or head. She's not vain, Snow White. Stupid, perhaps, but not vain.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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