Saturday, December 29, 2012

"Snow White and the Huntsman" (2012)

Starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron
Written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini
Directed by Rupert Sanders
Rated PG-13 - Violence, frightening images
Running Time: 127 Minutes

Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is the princess in an ancient kingdom. After the death of her mother, her father, King Magnus, marries a woman named Ravenna (Charlize Theron) who is revealed to be an evil witch. She murders the king and usurps his throne with the help of her brother, Finn (Sam Spruell), and imprisons Snow White in a castle tower. Duke Hammond (Vincent Regan) and his son William (Sam Clafin) manage to escape the castle during the battle, and vow to kill the queen.

Years later, Ravenna's magic mirror (Christopher Obi) tells Ravenna that she is no longer the fairest in the land, that Snow White has come of age. The mirror also warns her that Snow White is the only one who can end her reign over the kingdom. Learning this, Ravenna sends Finn to retrieve Snow White from the tower in order to consume her heart and be young, beautiful and powerful forever.  But Snow White manages to escape into the dark forest, a place where Ravenna has no powers and few men dare to go.

Ravenna orders the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to enter the forest and find Snow White, in exchange for bringing the Huntsman's wife back from the dead. But when the Huntsman finally finds the girl, Finn tells him Ravenna doesn't have the power to fulfill her end of the bargain, and the Huntsman escapes with Snow White into the forest. Now hunted across the land by Finn and his mercenaries, Snow White and the Huntsman must make their way to Duke Hammond's rebel forces and retake the throne from the evil witch.

There are two things that will dominate any impressions of "Snow White and the Huntsman." First is that the film is gorgeous, filled with lots of great landscapes, costumes, creatures and special effects. Even the creepy, depressing dead forest is impressively created.

The second is that Kristen Stewart is a godawful actress.

Your ability to appreciate the first will be the deciding factor of your enjoyment of "Snow White and the Huntsman." Stewart, with her dead eyes and wavering accent, saps the life out of nearly every scene she's in. The rest of the cast act circles around her, even the characters the script glosses over. In fact, she nearly ruins the very premise of the film, that Ravenna fears Snow White for being the fairest in the land - there's no way in hell Kristen Stewart is "fairer" than Charlize Theron. That Theron owns the film with her performance further demolishes the Snow White character. The entire movie seems built to hold up Snow White rather than the other way around since Stewart is incapable of taking control herself. Her rousing speech to the troops just before the film's final battle falls embarrassingly flat.

That said, there's a lot to like in "Snow White and the Hunstman." As I said, it's gorgeous to behold. The dark forest is creepy as hell, with trees that seem to be made of wooden snakes. They coil about, drifting toward people moving past them. On the opposite end of that, when the characters make their way into an enchanted forest, there's much beauty on display. Strange creatures flit about, the colors are bold, the whole place seems magical.

The script has some problems, but it's mostly solid. Some of the characters get the short shrift, so the movie feels like it needs a few more minutes to flesh things out. William, for example, is clearly in love with Snow White, it's his entire motivation as a character, but that gets dropped late in the film with no resolution or explanation. The dwarves, brought to life here as miners turned warriors, were played by little people and their faces digitally replaced by well-known actors like Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins and Nick Frost. Those characters are great, and I wish more had been done with them.

Charlize Theron grabs hold of the movie by the balls and never lets go. Even though she spends much of the film in one or two rooms in the castle, the way she rages through her lines. Her voice thunders, and she gets to wear all kinds of great, weird costumes. She must have had a ball playing this role, because she chews the scenery with the best of them and it's totally evil.

But we keep coming back to the problem of Kirsten Stewart. With a better actress, "Snow White and the Huntsman" would be a pretty rollicking fantasy adventure film.  Instead, every second she spends on the screen, you're just wishing you could go back to Charlize Theron or hoping it's an action sequence so that she doesn't have to talk.

Will you enjoy "Snow White and the Huntsman?" That's up to you and your tolerance for Kristen Stewart. I mostly did, I just wish someone else was the star.