Charlize Theron | Chris Hemsworth | Film | Nathaniel Rogers

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Movies: Is 'Snow White' The Fairest of Them All?

Snowwhite-fairest
Q: Mirror Mirror who is the fairest of them all? A: Charlize Theron, duh!

BY NATHANIEL ROGERS

YOUR FEATURE PRESENTATION

"Fairy tale revisionism" has been rapidly climbing the Hollywood Idea Chart. In the past few years we've seen Alice in Wonderland, Rapunzel in Tangled, Red Riding Hood, and Snow White in Mirror Mirror (reviewed here).  There are several more on the way including Angelina Jolie as Maleficent terrorizing Sleeping Beauty Elle Fanning. This weekend Snow White returned to theaters for the second time in three months. Her timing is apt since the apple-munching princess is celebrating her 75th big screen anniversary (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered in 1937). Why so many fairy tales? Modern Hollywood thrives on branding so the more familiar the movie before it arrives the better. And what's more familiar than fairy tales?

Tale as old as time. 
True as it can be…  ♫

Oops wrong fairy tale. Regret to inform that SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN does not have a theme song sung by Angela Lansbury but let's borrow that song anyway since its such an earworm. This new Snow White movie does have a theme song but it's a less catchy dirge-like ballad. One of the seven dwarves coughs it out at a funeral until Florence and the Machine take over on the soundtrack as the heroes rise up against evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) in montage. 

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. 

If you can suspend your disbelief that Kristen Stewart is "the fairest of all them all" in a beauty contest with Charlize Theron, READ ON AFTER THE JUMP...

Snowwhite-doesbattle

Wow. Surprised you're still here!  Charlize wins all beauty contests. Don't you have eyes?

The movie insists that Ravenna's beauty is the product of dark magic but if movies are elaborate magic tricks than it’s definitely Kristen Stewart as Snow White that's benefiting from studio sorcery. The gifted new cinematographer Grieg Frasier (Bright Star, Let Me In) carefully shoots Kristen Stewart with warm magic hour light so that even when she's wet, beaten and terrified, her dark locks frame her half lit porcelain face just so; she’s never looked better.

Snowwhite-kristenlit

Barely even friendsThen somebody bends
Unexpectedly

To be fair to the film and the ladies in question, the screenplay muddies the water a bit with what the "fairest of them all?" question means. The question is about physical beauty until it's not; Snow White's innocence, purity and kindness are eventually directly equated with her "fairness". It’s almost as if the Magic Mirror is guiding the story and changing the rules, sabotaging the Queen. This makes one of the film’s last images, Snow White reflected in the evil artifact, a curious winner. 

The rivalry between stepdaughter and stepmother is handled with more ambiguity than we usually get in these circumstances with a fair bit of sympathy for the devil. Snow implicitly senses Ravenna’s tragic backstory even though it’s only the Queen and her Lurch like brother (Sam Spruell) and the audience (via flashback) who know it. Otherwise though this princess's love stories are a touch too ambiguous. Does she love the Huntsman or her childhood Duke Charming (Sam Claflin)? The movie plays coy here, which adds a bit of intrigue to the “love’s first kiss” business but has an unfortunate effect on the movie’s heart, deromanticizing the iconic fairytale. Kisses are usually heroic in fairytales but any and all sexuality, even the purest kind, is as poisonous at that infamous apple this time around.

Snowwhite-darkforestaxe

Just a little changeSmall, to say the least
Both a little scaredNeither one prepared
Beauty and the Beast ♩

Point being: Snow White and The Huntsman is handsomely made and even pleasantly if unsuccessfully ambitious. This makes it the best of the recent live action fairy tales though that's not a tough bar to clear. The fairest of them all is the excellent costume design work on Theron’s mesmerizing Queen Ravenna (courtesy of three-time Oscar winner Colleen Atwood). But it takes more than costumes and one major diva actress to sell a movie. Especially when they’re sidelined from the main action.

Theron tries hard (too hard?) to revive the movie’s frequently failing heart with much needed shots of adrenaline but the movie’s relentless sobriety brings too many unintentional laughs. Most classic dramas aren’t shy about having a healthy sense of humor but when genre films want to be taken seriously they tend to err in the opposite direction. First time director Rupert Sanders uses Ravenna quite oddly reducing her to a walking visual effects ad to liven things up (briefly) during commercial breaks from the duller Snow White adventure. The storytelling gets as muddied as Snow White after escaping the castle through its sewers. Worst of all are the overhead aerial shots of the heroes recall The Lord of the Rings to such an absurd extent that it almost feels like stock footage with beefy Chris Hemsworth CGI'ed over Aragorn and new Dwarf faces superimposed over The Hobbits. 

Ever just the sameEver a surprise
Ever as beforeEver just as sure
As the sun will rise ♫

All in all this familiar but interestingly reworked fairy tale movie will play better on DVD where its choppiness will feel more organic to the viewing. There’s a lot of Beauty here and four actual beauties (Theron, Hemsworth, Stewart, and Claflin) but revising fairytales is a Beastly task. Queen Ravenna is right in her own sick way. It takes a strong beating heart for any story to achieve immortality. Snow White and the Huntsman’s heart beats faintly and arrhythmically, even when its body is shouting, fighting and otherwise magically engaged.  

Snowwhite-winter

Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

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Comments

  1. Watched it last night and overall I enjoyed it. Charlize was the saving grace of the movie, although I did enjoy Chris Helmsworth as the Huntsman too (reprising that Thor vibe..no complaints from me). There were editing and pacing issues with the film, but for me, Kristen Stewart just isn't a strong actress.

    She reminds me of January Jones (Mad Men, X-Men: First Class) in that she's a relatively one-note type of actress. She can play the dour, moody parts but everything else feels fabricated and forced. There was a point in the film where she was suppose to smile and I honestly cringed. You could see her mouth quivering trying to force the emotion lol.

    If they had gotten perhaps an unknown actress, who could breath life into the role, I would have enjoyed the film much more despite the editing/pacing issues.

    But again, Charlize as the Evil Queen, fabulous! She owned it and was a scene stealer.

    Posted by: daws | Jun 2, 2012 4:33:03 PM


  2. Loved this hero's journey! Especially relatable for gay men.
    The narcissistic shapeshifter mother is perfect for our Madonna/Gaga era.

    Posted by: Haga | Jun 2, 2012 4:41:43 PM


  3. KS has 2 excpressions

    I just took a dump & Im trying to take a dump

    I only want to see this because of CT and CH and even then if Charlize wasnt in it , hemsworth would not be enough of a draw to outweigh KS "Im trying to take a dump" grimace every other second

    Posted by: say what | Jun 2, 2012 5:35:39 PM


  4. Can't wait to see it! Charlize Theron is such a wonderful thespian. She's been pretty much terrific in everything so far. Her performance in "Monster" was unnerving, it was as if she really was a different person.

    Posted by: Johnson | Jun 2, 2012 5:36:39 PM


  5. @Haga... did you really, really, REALLY need to go there with the Ma-gaga debate here? Sigh.

    As for the Theron vs. Stewart beauty contest, of course Theron wins. However, so did the animated Queen in comparision to Snow White in the Disney movey, who was a simpering, annoying child. I guess in both cases, youth, which is the only thing the "Snow White" character has going for them, except supposedly virtue and goodness, trumps everything. But for beauty, it's clear the Queen is the real winner.

    Posted by: GraphicJack | Jun 2, 2012 6:18:17 PM


  6. I give it three pillows. In fact, take a bite of the poisoned apple with the hopes that the spell will be broken as the credits roll and you awaken to an emptying theater.

    Posted by: brucci | Jun 2, 2012 6:24:25 PM


  7. The scene taken straight from Princess Mononoke was disconcerting, and the Lord of the Rings aerial shots were a bit much too.

    Posted by: Jersey | Jun 2, 2012 10:04:37 PM


  8. Yeah, the forest scene with those tiny forest spirits sitting on trees and the white deer with bouquet of antlers are all copied from Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke. Shame on the filmmakers.

    Posted by: FPC | Jun 2, 2012 10:59:00 PM


  9. got it right on all accounts here. this movie was (surprisingly) really really boring and the storytelling was awful. so disappointed, could have maybe been great.

    Posted by: leroar | Jun 3, 2012 12:19:52 AM


  10. Looking forward to seeing the movie but this review was tragic. Its as if the reviewer is more focused with making his poorly conceived metaphors work. And the Beauty & The Beast Quotes were just tacky.

    Posted by: Chris H | Jun 3, 2012 2:13:00 AM


  11. We liked it, but I couldn't help thinking through the whole movie that if Hemsworth could just break through to theaters 7-12 hold out his hand and retrieve his hammer he could knock the crap out of the queen. A cosmic rip in the forest and having the Hulk pop through hds me silently laughing through the film. Still, it's worth a see.

    Posted by: Michaelandfred | Jun 3, 2012 9:43:30 AM


  12. Saw it last night. Aside from the visual effects and production design, the real star is Hemsworth -- not only is he beautiful eye candy, he gives the film more humanity and depth than it deserves.

    Posted by: Joseph | Jun 3, 2012 1:36:18 PM


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    Posted by: umar | Jun 3, 2012 2:40:20 PM


  14. Ugh...I WANTED to like this movie, but the Lord of the Rings aerial shots, the contrived & unresolved love triangle, the awkward, interminable ballad sung at precisely the moment your distended bladder starts to complain...c'mon, Hollywood. At least try to make us work for your cliches.

    With the exception of the "dwarfing" of Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, and Toby Jones, etc., not even the CGI was that remarkable. Ravenna disintegrating into a murder of crows? Seems like we've seen that before. Bridge troll attacking the heroes? Seen it. Humanoid creatures in a fairyland otherworld? Yep. And all in much better movies.

    Posted by: Sean in Dallas | Jun 3, 2012 3:39:42 PM


  15. I have only two reasons to see this the Wicked Queen and Thor.

    Posted by: jaragon | Jun 3, 2012 6:16:22 PM


  16. OK, I'll say it.

    I really enjoyed the movie and I thought that Kristen Stewart was a great choice to play Snow White.

    Posted by: fedorajoe | Jun 3, 2012 8:09:08 PM


  17. Charlize Theron rocked in this movie with her riveting screen presence. The movie suffered for the long periods of time when she was not on the screen. Oh, and the woman, is mad sexy. Hot to death.

    Posted by: Malcolm | Jun 3, 2012 10:06:38 PM


  18. I refuse to watch anything with Kristen Stewart on it! talentless crappy "actress"

    Posted by: ventura79 | Jun 3, 2012 10:30:03 PM


  19. Just came back from it and it is one dour film. Its just one flat note of a long string of LoTR type escape scenes interspersed with a decently evil Theron. Stewart does her usual gasping, pouted mouth breathing and stares. Her trademark shrug is left to a minimum but watch for her reaction when Hemsworth comments on her armor, I cant even describe the reaction she was trying to emote. She and Hemsworth have no chemistry whatsoever. Add the awkward and odd addition of the lords prayer to a film with absolutely no other hint of christianity or religion for that matter and I get the feeling the director and writers just wanted to stick Snow White in a premade template for no other reason than just because.

    Posted by: Toto | Jun 3, 2012 11:01:40 PM


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