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It’s been said that Snow White and the Huntsman is a “visual tour-de-force”. That it is, without question. But what it isn’t is a coherent, evenly-paced film. The fault of this lies with new feature film director Rupert Sanders, whose current directorial style is to let his actors go about their business however they like. These actors do provide brilliant performances, no doubt. But without a director that knows how to balance these performances and deliver a film that doesn’t seem like various scenes tacked together with glue, these performances become puzzling, or worse; unintentionally comical.
But first, the good. Sanders, a director so new to the feature film game that his IMDb page is all but empty, is an experienced commercial director. He got this gig by presenting a short film that showed his idea of how the film should look and feel. He nailed that. Snow White and the Huntsman is visual eye candy for people who love their fantasy with a tinge of darkness. Mushrooms blink up at you, tiny fuzz-covered fairies fly off in a puff of golden dust, and enormous tree beasts make the forest an evil, beautiful delight. He also had the good sense to hire a mythology consultant and a military consultant; bits of old-school fables and fight styles give the film a touch of class. Pity he didn’t nail the working-with-people part. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Art direction as a whole is simply spectacular. The cinematography is a hazy, foggy sight, as if the entire world created here has been held back by a powerful darkness (which, of course, it has.) Costume designer Colleen Atwood (Chicago, Sweeny Todd, Memoirs of a Geisha) does her beautiful magic with fabric, and the characters look…well, exactly like they should. The queen is resplendent in metallics, lace and feathers, Snow is lovely and fierce in her armor, and the villagers are in various states of dishevelment.
The actors all deliver wonderful performances. Yes, even Kristen Stewart. Sure, the young Twilight miss has been a bit of a one-note wonder in her past several films, but to be fair she’s been playing the same character over and over again. Here, she’s a natural as a young woman who doesn’t want to be the center of attention but has that thrust upon her. (Sounds a bit like her real life, or so it seems.) Chris Hemsworth is delightful as the medieval drunken lout with a heart of gold; he gives a pitch-perfect performance that is equal parts old school frat drunkard and heartbroken widower trying to survive day by day. But the standout is Charlize Theron, and here’s where things get a bit complicated. Theron’s performance as the evil queen Ravenna is layered with subtle glimpses at the terrified, scared girl behind the powerful sorceress. Unfortunately for her, director Sanders doesn’t seem to be able to rein her in, and in several scenes she’s literally writhing on the floor in histrionics. Amazing to watch – she’s an Oscar winner for a reason y’all – but in this film her method turns into an over-the-top performance that makes a jarring impact for viewers. I heard chuckles and giggles during these scenes at the screening I attended. And that’s too bad.
Now’s the time I roll up my sleeves and get to the nasty bits. There are scads of folks listed as voice coaches for this film, yet Stewart bops in and out of her “British accent”, and Hemsworth is pure Sean Connery in Highlander (I thought it brought a bit of tongue-in-cheek to his character, but I could be swayed by his abs.) Though I’ve mentioned that director Rupert Sanders couldn’t seem to balance his actors’ performances, he also had a hard time with the edit button. Some scenes end abruptly, shifting to “Scene number whatever” with a disturbing lack of continuity. And while the story takes it’s sweet time to unfold – there have been rumors that this is the first part of a trilogy – the ending feels rushed, as if the timer went off and things needed to be wrapped up posthaste.
But wait, you cry; what about the dwarves? Oh yes. Almost forgot. And that’s exactly how I felt while watching this film. It’s as if the dwarves were and afterthought, tacked on for the sake of the myth. There’s lots to hope for with these characters, especially since Ian McShane (Pillars of the Earth), Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Rodger Rabbit?), Ray Winstone (The Departed), Toby Jones (Harry Potter) and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead) are among ‘em. They steal every scene they’re in, but those scenes are all too few. The focus of this film is the rivalry between Snow and Ravenna, but add poor editing to the mix and you get a film that hops from scene to scene in order to make more time for symbolism and scenery shots. Great for commercials, and great for the look of this film…but it will take more than gorgeous shots for Sanders to make a name for himself in Hollywood.
Still, Snow White and the Huntsman is better than Mirror Mirror, if the two were in a better-than competition. Pity I couldn’t praise this film any more than that.