Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Lady Reviews: Snow White and the Huntsman

So, what does ‘How to Live Like a Lady’ think about Snow White and the Huntsman?  Quite frankly, I, for one, like it (reviews from other writers of the blog may differ).  I feel that while there are definitely issues with aspects of it (yes, I will address the Kristen Stewart aspect), the inherent premise, the look of the film, and the ultimate execution are all more than satisfying if you are willing to accept the basic tenants of fairy tales and their un-ironic use in a film. 

First and foremost, let’s deal with the downsides (i.e., Kristen Stewart).  And, in my opinion, Kristen Stewart is not necessarily one of them.  Now, please do not misunderstand – I have a hatred of the Twilight Saga that burns as bright as a supernova.  That however does not extend to my inherently hating the actors (though Robert Pattinson still looks like a foot in my opinion).  They were hired to do a job and I will not allow my dislike of a film to ruin my opinion of them.  As such, Kristen Stewart, in my opinion, while not the world’s greatest actress, is well suited to play Snow White.  Kristen’s flat facial effect serves well as the na├»ve yet noble Snow White, much as Keanu Reeves’ flat effect works in his portrayal of cold hard badasses and/or stoners.  There is one moment on film where her performance is genuinely painful (the coronation scene, look for it), but that hinges on bad script writing that leaves both actress and audience hanging as to the appropriate facial expression.  Aside from her (and she is a highly polarizing aspect of this film, with some praising and some damning her performance), there honestly isn’t much to pick at for flaws.
As such, once one gets past Kristen’s (debatable) performance, one finds a film that, ultimately, is a well rounded retelling of a fairy tale that holds to its roots while simultaneously delivering a fresh new tone to the story.  The inherent plot is exactly the same as virtually every version of the Snow White tale.  Snow White’s mother wishes for a daughter, Snow White’s mother dies after said daughter is born, her father remarries, the Queen becomes rampantly jealous of Snow White’s beauty, Snow White is forced to run for the hills where she meets up with a bunch of dwarves, almost winds up poisoned by her stepmother’s apple, is revived by a kiss, and returns to seek revenge on said stepmother.  What makes Snow White and the Huntsman differ from the usual tale is the extensive character building received by all the characters (but especially the evil queen, Ravenna,) as well as the fleshing out of the bare bones of the story from a basic fairy tale to an epic film. 
Thus, while the acting of Kristen Stewart may be up for question, Charlize Theron’s performance as Ravenna is beyond reproach.  Rather than functioning as the average, vain evil queen, Ravenna is a near primal force, crazed with a need for immortality, control, revenge on men, and maintaining her beauty.  She conquers and kills with chilling impunity, a woman on the warpath who is still human even as she is never presented as anything less than outright deadly.  To maintain her beauty and power she devours the youth of young women (how Elizabeth Bathory of you, Ravenna), and discovers, upon consultation with her magic mirror, that she can gain unfading strength in both areas by ingesting the heart of Snow White, which she proceeds to go about doing so by any means necessary.  Her madness and sorrow are palpable things, and her power as queen is enough to make you get down on your knees and swear fealty in the movie theater.
Besides Ravenna, one has the titular Huntsman, (whose name is Eric though I don’t think that it’s ever mentioned), who, as portrayed by Chris Hemsworth, is by turns gruff and sweet, and, for the ladies of the audience, most certainly attractive even when covered in mud.  For the ladies who prefer more clean cut men, however, do not despair:   There is also Snow White’s childhood sweetheart, the prince, who doesn’t serve much purpose other than to be a foil to the huntsman and jump around shooting a bow and being cute.  The dwarves, meanwhile, are amusing to a man, and the rest of the cast does their job quite well.  It’s an all-around win. 
Ladies going to war in full plate armor. 
HELL YES.
The unabashed strength of the women is perhaps one of the most surprising and surprisingly well handled aspects of the whole film.  Ravenna and Snow White are never relegated to the position of damsel in distress, and on the rare occasion where that may seem the case (such as when Ravenna is first introduced), they turn the tables on their would-be rescuers in seconds.  And when the last fight scene rolls around, Snow White and Ravenna rally their troupes and lead their soldiers into battle, culminating in one-on-one combat between both women.  Without needing to scream their independence to the rafters both women are leaders and, Ravenna’s madness aside, well worth tipping one’s hat to as ladies of a high order.
Finally, there is the appearance of the film, which is drop-dead gorgeous.  Sweeping landscape shots of Germanic looking mountains are punctuated with lush enchanted forests, spooky marshes, and Ravenna’s palace, located on the coast and surrounded by an ever roiling ocean.  The costumes are equally lovely, with Ravenna’s outfits being some of the most jaw dropping pieces of work I’ve ever personally seen (one, which wasn’t used in the film unfortunately, was trimmed with umpteen iridescent beetle wings).  If nothing else, this is by far the most aesthetically pleasing film I’ve seen this summer. 
So, to go see it or not to go see it?  That depends on whether or not one is fond of fairy tales that take themselves seriously (and whether you do or do not mind Kristen Stewart).  It is a common trope that films based on legends or folk stories tend to take a more sarcastic or excessively gritty tack on the plot.  Snow White and the Huntsman, however, skirts the line of gritty without ever crossing over it excessively and completely ignores the cynical aspect.  As such, if you don’t like the idea of fairy tales where a woman is referred to un-ironically as ‘the one who will bring balance’ (and no, she is not bringing balance to the Force), then look elsewhere.  If that doesn’t bother you, (and neither does Kristen Stewart), then you should love the film. 
P.S. Florence & The Machine’s song ‘Breath of Life’ is used in the credits, thus making this lady a very happy panda.