2012′s second Snow White project (after Tarsem’s Mirror Mirror), Snow White and the Huntsman represents an attempt to use the age-old Snow White story as the basis for a medieval Hollywood blockbuster. Electing a dark, grim approach, the movie takes its stylistic cues from the likes of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia - it’s a large-scale revisionist adaptation featuring elaborate battles and lavish visual effects. And due to its gritty portrayal of the Middle Ages, the movie also resembles Ridley Scott’s mildly successful attempt at revivifying Robin Hood a couple of years ago. It’s an idea ripe with potential, but Snow White and the Huntsman is troubled in its execution, with flawed scripting and pacing, not to mention a lack of substance, almost lethally injuring what could have been an audacious masterpiece.
Heir to her parents’ royal throne, Snow White (Stewart) is shaken as a child when her mother dies of a tragic illness. Snow’s father, King Magnus (Huntley), soon rescues a gorgeous woman named Ravenna (Theron) from the battlefield, and the two eventually wed. As it turns out, however, the scheming Ravenna is in fact a sorceress who uses her beauty to conquer kingdoms. Upon murdering her new husband, Ravenna steals the throne for herself and locks her stepdaughter away. Ravenna continues her reign for years with assistance from her brother Finn (Spruell), preventing herself from growing old by stealing the youth of young women. When Ravenna learns that Snow White is a threat to her immortality, she calls for her stepdaughter to be executed, but Snow manages to escape the castle grounds before Ravenna has the chance to kill her. Called upon to recapture Snow is a boozing widower known as The Huntsman (Hemsworth), who hesitantly agrees to the assignment. But when he learns of Snow White’s royal bloodline, The Huntsman has a change of heart, and the two begin looking to stop the treacherous Ravenna and allow Snow to assume her rightful position on the throne.
Visually, Snow White and the Huntsman is an extraordinary effort indeed, with the widescreen frame capturing director Rupert Sanders’ finicky attention to detail in terms of sets, costumes, CGI and locales. Sanders cut his teeth with television commercials, which prepared him for the movie’s technical aspects quite well. Isolated sequences are considerably impressive (especially the battles) and James Newton Howard’s score is engaging. All of these positives are merely surface-level attributes, though; Snow White and Huntsman has very little else going for it beyond the superficial. While the first 40 minutes or so are pretty good, the film begins to drag interminably from that point onwards. There’s one especially egregious scene with the dwarves over a campfire, and from there the picture moves at a snail’s pace. By the time we get to the token climactic battle sequence, the film already feels too long in the tooth, and you’ll be forgiven for wanting the narrative’s complex machinations to be sorted out as quickly as possible.Snow White and the Huntsman begins with promise, yet it devolves into a glacial flick unable to generate much momentum; a mortal flaw since momentum is critical for a summer blockbuster.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems is that screenwriters Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini endeavoured to retain as much of the source material as possible, extending to that goddamn “mirror, mirror” dialogue, the comical dwarves, and cheesy interludes (Snow “dying” due to the poisoned apple is a key offender, as her revivification makes no sense here). Such material feels out of place in what’s established as a grim, dark tale of medieval combat and murder. Yes, it was included out of reverence, but the fight between wanting to do something unique and wanting to retain nods to the original story ultimately yields a messy finished movie that’s unsure of what it wants to be. For instance, it’s suggested that Snow White cannot be touched by Queen Ravenna when away from the castle, but, because the third act needed a dilemma, Ravenna randomly shows up in disguise carrying the iconic poisoned apple. If Ravenna couldn’t touch Snow outside the castle, how could she do this? And if she could touch Snow, why did she wait so long to do so? Worse, the quest to include all the narrative beats from the Disney movie is probably the cause of Snow White and the Huntsman‘s meandering disposition, as the writers wanted to use the same structure regardless of whether or not it fitted into their revisionist take (the dwarves, for instance, do nothing useful here).
As Snow, Kristen Stewart is bad. Clearly chosen for her appeal to the Twilight crowd, she brings no sense of life or vitality to the role, instead reducing Snow to an emotionless automaton with one facial expression of pained peevishness. Stewart literally just plays Bella here, relying on all of the same “acting” characteristics that saw her through in theTwilight series. Worse, Stewart appears to attempt some form of English accent, yet never settles on anything consistent. One minute her accent is noticeable, the next she just sounds like Bella again. Her horrible performance threatens to cause the entire feature to crumble, especially since she fails to sell Snow’s transformation from helpless victim to warrior princess. Chris Hemsworth, on the other hand, fares a lot better, delivering a charismatic, dynamic performance as the titular Huntsman. Espousing an impressively consistent accent, the Australian continues to show why he deserves genuine stardom. Also of note is Charlize Theron, who absolutely sunk her teeth into the role of Queen Ravenna. Theron chews the scenery with gusto, coming across as a convincingly sinister villain. Meanwhile, the dwarves were played by a bunch of talented British thespians – including Nick Frost, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins – who were digitally shrunken.
From the outset, it’s clear that Snow White and the Huntsman has nothing in common with Mirror Mirror - while the earlier movie was cartoonish and light-hearted, this Snow White iteration is a darker affair. What a shame that it doesn’t quite work. With a tighter pace and snappier structuring (not to mention a better actress than Kristen Stewart), Snow White and the Huntsman could have been a home run. Instead, it’s a mostly unsuccessful experiment which reeks of Twilight and promises that a franchise is imminent. Oh boy.
Interview: Jay Goodey
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