Thursday, February 21, 2013

Snow White and the Huntsman

Charlize Theron is the fairest of them all.
*** out of ****

Ever since Disney and Tim Burton made the incredibly stupid Alice in Wonderland movie, I've been resentful of fantasy movies that try to copycat the success of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and its action scenes. Why? Because nothing's going to top that level of spectacle. Also, magical stories for children should not be confused with medieval fantasies.

So now that we have a medieval-style war fantasy of Snow White -that's aimed at an older audience, what's it like? The answer: Not so bad. Snow White and the Huntsman was pleasantly surprising to me. It manages to be well made... Really well-made. Its only major fault - outside its flawed intention of an idea - is a mediocre screenplay, but what else is new?

Brothers Grimm stories were always dark but they were a different kind of dark. I could hold these fresh filmmakers in contempt for taking this story and turning it into an armor-obsessed action movie lacking the humor and whimsey one should expect from a fairy tale, but I would be ignoring how magical a lot of the movie winds up being.

There's a lot to enjoy in this movie -primarily from a production angle. Just think of big budget fantasy productions of the eighties and this movie echos them. The cast is good. The costumes are great. The sets are vast and immaculate, utilizing England's Pinewood Studios. The locations are real and beautiful. The cinematography uses the traditional scope lens, which results in a constant shift between shallow-focus intimate closeups and gorgeously detailed wide shots. James Newton Howard is one of the few composers working today who I really like. His score here is as beautiful as expected. Above all, the special effects are VERY good. 

The special effects of Snow White and the Huntsman are the kind you might expect from the films of Ridley Scott or Christopher Nolan, where CGI is merely a tool to take over when you've run out of in-camera options. As this is a fantasy, that is sure to happen a lot, but it is oftentimes an extension of something really on the set.

One of the  movie's best special effects gives an ensemble of great British actors, not only the appearance of being the size of this story's dwarves, but also the body proportions. This was achieved with multiple techniques depending on the shot. The effect is impressively seamless and an insult to real dwarf actors everywhere.

Another obvious flaw of this movie was apparent the day the cast was announced. If Kristen Stewart plays Snow White and Charlize Theron plays the wicked Queen, how can Snow White be the "fairest one of all"? I am in no way inclined to shit-talk Kristen Stewart. Honestly I like her. I think she's an attractive girl who I would rather call a limited actress than a bad one. But compared to Theron... There's no comparison. Theron is a great actress and a gorgeous screen presence who dominates this movie.

Stewart doesn't ever make sense as the the supposedly charming magical beauty who brings warmth and hope to all around her. She reminds me of pretty yet humble girls I've known, particularly in high school, who would rather avoid attention. Maybe the filmmakers wanted this in their version of Snow White, but it's more likely they knew she would attract Twilight fans to the film.

Then there's Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman -who is good. But his accent is weird. There's also the dwarves, played by the talents of Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, and a couple others with whom I am not familiar (an eighth dwarf gets killed).

What really works for this film, is the amount of magical imagery it contains, particularly when the heroes walk into an enchanted forest filled with mystical animals and plants (One of the writers said Princess Mononoke was an inspiration for the film). Nothing against the Lord of the Rings movies, but this is one of those fantasies that does a much better job at making its atmosphere seem like a real place where supernatural things actually happen.

When the part I was dreading the most finally came, I just shrugged. Okay. Snow White is in armor leading an army. It's stupid but at least it looks good.

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