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...renews my suspicion of apples...
on June 3, 2012
Oho! I knew it was only a matter of time before Kristen Stewart and I would cross paths. I've avoided the Twilight saga like the cooties, and so I've missed out on the fuss and the furor about her. But I couldn't pass up on SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN like I passed up on MIRROR MIRROR, and, it turns out, I sort of fancy Stewart's performance. Skin white as snow, lips red as roses, hair black as a raven's wing. That fleshes out Kristen Stewart to a tee. Still, it's nigh impossible to trump Charlize Theron's turn as Snow White's rather... self-absorbed... step-mother. Theron simply mesmerizes. She's so good there are moments you sympathize with her - that poor, gorgeous, demented queen who as a girl was cursed by a mother's dark gift. Evil begets evil, and you sense that Ravenna must have endured some unspeakable sh--. Not that that makes up for her nasty practice of sucking the beauty and vitality out of innocent girls... Queen Ravenna is like the grim fairy tale version of Project Runway.
It's a darker iteration, grittier, moodier, more full-blooded. I think the Brothers Grimm would've approved of this interpretation; it matches their gristly sensibilities more. If you've brushed up on the fairy tale, then you know the kernel of the story. SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN tweaks and embellishes on that. When the vain and vile but oh-so-beautiful witch Ravenna (Theron) murders her husband, the king, on their wedding night, it upends the kingdom, sinks it into a realm of despair and oppression. We also learn that this is only the most recent in a long series of regicides that Ravenna has committed. The king had one young daughter, Snow White, lovely and bright and pure, whom Ravenna promptly sentences to incarceration in the castle dungeons. For years Snow White languishes in wretched confinement.
I don't know how I feel about how the magic mirror is presented, the film granting it the ability to metamorphose, liquid metal like, into a faceless, flowing figure that stands before Ravenna whenever she extends that one familiar question. I get that they were trying to change it up with the mirror, but then they forgot the follow-thru. so, the mirror can assume a form. And then what? And then nothing.
In the story I read ages ago, the huntsman takes Snow White into the woods, at the Queen's behest, and in the woods the huntsman was tasked with carving out Snow White's lungs and liver (if I remember it right) as proof of her demise. But the huntsman demonstrates mercy and allows Snow White to flee. He instead presents to the queen the lungs and liver of a boar, and so the queen comes to believe that Snow White was indeed deaders. And so the huntsman exits the tale. But you only have to glance at the film's title to get a whiff that the huntsman (Chris Hemsworth), this time out, lands a meatier role, sticks around a bit longer.
Another fashion in which this film veers away from the fairy tale we know (**coughDisneyAnimatedFilmcough**): I like that there's only a smidgen of romance, but I like that the smidge that IS there is crucial to the plot. Not to get all Twilighty, but the story does force you to choose a camp to follow: that of the surly, drunken huntsman What'shisface or Snow White's childhood pal and the Duke's dashing son, William (Sam Claflin). Note that William is a bowman who seems to rival the Avengers' Hawkeye in uncanny marksmanship. Meanwhile, I think Chris Hemsworth exhibits solid acting chops, lending tortured depth and melancholia to his huntsman. He takes a Scottish accent out for a spin, and I'm gullible enough or listened to James Doohan enough to be convinced by it. But the trailers to ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER put Hemsworth's axe-work to shame.
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN flaunts a secret weapon, or rather, eight secret weapons, in the shapes of dwarves. It kinda sucks for actual dwarf actors out there, because the film employs normal-height actors who then were CG'd down to Gimli-size. But, then again, Peter Dinklage is damn busy nowadays. These contentious dwarves - as played by the likes of Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, and Nick Frost - end up stealing many scenes.
It's a stunning-looking movie, or to quote my date: "Ohhh, so pretty!" Rupert Sanders, after a career of helming snazzy advertisements, makes his debut as a feature film director. He brings along that same eye for spectacular visuals. He lends a spooky and foreboding atmosphere to the twisted Black Forest, and it marks Snow White's abject desperation that she elects to seek dubious sanctuary within its sickly boughs. When tree branches make it a habit to transform into serpents, I tend to wonder where I left my chainsaw (sorry, tree huggers). Conversely, Sanders' depiction of the fairyland is pretty damn wondrous and speaks to that inner child still in you (yes, even you). The narrative further expands to allow for Snow's encounter (or yell-off) with a bridge troll, and, later, with a tribe of females that had committed self-mutilation rather than face the Queen's attention. The film's final action flourish consists of the almost requisite epic battle. I've gotta credit Kristen Stewart. She does have presence and she does have charisma. Or maybe those eyes suckered me in. She rolls off that hokey rousing rally speech and just about pulls it off, and that with a British accent (that, okay, occasionally strays). Still, maybe my favorite bit - and I realize I kind of pooh-poohed the romantic angle earlier - concerns the kiss that galvanizes the poisoned princess. I saw it coming, I'm sure you'll see it coming, but it was still a very strong scene. An "Oh, yeah!" kinda scene. Crap, there goes my mushy side. Great. Now even my date is telling me to man up.
The DVD's bonus stuff:
- Option to view the film in either the Theatrical version (02:07:12 hours) or the Extended Edition (02:11:30 hours)
- Audio Commentary by director Rupert Sanders, visual effects supervisor Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, and co-editor Neil Smith
- "A New Legend is Born: Director's Vision Comes to Life" - behind-the-scenes featurette that explores various elements of the film such as the incredible art design, the stunts, the locations, the special effects, etc. (00:20:53 minutes)