Who’s The Fairest Of Them All?
I’ve always believed that myths, legends and folk stories make for some of the greatest cinematic tales. Granted, they are often predictable, over the top and littered with two dimensional characters but they usually contain the finest moral backbone. As such, the announcement of a classically dark adaptation of Snow White should stir a great deal of nostalgic joy for most – something the likes of Disney usually prey upon – and had this project been helmed by Guillermo Del Toro, we would have been presented with something truly spectacular.. but the final project distinctly lacks that magical spark and what we’re left with is a very interesting but ultimately disappointing affair.
As you’re no doubt familiar with the Snow White story, I’ll try to spare you the obvious details. The film opens with the birth of Snow White, a princess of the realm gifted with the finest qualities of her parents. While the princess is still very young, her mother grows sick and succumbs to illness. It is around this time that a dark and mysterious army appears and taunts the grieving king out of his castle. After besting the mystical combatants, the king discovers they had a young woman captive, Ravena [Theron]. Enchanted by her beauty, the king married her the following day. Naturally, this was a trick and part of Ravena’s plan all along. Once crowned queen, Ravena kills her husband and permits a very real army into the castle. Many people are slaughtered and the princess is locked up in a tower, believed to be dead by the general populace. Several years later, the land has fallen to ruin, everything is poisoned, decayed and dying from the people to the plants. The Queen discovers that in order to stay young and beautiful forever, she must cut out and consume Snow White’s heart. Showing great strength, courage and initiative, Snow White [Stewart] escapes her cell and heads off into the dark woods, a place where few men dare enter and uniquely immune to Ravena’s power. Subsequently, a drunken widower, the huntsman [Hemsworth] is recruited and tasked with retrieving the princess alive.
From a production standpoint, Snow White is breath-taking. The costumes are rich and impressive, the world the characters traverse through is teaming with life and activity, the set design is lavish and the CGI effects are immersive. Visually, this film is beyond striking and looked more like a Tarsem Singh film than Singh’s own adaptation of Snow White. One of the most surprising elements was the appearance of the seven dwarves (which I thought might be absent from the film entirely). The only reason to really highlight them is the impressive visual treatment they’re given, not only in a costume and make-up sense but also as a visual effect. We’re all too familiar with the Lord Of The Rings hobbit style of green-screening their hobbit actors against the human cast and then using little people for the long shots. This film actually makes the proportions seem correct and you’re left momentarily puzzled each time they are on-screen, wondering how they achieved it. However, scratch away the glossy surface and a wealth of flaws begin to form; sure, the score is grand and the pacing is perfectly adequate but outside of the visceral visuals, the remainder feels a little underdone.
This film’s biggest problem is, without question, the acting. The cast is made up of a wealth of acting talent yet no one gels and despite the on-screen developments, it’s really difficult to actually like any of the characters. Arguably, this could be down to the source material. As I stated earlier, fairy tales, myths and legends all play upon very base archetypes and as such this tends to produce incredibly two-dimensional, under developed heroes and villains – their motives, their interactions, their goals, they all seem a little hollow. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the extremely over-developed characters, who end up a bit of a hammy mess; the main offender being Charlize Theron. At times her portrayal of Queen Ravena is stirring, bitter, whilst simultaneously tender but then she just goes that inch too far and descends into this ridiculous screaming mess. Kristen Stewart does her usual thing and no doubt people will parrot “I was really surprised” and “Such a big difference between her and Bella” etc. In all honesty, it’s nothing new but at least the strong feminist elements have been neatly woven into the plot rather than feeling hack-handed and forced. Same could be said for Hemsworth, for that matter. He has a Scottish accent and he’s mourning his dead wife.. that’s nothing like Thor. Again, not a dramatic leap from what the public expect of him but different enough to make them think he’s doing something out of his comfort zone.
Unfortunately, this is a very familiar tale and subsequently, everyone thinks they have a valid opinion as to what you can and can’t change. There will be people who won’t be able to stomach the campy performances, the liberties taken with plot and the casting decisions made but alternatively, there are those who will see this as a rich visual treat, laced with excitement, romance, adventure and action. Personally, I think it’s a very strong movie and for a directorial debut it’s an incredible achievement. I will admit there are several design flaws but I’m more than willing to overlook them in light of the overall impact of the finished product.
1st June 2012
The Scene To Look Out For:
The most memorable scenes are the most visually entertaining. The first time the mirror speaks with the queen, the encounter with the army of volcanic glass, the milk bath; there are plenty to choose from, providing you can forget about Hemsworth’s waning accent, Stewart’s rather pitiful attempt at a rally speech and Theron doing whatever the hell it was she thought she was doing.
To my mind, the worst performance was without a doubt, delivered by Bob Hoskins. I’m not entirely certain if the fault was primarily his own but he has a great deal of explaining to do. As the blind elder of the dwarves, Muir, his sole function is to stare off into the distance, sense things and then spout expository explanations of things we blatantly already knew. Just when you think the story’s getting good, Hoskins appears, looks almost directly into the camera and whispers, “Bruce Willis! He’s a ghost! Who would have thought?” It’s lazy, insulting and I cannot bear scripts that feel the need to convey what is so apparent.
“By fairest blood it is done and by fairest blood it can be undone”
In A Few Words:
“Vibrant and lush visuals compensate for an all too familiar story and some oft hammy acting”