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Is this 'Snow White' the fairest?

Reeling It In

Posted: June 7, 2012 - 9:25am
AP Photo/Universal Pictures, Alex Bailey
This film image shows Chris Hemsworth, left, and Kristen Stewart in a scene from “Snow White and the Huntsman”.

"Snow White and the Huntsman"
Universal Pictures
2 hours, 7 minutes

When I heard that Kristen Stewart, mopey star of the intensely, unfathomably popular "Twilight" movies, was going to play a butt-kickin' Snow White in an action/adventure version of the story, I was, to put it mildly, skeptical. Not only was she the second person to play Snow White this year, but Stewart's filmography has consisted mostly of a four-film long pout about wanting to become a glittery vampire, with a few little-seen indie movies mixed in.

With that in mind, I'm pleased, and a little surprised to be able to report that Kristen Stewart does not sink "Snow White and the Huntsman." Unfortunately, she doesn't really save it either.

The story begins in a familiar enough way. Snow White's father is king and her mother has tragically died. In his grief, the father doesn't recognize that the new woman he suddenly becomes infatuated with is actually an evil witch -- ultimately his undoing. Snow White is doomed to be prisoner to her wicked stepmother who is jealous of her beauty.

This film adds a neat bit of trickery to the tale, wherein the witch creates a phantom army, sets them against the good king, and then pretends to be a prisoner, ready to be rescued. Charlize Theron, as Ravenna, plays the wickedness well, making her evil more a steely resolve never to be hurt by a man again kind of thing. The king marries her and then is murdered on his wedding night, after which Ravenna and her actual army take over the castle and the kingdom, initiating a decades long reign of terror. In order to maintain her legendary youth and vitality, Ravenna must suck the essence out of a string of beautiful young victims. After spending years locked in a cell, Snow White, just a little girl when her father died, finally makes her escape. After a daring dash through the castle courtyard and out through the sewers, our hero has to leap off a cliff into the crashing surf below the castle walls. When she makes it to the beach, for no particular reason, there is a beautiful white stallion waiting to spirit her away. More on this later.

Away she gets, only to become lost in the dark forest. In the meantime, the Queen, so angered by the escape of her prisoner, conscripts a drunken, belligerent huntsman, played by "Thor's" Chris Hemsworth, to find her and bring her back. Why this guy was the best choice, I'm not sure. To be honest I was losing focus at this point. The film, long enough at over two hours, drags a bit in the first half. Eventually, however, these two get together and run into the dwarves, rough-and-tumble bandits now that the mining has pretty much dried up. After that it's more battles, more monsters, and eventually a climactic encounter with the evil queen.

Just what you'd expect, except not really.

Stewart's performance as the beautiful princess is actually perfectly adequate. Not Oscar material, but fine for this kind of movie. There's a larger problem to deal with. It's the tone of the film itself -- inconsistent and unbalanced, as if the director had two separate visions in his head and couldn't figure out how to get them both in.

A good part of the film feels very reminiscent of a traditional knights on horseback kind of swashbuckler -- think "Lord of the Rings" with fewer monsters, or "Game of Thrones" with less incest. Other parts of the movie, however, have a distinctly wispy, fairy-tale feel. The closest I could come to a comparison would be Ridley Scott's weird but beautiful "Legend" with a very young Tom Cruise.

I would be in for either one of these stories, but the two don't really mix. The former is basically reality -- yeah, there's a scary witch and a few scary creatures thrown in, but at least everything follows basic rules as far as storytelling goes. The latter is a free-for-all, anything-goes vibe, with freaky fairies and mushrooms with eyeballs. While the witch uses a cool strategic maneuver to worm her way into the castle, and a conventional army to take it over, after she becomes queen, the movie tells us, the land dies because of her wickedness. Not that she did anything to kill the land, such as pollute it or even cast a spell on it, but just that it died -- as if the land itself was a person with a broken heart.

The aforementioned white horse, after racing into the dark forest, is suddenly swallowed by a mystical mud pit. I felt, all of a sudden, like I was 11 years old again, watching Artax sink in the Swamp of Sadness in "The Neverending Story." I never could get comfortable with the story because the tonal shifts were so jarring.

One thing that does work with "Snow White" is the look. The visuals are beautiful and the action scenes are well shot. The dwarves are a little off-putting, if only because they are recognizable as fairly famous British character actors like Toby Jones, Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, and others, yet are also utterly unrecognizable as that they are dwarves. And not "Lord of the Rings" dwarves -- small burly men with big beards, but actual regular human midgets, with stunted legs and a kind of waddle in their walk. Besides the obvious question of, if you're just going to make them look like real people, why not hire some actual dwarf actors, I never could figure out if they were supposed to be funny or serious.

Probably a little of both, which would fit in with the mish-mash feel of this film.

"Snow White" is a fairy-tale. "Snow White and the Huntsman" is an action movie that wants to be a fairy tale. Like oil and water, these two just don't mix.

Grade: C+

"Snow White and the Huntsman" is rated PG-13 for some pretty dark and intense action scenes, as well as a few scenes of sensuality.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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