Snow White and the Huntsman – Review

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)  

Directed by Rupert Sanders. Starring Kristen StewartChris HemsworthCharlize TheronSam ClaflinIan McShaneBob HoskinsRay WinstoneNick FrostEddie MarsanToby JonesBrian Gleeson.

Fairy tales and children stories are not what they used to be: my memories of Snow White was one of a lovely princess whistling in a forest surround by colourful birds, while the seven dwarfs were happily singing on their way back home. At the time the biggest question of was “will they wash their hands before dinner?”. Well, fair enough, 75 years have passed since the famous Disney version (and obviously over 20 other screen adaptations, including countless pornographic versions, which obviously I’m not going into). But young modern audience is used to much stronger stuff than singing birds, soap bubbles (though arguably the old witch in the Disney version gave nightmares to many at the time, and probably still does). This is a much darker re-invention of the story for the Twilight and Harry Potter crowd (not just in its colour palette but generally in its sensibility veering more towards horror than a fairy tale) and of  course with some Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones added the mix. The title itself might be a little bit misleading and possibly even prevent much of the older audience, who would potentially quite like this adventure like this, from thinking this might be for them.

We shouldn’t forget that after all the original  Snow White story had some undercurrent grim and dark tones to it, so in a way this version is almost going back to its roots.

Coming into this quite fresh, and expecting to find another horrible Red Riding Hood disaster, I was surprised by visual spectacle and the genuine inventiveness at display in SWATH (which is how Snow White and the Huntsmanis known on twitter). The director of Rupert Sanders comes from the world of commercials and that really shows, both in a good and bad way: on one hand the look of the film is actually very very good, in fact better than any of the Twilight movies, or the latest Harry Potter instalments I must say. The special effects too are seamlessly integrated in the action, and kudos to the film makers for deciding against yet another 3D post-convertion. However the other side of the director’s commercial background shows up in the film’s very patchy nature. At times it really seems to be made up by a series of scenes stringed together (well, it probably was) without a real sense of drama. Characters come in and out of the story, but none of them has any depth. There is obviously the usual love triangle at play here, which is now inescapable in our post-twilight culture. In one corner the Huntsman from the title, in the other Prince William (no, not that one), but the relationship is never really explored in any depth, in fact it’s hardly even touched on: it’s just there and we are supposed to take it for granted. What do those 2 men think of each other? And what does she think of them? And why didn’t the prince’s first kiss resuscitate Snow White? Did I miss something? It’s all a bit confusing… But then again, it might all become a lot clearer in the obligatory sequel (teased by the half-satisfying ending)

But does any of that matter? Well, only to a degree. Despite its obvious weaknesses from a dramatic point of view and being completely devoid of humour, the film still manages to be a sumptuous imaginative feast for the eye and an exciting and arresting action romp… It’s clearly derivative from all sorts of other movies made before, but it’s entertaining and inventive enough… if only somebody had remembered to tell a proper story too.

Charlize Theron is clearly having the time of her life playing the evil godmother/queen/witch. She camps it up as much as she possibly can and after all, if you’re hoping to get away with lines like “mirror mirror on the wall who’s the fairer of them all“, this is probably the only way to do it (… and by the way, despite of what the mirror says, my answer will always be “Charlize Charlize!!!!”). In fact she does such a fine job  that in the end you almost don’t want her to be defeated.

And finally the seven dwarves who come so late into the film that by the time they show up I had completely forgotten they should have been in at all. The CGI wizardry here is something to marvel at, as recognisable faces of well-known actors are somehow morphed onto bodies of actual small people. It is absolutely seamless and quite disconcerting (and a little bit unfair for real small people actually… Is this going to be the end of  their career as actors? It feels a bit wrong… Almost like having white people turned black by CGI). But however spectacular their appearances are, it doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re all quite interchangeable with each other and pretty soul-less. In fact there was a lot more characterisation in the Disney animated version from 70 years ago that in this one.

But hey, let’s take the film for what it is and not for what it could have been. It is flawed, but in the end both look and style and the sheer inventiveness and the detailed recreations save the day and the film delivers more than the actual title promises.

7/10 (with some reservations)

Red Riding Hood – Review

Red Riding Hood (2011) 

Directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Starring Amanda SeyfriedGary OldmanBilly BurkeMax IronsLukas Haas

One thought kept running through my mind while watching this film: “I’m so not the target audience.. I’m so not the target audience… I’m so not the target audience!!!”. Indeed research showed that 64 percent of Red Riding Hood’s audience was female, and 56 percent was under 25 years old.

That’s all right, nothing wrong with it. In fact I decided to accept that and actually embrace it.

I was going to stop being cynical and I tried my best to sit back and enjoy the ride as much as I possibly could, even if I rarely felt so out-of-place during a movie…

I tried to concentrate of the good things: the set design and the cinematography, for example, were both beautiful. Gary Oldman looked like he was having fun and, very aware of the silliness of the whole thing, seemed to have decided to match it all with unbelievably silly accent too. The rest of the cast too was competent enough:  Julie Christie as the sinister, fur-twirling grandmother, an under-used Virginia Madsen as the slightly slutty Mother and of course Amanda Seyfried’s fragile near-ethereal beauty in the central role around which all the other many characters revolve.

I was almost ready to go with preposterousness of it. I could see what they were trying to do, as the incredibly good-looking young actors kept taking their shirts off and as the soundtracks kept switching from bland atmospherics, eery strings and occasional tribal drums to loud heavy (random) songs clearly aimed at teenagers (though I did wonder more than once, should a movie for teenagers have so many random songs where actually a score would have been 100 times better suited?).

I also decided to ignore the blatant attempts to ape the previous Twilight Movies, in the way the story was centered around a love triangle (Here too the girl at the centre of the story has to decide which of the two hot-looking-boys to go for), in its semi-horror themes (were-wolves galore this time here as opposed to vampires) and even in the use of the same director (Catherine Hardwicke) from the first Twilight and the same actor (Billy Burke) playing the same role of the father of our heroine (there was an interesting video entry on this on Mark’s Kermode Uncut Blog).

I even tried not to get distracted by the surge of laughter in the theatre at around 40 minutes into the film when our red-hooded-heroine who is cornered by the big wolf discovers he can speak and reacts to it with one of the worse delivered line in the film: “You can talk?!”. I was even going to excuse that too, and the many subsequent terrible lines of dialogue in the screen. “OK fine, the dialogue might not be too good, but…. But… But… And you know what!?! After a while I could not find any more “but”.

Are teenage girls really going to love this? Is the young generation really so stupid to fall for this?

I am happy to report that the answer is “NO”, if the box office figures are anything to go for the film didn’t really go too well. In fact, it underperformed right from its release date in the US (and estimated $14.1 million on 3,500 screens at 3,030 locations), showing that even the core-audience smelled cheat. And let’s not even mention the critics who have mostly panned this as a Twilight-light (and I thought Twilight was the lightest a film could be…).

The real problem with Red Riding Hood seemed to be that there is a clear discrepancy between what it is trying to be artistically (A modern slightly stylized execution of a fairy tale), the genre it is trying to follow (a horror for kids) and the type of audience for whom the marketing campaign decided it had to morph into.

In the end it just doesn’t work: it’s too silly for genre lovers, or those who were looking for something more refined like “in the company of the wolves” for example, and it’s too close to Twilight (almost like a copy of it); so much so that it actually even managed to annoy what was meant to be the core-audience. Also, it must be said, a lot of those Twilight lovers came from the original books, here it all just relies on the similarities with another saga.

It’s just a misjudged attempt. It misfires all the potential good things about it. It relied too much on the hopes to cash in on the success of the Twilight Movies and didn’t have enough conviction on its actual qualities, on the craftsmen behind it and on what this could have been if it had done with more maturity.

It will be interesting to see what the studios will learn from this lesson. They are they going to have to figure out how a better way to market this genre successfully as there are two versions of Snow White on the horizon, and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is currently in production.


Check out my review of the much better film: Snow White and the Huntsman

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