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film review: snow white and the huntsman

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would you entrust your queendom to this woman?

Time was that I often wrote film reviews, and now I’ve decided to revive that habit in a small degree, with quickie reviews of about 500 words or so, as I’ve taken up going to the cinema regularly for the first time in a long time.

Before starting the review I should say that I’ve been going to the Palace Cinemas in the city [Adelaide], and I’ve already caught about five films, all quite enjoyable, with the best of the bunch being Take This Waltz, an indie Canadian film written and directed by Sarah Polley. It’s a three-hander or love triangle with the perhaps unlikely pairing of Michelle Williams and Seth Rogan as a married couple whose bland rather than rocky relationship is disrupted by a handsome and vaguely eccentric neighbour [Luke Kirby]. I’m itching to review it but I don’t trust myself as its details are fast receding… Anyway, though I have some reservations about the Michelle Williams character, it’s highly original in its narrative style, and Williams and Rogan are excellent in their delivery of the film’s often painful complexities.

So now to the review proper. I was wavering between viewing this and another more ‘modest’ film about tensions between Moslems and Christians in a Lebanese village, and I’m not sure that I made the right decision. I’m no special effects junky, and though I have a sort of atavistic fondness for knights and monsters and and wilde woods, from early readings of a child’s version of Spencer’s Faerie Queene [in which there was also a fair maiden who donned ‘male’ and slew with the best of them – a first childhood love], I’ve largely outgrown the black-and-whiteness of the genre. Also, large scale battle scenes bore me witless – not that there was too much of that here, but even a little is more than enough. Much better, and so much cheaper, to just have a messenger arrive from the battle-field hacked up and gory, stutter his message of disaster or triumph, then belch blood and drop at his lord’s feet. Or imaginative variations thereof.

The story-line here is traditional, dark and silly. The evil Ravenna [Charlize Theron] has, through beauty and guile, usurped the kingdom, turning it bleak and blizzardy with her miasmic charm. She murdered the goodly king by her own hand after insinuating herself into his bed, but for no good reason she left his popular and supposedly beautiful daughter, Snow White [Kristen Stewart], alive and languishing in a topmost tower. Time passes and Ravenna, obsessed with the nexus of beauty and power, somehow maintains her looks by draining ‘essence of youth’ out of comely victims with a squeeze of the throat. She also regularly does the mirror, mirror thing and all’s well until Snow White comes of age. Bad news, so Ravenna sends her faithfully serving brother to murder the damsel at last. But lo! she escapes the murderer and flees the castle into the wilde wood, full of dark magick, where she encounters a huntsman [Chris Hemsworth], sent to ‘bring her in’. She also meets seven dwarvish folk, a stag with show-offy antlers, and a monster or two. I have to admit I vagued out during the mid-section for want of anything credible to grab onto, but in the end Snow White, having clapped on her male and learned horsemanship, swordsmanship and leadership, comes storming back to the dark castle with her huntsman, her dwarves and her army. Another tedious battle scene, and in the thick of it, a rampant Snow White spies Ravenna looking down on the scene. She bounds up the stone stairs, flashing sword in hand, to do battle. A sense of déjà vu… Ah yes, I suddenly saw Errol Flynn’s Robin bounding up those same steps to give it good and proper to Basil Rathbone’s Sherrif. Plus ça change

In the end Snow White is crowned queen [but I can’t really imagine her as a ruler], and the still-lurking huntsman leads us to the obvious inference. Somehow I didn’t feel as uplifted as I should. Kristen Stewart, whom I’ve never seen before in anything, seemed at first an odd choice for Snow White, ‘fairest in the land’, because she’s not a classic beauty, but that worked to her advantage, for me anyway. I was quite taken by her guilelessness and determination – it seemed to exude naturally from her. In short, reader, she won my heart. Not that it was a demanding role, apart from the physical aspects. It was all grimacing, gasping and grunting, and occasionally being her sweet self, as in the dance with a smitten dwarf. Charlize Theron, a generally more multi-faceted actor, tried to milk the most out of her character, to bring complexity to an obsessive and heartless archetype, but there’s only so much you can do, apart from shouting very very loud.

So, a pleasant enough piece of hokum, with some nice special effects, occasionally overdone, but a thin, clichéd storyline. Hardly a must-see.

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Written by stewart henderson

July 1, 2012 at 11:07 am

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