Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

I know this movie review is pretty late (although not as late as the review of The Avengers I still insist I’m going to do), but here it is anyway. I was going to write about Prometheus, but didn’t want to step on Will’s toes quite yet. Hopefully I’ll have my own review up on Wednesday.

So plot-wise, SNatH was pretty standard. Evil Queen, Magic Mirror, Huntsman, Dwarves. You know the drill. But for the sake of those living under rocks: a brief synop. [You have no idea how much I hate myself for saying “synop.”] When the kingdom is attacked by an army of obsidian warriors, the King rides out on the front lines, only to find the beautiful stunningly inhumanly gorgeous Ravenna (Charlize Theron, natch), as a prisoner. He promptly overcomes his grief over the death of his wife, and marries her toot-sweet. She (equally promptly) stabs him, imprisons Snow White, and warps the land with the sheer force of her evilness. Snow White then escapes into the Dark Forest, is pursued by the Hunksman (Chris Hemsworth), meets some Dwarves, storms the castle, defeats the witch, and is crowned as the rightful Queen.

If you haven’t seen the trailers for the movie, you definitely need to, because they are highly representative of the look of the movie – which is the best part of the movie. I was actually pretty blown away by how fantastic it looked. The scene of Charlize Theron bathing in milk, any scene involving her magic, and any of the creatures populating the world were beautifully done. What made it all the more remarkable was that this was the director’s first feature film, after doing mainly commercials. That pretty much blows my mind.

If I had to describe this movie, I would have to borrow from the stoner classic: Pineapple Express. Bear with me. It’s like… if Game of Thrones and Disney’s Snow White made a baby, and then Tim Burton’s Alice and Wonderland and Chronicles of Narnia had a baby, and then those two babies made another baby. That baby… is this movie. Here’s what I mean

Game of Thrones – HBO’s Game of Thrones is perhaps best known for its uncompromisingly bleak depiction of medieval society. There’s nothing glamorous or escapist about it – life sucks for peasants, and then they die. This grim and gritty mood was incredibly evident in Snow White, and may have even been a bit of an inspiration. Also: sibling sex (hinted at anyway).

Disney’s Snow White – Obviously, this is the definitive take on the classic fairy tale, and as such there are a couple of common threads, or nods to the animated film. For example, Snow White is helped by birds, and wears a dress pretty similar to the one in the Disney movie.

Alice in Wonderland – This is the best, modern example of reinterpreting a classic story into darker, grittier film. Like Snow White, Alice in Wonderland took an old animated Disney masterpiece, and created a grim, live-action tale that is heavy on the CGI, and the action. In fact, Snow White (the character) is remarkably similar to Alice, down to being the prophesied heroine, wearing a suit of armor, and being rather stoic.

Chronicles of Narnia – In general there isn’t very much in common with the Chronicles of Narnia movies, but around halfway through the film, there is a section where Snow White explores the home of the Dwarves, an oasis in the middle of a kingdom devastated and poisoned by Ravenna’s dark magic. There is a sense of wonder, however, that seems most related to Narnia, and even what seemed to be a clear homage (a white stag) “anointing” Snow White, which is vaguely reminiscent of Aslan.

As for what I liked, other than the visuals, there was surprisingly much. Perhaps most shockingly, I really liked Snow White (Kristen Stewart). True, she didn’t say much, and didn’t have to act that much, but I found this strong, silent type to really be in her wheelhouse. But what I liked most about her was, well, her femininity. Allow me to explain.

There is a tendency, when making female heroes, to either imbue them with masculine traits, or slut them up. Most often, it’s slutting them up. And the creators like to pretend that they are making strong women characters because they are literally strong, and kick all the ass. OR that they are independent and confident because they dress how they want and don’t care if men demean themselves by ogling. If you think I’m making that up, read the wiki article about Power Girl’s costume, or Sucker Punch. Basically, females are often turned not into strong characters, but into 13 year-old boys’ fantasies.

Snow White on the other hand, wasn’t. Sure, she sure could run fast for a girl that had been locked in a tower for ten years, and sure, she somehow wore armor and held a sword and shield as if she had the upper-body strength of a man, but that’s pretty forgivable in a movie. But she never wore anything overly tight or revealing. She didn’t flirt or pine. She just put her head down and got to work. What I thought was the most awesome, though, was that she didn’t win the battle by being strong or fast or duplicitous or even all that smart or cunning. She won because of her heart, because of her thoroughly feminine qualities: empathy, compassion, forgiveness. These were the things that endeared her to her people, the things that made Ravenna hate her, and ultimately the thing that made her “the fairest of them all.” She wasn’t an action hero, and she wasn’t some bimbo princess. She was a woman, who won, and I liked that.

I also liked that this movie wasn’t a romance. Honestly, I don’t remember there being very much interaction between Snow White and the Huntsman. Which made it kind of BS when his kiss brought her back to life, but oh well. Regardless, there wasn’t the whole “hate turns to love,” trope in EVERY rom-com under the sun, which was refreshing. There was just a sort of growing respect between the two, and a sense that she pulled him back from the brink of despair. That, to me, was the true love – showing a broken man that life is worth living. And not with your ta-tas.

I did not like the Dwarves. They were… goofy. I mean, the movie definitely could have used the comic relief, but they were pretty stupid. And no, it wasn’t just because one of them was Nick Frost, who I can’t stand. (But I’m working on it, I promise.) I know that you can’t have a Snow White movie without Dwarves, but it just seemed out of place. And they didn’t really add that much to the movie, so I’m not quite sure why they were there.

But overall, I really did enjoy the movie. Ravenna was so twisted. I’m not sure her backstory excused her behavior (or if it was really meant to), but I think you can sympathize to an extent with a woman (and society) that was told that being beautiful is the only thing that can save you (either from barbarian hordes or crappy station in life). I liked that she was the only one who could see the mirror, which made her seem so much more demented and unstable. Her brother was a huge creep. And Chris Hemsworth was perfectly cast as a brooding, cynical, brute who comes to believe in life and love by the end.

So, in conclusion, what seemed like a completely unnecessary overhaul of a fairy tale classic, with an awful leading actress, turned into a surprisingly entertaining film. Kristen Stewart was palatable, and Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron totally make up for any failings she might have. Visually, the movie was a feast. So, go see it (at matinee prices if you’re skeptical).

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