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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on Movies: Snow White and the Huntsman

 

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Rupert Sanders, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman may have struck it rich at the box office so far, but it also has one of the clunkiest movie titles around, and unfortunately a lot of the movie is worthy of it. A wildly expensive and lushly produced new look at the Grimm Brothers fairy tale “Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the movie, starring Kristen Stewart as Snow, manages to waste an interesting idea, a fitfully intelligent script, a very good cast (with a big juicy villainess turn by Charize Theron as the wicked queen) and outstanding production design and cinematography, only to come up with a bloated, sexed-up  fairytale show, seething with fancy cliches.

The likely culprit this time may be director Rupert Sanders: a star TV commercial director (for Nike and Microsoft, among others) making his feature directorial debut. Sanders’ work, while full of pretty or even stunning pictures of seaside castles, and dark forbidding forests, and gossamer fairylands, showed, I thought, little evidence of an ability to tell stories, to bring actors alive (besides Charlize Theron), and not to get drowned in fancy imagery.

I’m not saying he can’t learn, and if the film keeps cleaning up, he’ll get plenty of chances. But the producers may have done him little service by having him practice on a 100 million dollar plus production, with a lot of complex logistics, a tricky revisionist script and a dopey title.

Maybe you think I‘m being rough on the damned title, but tell the truth: Most of you think it’s pretty ridiculous too, don‘t you? “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Sheeesh. What in hell (or heck), I wondered when I first saw it, is the point of taking a perfectly good title like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” kicking out the dwarfs and adding the huntsman, the guy who originally does a cameo in the Grimm tale by not killing Snow White and letting her run off in the dark forest. It seems a silly switch, even if you’re hell-bent on emphasizing the movie’s romantic element, which now includes both the huntsman and the prince (Sam Ciaffin), and hell-bent also on emphasizing the fact that a hunk star like Chris Hemsworth (of Thor) is playing the Huntsman, one of the romantic leads. (I don’t remember the movie giving him a name, so we’ll refer to him henceforth as Huntsman. Or maybe Hunt Guy.)

 

Maybe somebody was worried that “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” sounds too Disney, or maybe too kinky. But if you are, why ignore the obvious substitution of just plain Snow White? There’s not much romance anyway in the movie; the most passionate relationship is probably the one between Snow and Theron as her wicked stepmother Ravenna. As a title, “Snow White” is better. Heck, I think “Snow White and The Three Stooges” is better.

Actually, the original writer, Evan Daugherty (he was joined or augmented at various times by others, including John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini), hadn’t even intended a romance between Snow White and Huntsman. He did however want a blending of the Snow White story and Peter Jackson’s movie version of Tolkien‘s Lord of the Rings Trilogy, with a little bit of the Natalie PortmanJean Reno little- girl-tough guy pairing in Luc Besson’s The Professional.

In the beginning, which the best section of the movie. it almost works. An all-knowing narrator whisks us from “Once Upon a Time” through the initially sad story of Snow White — born to a queen who wished for a daughter with skin white as snow, lips red as a rose, hair black as ebony — and, as events whiz by, we learn (stuff from the Gimm story, augmented) that Snow’s mother (Liberty Ross) died in childbirth, Snow’s imprudent father married bombshell Ravenna, who poisoned and killed him, brought in her creepy brother with a Dutchboy haircut, Finn (Sam Spruell), to divvy up and loot the kingdom, and began to spend absurd amounts of time, cross-examining her mirror about the identity of the fairest in the land.

Of course, the mirror first says the charm champ is Ravenna, but eventually switches its vote to the imprisoned Snow. Frankly, I thought The Queen always had the edge. And didn‘t this movie miss a trick by not casting Simon Cowell as the Mirror? (I realize the people who like this show though, admire what they consider its successfully darker or more serious tone and themes — which I’ve got to say, sort of eluded me.)

To wipe out her only real rival, Ravenna sends off Huntsman to kill Snow — and that begins the quest part of the story, along with a lot of stuff inserted to give the new hero, Huntsman, something to do. Eventually, this all leads us to the dwarfs, played by such scene-stealing British character stars as Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan and Toby Jones, all of whom have had their heads transferred to the bodies of dwarfs though the magic of CGI). It all climaxes with Snow suddenly turning into another Luc Besson movie heroine, Joan of Arc, and leading a quickly assembled fairytale army of stalwart bashers into the Queen’s castle. (By the way, even though the dwarfs here are played by some of my favorite movie people, I agree with Roger Ebert that it was wrong to make use of that CGI legerdemain to shrink them, and that the movie should have instead employed real dwarf actors.)

As I said the production design (by Dominic Watkins) and the cinematography (by Greig Fraser) is impressive, but the story loses its polish and swing and a lot of its coherence when the narration stops and it turns into an over-produced ersatz classic. None of the actors but Theron — who just becomes ferocious, full of venom and gleeful sadism — are given much interesting to do, except to take a gander at all the horrors and wonders around them, yell during battle or muse on the travails of the evil kingdom and fairyland. (Maybe I’m unfair, but this is not an inspiring script.)

But let’s be positive. Why not more fairytale movie extravaganzas with improved, sexed up titles? “Goldilocks and The Three Bears” can become “Goldilocks and the Handsome Woodsman.” “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” can be “Ali Baba and the Princess” (maybe “Ali Baba and the Hot Princess“). And “The Elves and the Shoemaker” can be reborn as “The Elves and the Shoemaker’s Wife.” That all may sound a little ’60s soft-core porno-ish. But frankly. so does “Snow White and the Huntsman.”

Well, you get the drift. Mirror, Mirror, on the wall… Anyway, money is money, Huntsmen are huntsmen, but I missed Dopey.

 

6 Responses to “Wilmington on Movies: Snow White and the Huntsman”

  1. Linda S says:

    Who was the narrator? It sounded a lot like Gerard Butler, was it?

  2. HrzTrbl says:

    It’s Chris Hemsworth

  3. chuck says:

    I believe it was Richard Armitage (Thorin).

  4. chuck says:

    Elenor (Snow White’s mother) died when Snow White was a young girl, not in childbirth. ERIC, the huntsman was sent to bring back Snow White alive because Ravenna needed her beating heart. Perhaps you should have watched the movie!

  5. Lorraine says:

    It sounds like Douglas Scott

  6. Rory says:

    Apparently the narrator was Liam Neeson , who, although a non-Scot, actually made a reasonable enough job of the Scottish accent requested of him. Mind you, Casting Directors everywhere. if you want a GENUINE Scottish accent, I am available…

Wilmington

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin