Is it possible for a film to UNgrow on you. I guess so, espesh if my experience of this week’s latest summer blockbuster, “Snow White and the Huntsman” is anything at all to go by.
Oh, don’t get me wrong: its competent,impressive, magnificent, even, in parts. But in the end, it doesn’t quite hang together: it has a slightly jarring feminist sub-plot; and as a whole it isyet another in a now well-established procession of “evil woman drains the land, young virgin saves it”that seems to be contributing something unwholesome to the Beauty Myth, dressed up in sassy fairytale.
So what’s good about it? Well, its a gritty, realistic re-telling of a fairytale, based in an imagined world that owes something to Monty Python’s medieval poverty, something more to Narnia’s big freeze.. The fights and battles feel like real fights and battles. The love (and sex) is played for real. And its two leading actors are moderately pleasing chunks of eye candy. Or is that, in the case of huntsman, Chris Hemsworth, “hunk”.
Not altogether clear, as my fellow cinema-goer, who is normally quite taken by the rough and stubbly masculine look was unimpressed by his somewhat drunken start. I said two, meaning Mr hemsworth and Charlize Theron, who follows her bad woman lead in Prometheus last week with a superbly evil Queen in Snow White, this.
I was a good deal less taken by the anaemic Kristen Stewart who played Snow White as so many heroines faced with this sort of everyone’s-out-to-get-me plot: naive, slightly dazed and lacking motivation until pulling herself together at the end and saving the day.
So what’s wrong with the film? Plenty of good bits. But they never quite hang together. Once established that the Queen needs Snow White’s heart in order to perpetuate her reign of terror, there follow a series of set piece chases and narrow escapes, punctuated with some neat one-on-one hand-fighting. Along the way, Snow White meets the huntsman, a colony of widowed and self-mutilated women, and a bunch of dwarves.
A film of bits
Because the film is trying to be gritty and serious, the comic potential of the latter is never quite realised. Then there’s a detour into a sort of faerie sanctuary (which, of course, i was bound to enjoy). Why? And a sub-Narnian meet with some spirit of the woodland (here embodied as a stag), before the bit where the Queen almost but not quite poisons Snow White, resurrection and grand finale.
We’ve been here so many times before. So many individual sequences that look like homage…or is that just theft? The grand finale? At some point, Snow White dons armour and turns into Jeanne d’Arc. Or the final, final scene, where, accompanied by a refugee from the Russian Orthodox church, she is now re-incarnated as Virgin Queen.
Loads of borrowings from Narnia, espesh the Lion, the Witch and…. And here’s where the film gets worrying. First off, there is a repetition of a theme we are beginning to know all too well: the older woman, obsessed with beauty, draining all life from land (and people) in her determination to hang on; and the younger, virgin girl (it HAS to be a virgin) whose beauty is all that matters.
Yeah: i get that its a fairy tale. But someone has to pick and choose which tales to film…and Hollywood does seem to like this theme right now.
Then there’s what someone is bound to characterise as a “brave” attempt to situate the Queen’s wickedness in some sort of sub-feminist motivation: men, doncha know…they treat you bad; ergo a pact with evil and turning into an evil soul-sucking monster is par for the course. Hmmm… Germaine Greer
for wicked stepmother in the next, inevitable re-telling of Cinderella? Nah!
Its clearly an attempt to ground the whole in some species of realism. But why? Evil Witch Queens are just that: evil. They don’t need back story.
It could have been better…
Meanwhile, there is a sense of the film as a whole pulling its punches, on account of its desperate scrabbling for a 12A certificate, which i suspect it managed by the skin of its teeth. A shame, because without that need, it would have been altogether harsher, nastier, more magnificent. Different! It might just have stood out from the pack.
There’s the obviously incestuous relationship between Queen and brother (Sam Spruell). Here hinted: but bizarrely reminiscent of the camp Rocky Horror relationship between Riff Raff and Magenta. There’s some superbly kinky – and gratuitous – imagery of the queen in a bath full of milk. And then there’s the supposedly “empowering” relationship between Snow White, Huntsman and her childhood sweetheart, the insipid William (Sam Claflin).
No. It doesn’t work and while it, too, was minor film, i think i preferred “Mirror, Mirror”, which was unashamedly tongue-in-cheek and didn’t pretend to be something it wasn’t.