Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I the Jury: Snow White and the Huntsman

The Charges:  Kristen Stewart’s acting; CGI for its own sake; Poor storytelling

The Verdict:  Guilty as charged!

The Ruling:  Fairy tale re-imaginings are all the rage at the moment (as my own current project will attest), and what makes them usually such weak tea is the fact that they expect the audience’s knowledge of the tale to do the heavy lifting.  Very little setup or development is ever attempted, and this is a problem that Snow White and the Huntsman (hereafter “SWATH”) has in abundance.

The installation of Charlize Theron as the evil queen is perfunctory at best.  An evil army appears out of nowhere, and is met by some knights led by the king.  The evil army is destroyed, clearly betraying their non-natural origins by collapsing into glittery rubble when defeated.  Rather than causing suspicion, this fact is ignored, and the king falls in love with a convenient captive woman being held nearby.  The fact that his love is magically extracted is all well and good, but the rest of the kingdom isn’t under the Queen’s spell, so the fact he marries a complete stranger after knowing her for just a few hours would raise eyebrows, if not open protest.  The king doesn’t seem like he’s a “yes-men only” sort of ruler, so this circumspection is odd.  The entire palace just sort of shrugs and washes the accumulated grit from their new queen’s athletic body so they can hurry her through a dress fitting before the sudden marriage.

It takes her just a few minutes after getting the crown to kill the king.  Not much time for an exploration of her motives.  She just walks up to the castle gates and lets in an army.  Where the soldiers are who would normally be manning a palace’s front doors is never addressed, nor is the fact that castle gates don’t exactly have doorknobs so one person can just open them casually.  And shouldn’t there be someone on those walls, looking at the army that is waiting just outside for her to open the doors?  But no, that would be too much effort.  Anyway, the queen opens the gates and lets in her real army.  Coup achieved.

The young princess is spared for the ominous potential of using her royal blood in some way in the future.  Charlize Theron makes this line sound convincing, and by the power of her delivery alone justifies keeping the young Snow White alive until adulthood.

During the rest of the film, though, Theron is stuck acting and reacting to nothing, as if expecting hordes of CGI servants to be inserted later.  If that was what they told her, imagine her surprise at the final screening, when she’s stuck shrieking and glowering to one or two people, who react not at all.  I think there was some cradling of her head during those sequences.  Acting can be a cruel business.

Cruel, too, can be the experience of watching acting.  Or, in this case, non-acting.  As my first brush with Kristen Stewart’s alleged craft, I was put off from the very first moments of her being on screen.  Her gaze is so utterly devoid of emotion, I had to keep reminding myself of why Snow White might be doing any of the things she was doing.  Her brooding gaze and jutting chin was entirely unsuited to a character who was always being billed as being pure and good.  It wasn’t so much that she was unattractive physically (though, I have to add, she really is), as unattractive emotionally.  Her vacant stare is only occasionally replaced by a sort of icy determination, of the kind people use to chew off their own arm to escape a trap, or torture someone for information.  It is not the look of purity we are always being told she radiates.

An ember of passion seems to animate Stewart for her climactic rousing speech to the troops before the battle.  The writing, however, leaves her spouting utter nonsense, a rambling rant that is makes her sound completely insane.  The troops around her would, if she weren't the paragon of purity, roll their eyes and wonder what they were doing following an utter twit.  Instead, they give a somewhat rousing cheer and ride off to battle.

By the end of this short tale (which takes but a few days), Snow White is an armor-clad, sword-swinging badass-ess.  Huh?  Is the only means to any goal armed combat?


Kristen Stewart’s patented stare serves her well as she storms up steps and charges the Queen’s exposed back.  That’s honorable!  The Queen, however, reminds us of what experience and training can do, and proceeds to wipe the floor with the metal-wrapped girl.  Why she cannot capitalize on her success, and finish Snow White off is a mystery, but somehow she can’t seem to go that final step.  The Queen’s punishment is a ho-hum death, followed by having Kristen Stewart deliver a painfully inept parting line.  Ouch!

The final confrontation itself is pretty much just resolution, so drained of suspense is it.  A note to evil sorceresses: if you have a magical army made of obsidian shards, that fall to pieces when a blow that would kill a human strikes them, they aren’t much better than human troops.  But if they can become an unstrikable storm of flying glass, as the ones in this movie apparently can, maybe you should skip the vulnerable man-form and go full-on glass tornado.

Just saying.

So bad is this movie that I kept meta-viewing, wondering what the cast and crew were thinking as they made this film, rather than what the characters were thinking and feeling.  This is never a good sign.  After her speech, for example, I couldn’t help but feel that half the cheers came from the cameramen and crew at the thought that the scene was finally over.

SWATH is completely dreadful, saved only by the abused reputations of excellent actors like Theron and Bob Hoskins.  What the making of this film has cost those unfortunate enough to have been involved in it is equalled only by what it costs the unfortunate masses to have to view it.

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