By David Poland email@example.com
Review: Snow White & The Huntsman (Conceptual Spoilers Only)
I whispered to my wife as we watched this film that Snow was about to get her period… and sure enough, no discussion on screen of feminine plumbing, but all of a sudden, within 2 minutes, she was “of age” for the first time, according to the mirror-mirror.
What seems to have been writer Evan Daugherty’s original notion, later rewritten by John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini, and shaped by director Rupert Sanders (and no doubt, Charlize Theron), lives at crotch level. It’s not profane. Kids are safe, if not too easily freaked out, to enjoy the visual wonder of the movie. But makes no mistake. This is a movie about sex and death.
Disney’s Snow White was also about sex & death, but in a much for subtextual way. It was a Walt Disney fetish. If you watch his movies, he always sexualized the evil women, not the pure ones. They were always the stars. And Charlize Theron is, here, pretty much the owner of the movie. But with Kristen Stewart as the only greater beauty, still unsullied, all Joan of Arc-ed up, it is a fair fight.
In fact, swimming through the thick subtext, Snow White is, really, what evil Queen Ravenna (Theron) could have been… had she had the opportunity to remain unsullied… beauty and kindness and toughness. Ravenna is not only trying to kill Snow for her direct benefit, but she is trying to kill the representation, in flesh, of what she might have been.
When, early in the film, Ravenna’s creepy brother Finn (Sam Spruell) threatens to molest young Snow while he is on his mission to bring her to the queen, there are layers that you don’t have to think about, but I sure did. If he plucked Snow’s flower, would he have unwittingly doomed his sister, whose youth would be preserved by Snow White’s pure heart of beauty? If Mr. Yeeks is after the most beautiful of them all and has spent a lifetime with the previous title holder… have bro & sis had something creepy going? What does he want? What are his needs?
Snow White’s relationship with The Huntsman (eventually) and young Prince Charming (here named William) is right out of Star Wars, which was right out of… and so on and so on. The Huntsman is Han Solo and William is Luke (pre-bro/sis insight). Both come to love Snow. But one is a man and one is a boy. (Will William turn out to be Snow’s brother in the sequel? Tune in same Snow time, same Snow channel!!!)
And is this just a big horror show about losing your virginity? Ravena’s countdown clock started early, without her consent, and there began her obsession with losing the power of her youthful beauty. Snow just doesn’t seem to give a damn. She is effortlessly beautiful. She is instinctual and immediate as Ravena is deliberate and reliant on others (her brother, the mirror, black magic) to simply be.
Thus, the cruelty of man (literally, those of us with low hanging fruit). Everyone in the film is turned on by Snow White and her pure beauty… even the seemingly desexualized dwarfs. Yet, the subtext of this tale offers, from the moment that the prize is obtained, the purity man steals is the lost, distraction begins, and the woman is left to fight to resurrect that purity, in hope of keeping the man she gave it tom, by any means necessary.
Perhaps Zwick & Herskovitz should do the sequel, Snow White: Honeymoon’s End.
All this and I still haven’t written about how cool it all looks…
It looks really cool.
Oddly, given that we are on top of Prometheus, I thought about 20 minutes in that Rupert Sanders has a very Scott-ian skill set and style. We’re a long way from the flawed but beautiful Legend. Sanders takes that kind of imagery to the next step here, mixing Scott with Guillermo del Toro at times to create a new era Wizard of Oz.
In some ways, if the cause of Dorothy’s entry to Oz wasn’t a tornado, but a blackout coming from good ol’ Professor Marvel trying to pluck her innocence away behind the tent, you would get Snow’s journey into the Dark Forest here. Nature is even more treacherous here… even more treacherous than the humans (flying monkeys) that she enters the woods to escape… but also clearly motivated. The Dark Forest is a dark sanctuary… a place where Black Magic cannot enter. Nature defends itself from the world.
Snow has an odd hero’s journey here, as the Dark Forest lightens only for her. (I’m not sure how any screenwriter of director can ever allow, “She’s THE ONE” to be used without irony in a post-Matrix movie world. It’s like having The Huntsman say, “I coulda been a contender.”) In many ways, the Dark Forest is another representation of the virginal trust theme. The Dark Forest will kill you for trying to enter… and every time it/she opens up a bit, it/she is reminded why it was so dark/guarded. Man behaves badly.
I loved a lot of what happens in the Black Forest… which I will reserve comment on for the sake of spoilers for now.
I especially love the Eight Dwarfs. Yes, eight. (If Yul Brenner was alive, he might be one, so he could say, “Now we are seven!”) I also loved the dwarfs in Mirror Mirror. But how much fun is it to see taller actors you love turned into not only dwarfs, but such great versions of themselves? (Rhetorical question… but answer: LOTS!) Hoskins, McShane, Marsan, Toby Jones, and Nick Frost (who made me laugh a little every time that mug came on camera) are all such big personalities. Great stuff. And it was inspired to have Brian Gleeson, with a short resume and status as spawn of Brendon, get one of the meatiest dwarf roles, instead of giving it to one of the big names. It kept his dramatic moments from feeling too gimmick-laden.
And I felt that the super-serious Kristen Stewart was dead on through most of the movie. Her purity of spirit is as central to the story as Ravena’s impurity. It wouldn’t have made sense for her to play it larger or more emotionally.
That said… and there is a big “but” in this review… the film was lacking something that kept it from being truly great.
Was it that the film failed to catch fire in Kristen’s St. Crispin’s Day speech? Maybe. I went with it. But I wasn’t knocked out by it.
But I don’t think blaming K-Stew for being quiet is the real issue. Element for element, this film absolutely rocks. Looks GREAT. Effects are GREAT. Colleen Atwood is a sure Oscar nominee and how can anyone beat her for this work. Chris Hemsworth is the best he’s been – best character he’s had to play – and absolutely delivers. Theron is fucking EPIC. I don’t know that, all said and done, it’s awards work… but it was flawless and fearless.
So why wasn’t I jumping out of my seat in the third act? At the climax? Ever?
The analogy that strikes me – fitting the film – is a person you are crushing on… attractive, sexy as hell, smart, similar interests, basically perfect… and then you sleep together and everything the other person does is “right,” but somehow, it just isn’t great sex. You can’t point to this move or that, to enthusiasm or skill, or to your own enthusiasm. It just doesn’t have that SCHWING!
The movie had me. The performances had me. The ideas had me. And then, somewhere in the murk… somewhere as they prepared to go confront Evil… I was aware that I was watching a movie, not lost in the excitement.
It’s a very rare thing, to like this movie as much as I did, and not to be able to fall in love. And from that odd place, I have no idea what audience reactions overall might be. I would be happy to watch this movie again. I’ll support Atwood’s and production designer Dominic Watson’s Oscar pushes energetically and be completely open to Theron’s. I hope the film does plenty of business. It is smarter and more challenging than most teen girl empowerment events…. certainly a huge step up over the Twilights that I have seen (not the last one) and Hunger Games 1.
But as Sinatra might sing, “I wish I were in love again…”