Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Snow Ain’t So Beautiful…

Snow White and the Huntsman: directed by Rupert Sanders; written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini

I often have this ongoing argument with myself about being too “serious” and whether it’s a legitimate criticism to censure a film for taking itself too seriously (a criticism trope that I’ve seen bandied around with significant frequency). Inasmuch as self-righteousness in artistic renderings is incredibly gauche, if a film doesn’t have enough faith IN itself to be “serious” about its own themes,what’s the point? Snow White and the Huntsman, though, makes me question that argument because the film seems to have have moved from simple faith in its offerings to an almost bewildering belief that it is actually an experience worthy of earnest solemnity. If the Mirror Mirror this year (the other revisionist Snow White tale,  not excellent but better) is all about being sweet and almost uncomfortably bauble like then this version of the tale, like the evil Queen which rules the kingdom is determined to suck as much sweetness, joy and ornament from the occurrences. This makes for one of the most turgidly presented and heavy fantasy blockbusters I’ve seen in quite some time.
Sure, Snow White is the name, but the nucleus of the piece is the Evil Queen around who the story is built. Queen Ravena has had a painful history with men, and is indignant at the way the world simply cast off women as they become older. And, hell hath no fury like a woman who will destroy you. In retribution she travels from kingdom to kingdom ensnaring men with her beauty, then killing them and using insidious means to remain as beautiful as possible. When the film opens Snow White’s father falls victim and she turns their pleasant kingdom into a chokehold of gloom and sadness. She locks up – but curiously does not harm – her step-daughter which, boo for her, places her in a real pickle when a decade later her magic mirror tells her that Snow is the chosen one who has the power to destroy her. Yikes.

The overwhelming commonness of the chosen one motifs in cinema has been mentioned by a number of film essayists over the past few years, and it’s as true and exasperating in Snow White and the Huntsman as it often is when poorly incorporated, it presents a problem for so many reasons. The aforementioned question where we wonder why the princess wasn’t just done away to begin with, the added quandary of discerning just WHAT has made her a chosen one, then why NOW has become the time for her powers to work. But, it’s not just this maddening trend which makes the film’s story (written by THREE writers – including the generally on-point Hossein Amini – and still contains some of the most mechanical “period” dialogue of the last five years) such an encumbrance. Why does Ravena insist on preserving beauty if she admits it’s only a way for men to hold women under their traps? Queen Ravena must get the chosen one killed and enlists the ambiguous huntsman, who will of course not kill her. (This is not a spoiler). This leads to another basic oddness in the story elements  – the essential romance between the eponymous princess and huntsman – just sits there. We know the two will eventually share an embrace, but only because it’s expected of us, the cues for romance land so ineffectively and I’m not sure if it’s Hemsworth and Stewart (neither of them great performers, but neither of them terrible or specifically terrible at “romance) or just the entire dun, dun, DUN palette which the film is bathed in. Sure, Atwood is typically good with her costumes and the production design is good if trite but the photography does it no favours
For the makers of the film are insistent on making you know that this is not a heady romp of a film – so greys and browns and more greyer and browner, and even more dun are the main facets of the game. There are serious incidents at work here, and it’s all rather dourly presented in an uncomfortably dull sheen which would – of course – have had to be presented in post production but which the story and cast seem to have inherited before in some odd reverse reality since the dullness of the films aesthetics seem to have trickled down to everything. The story staggers from plot point to plot point with a bizarre insipidity as it is as grossly disinterested in the machinations at work as the performers. And, boy, those performances…

In such a “plot-heavy” revisionist tale like this you’d think – nay, hope – that the performances would exist, in some way, as a means of salvaging the film. But an additional oddity in Snow White and the Huntsman is the way that the cast of performers all seem to be operating from different registers in different films from different genres. It’s not so much that the performances are bad (although, really, I can’t legitimately put forth an argument that any of the performances is legitimately good) the more significant issue is that none of the performers seem to have harboured any sense of cohesion with the other presenting us with a situation where they’re acting at each other and not with each other. From Stewart’s state of wan surprise to Hemsworth stolid confusion and then Sam Spruell caught somewhere between annoyance and boredom they’re all having issues. It is, however, Charlize Theron’s depiction of Ravena (get it, ravenous?) – a build-up of smouldering glares, cutting glances and an insistence on shouting frantically or growling (not quite as frantically) exists with such firm disconnect from all the performers around her, I’m not sure if the looks of confusion they respond with are parts of their performances or just an inclination of how mystified they are by what’s going on.
I don’t turn out an F with frequency or with happiness, and in theory I give this lowest of grades to films which have legitimately nothing to offer which is not expressly true of Snow White and Huntsman but I felt so annoyed after seeing it and felt so irritated not only with all involved but with film itself (for a brief moment). “Why did I even see this?” I wondered. I regretted the time wasted that I could have been doing something better, I was at a loss to excise anything from it I could possibly remember fondly or even use subsequently. It was such an overwhelming case of gloom that followed a film’s end that I haven’t felt in some time. This is now how cinema should make you feel.

Get out of my life / F


Ryan T. said...

Wow. Nicely written though.

Dan O. said...

Dang Andrew! You really didn't like this one and even though I won't say it's terrible, it could have been a lot better. Good review though bud.

Squasher88 said...

I actually thought this film was ok. Your review is so well-written though! It makes me want to side with you.

Amir said...

All I can say is that I'm glad I skipped this one.

Chip Lary said...

Good review. I agree that the filmmakers were trying to take themselves and their movie too seriously in order to counter the lightweighted story it was based on. As for the lack of romance I figured they were already planning the sequel and that the second film would focus more on that.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

ryan your wow is so cryptic. thanks for the kind words on the review, though.

dan i just got not a sliver of true enjoyment from it.

shane ha. well, although i don't want to make you hate it, i'm glad i almost convinced you.

amir and charlize came off such good work last year, too :/

chip on the romance, i suspect you're right - which annoys me, because they have a responsibility to make every single film as coherent as possible and not do that "we'll address that in the sequel" laziness.