There’s something to be said for going to the movies a little after everybody else has moved on to the new hotness. The cinema is less crowded, as everything’s now gone digital, there’s no obvious degradation in image or sound quality and the ‘talk and text’ crowd are elsewhere: What’s not to like?
Well, it helps if the film was worth the wait and, in this case, I’m not sure that it was.
I had been quite looking forward to this movie since the first trailers arrived and promised a fantasy-centric take on the fairy tale and subsequent glimpses at footage promised a film which isn’t entirely delivered by the end product. British director Rupert Sanders certainly can deliver eye-popping special effects, decent action sequences and clearly works well with his cinematographer Greig Fraser – the imagery throughout the film is up there with anything that you’ve seen from Peter Jackson or Guillermo Del Toro (the latter influence being particularly evident in an encounter with a troll, which is right out of Pan’s Labyrinth‘).
Where this film really falls down for me is in the way that it betrays the logic of the story it has telling – though this is a fantasy flick, you might reasonably expect there to be some logical consistency at play somewhere in proceedings, as to suddenly ditch the rules of the world you have created betrays a certain lack of confidence in your audience or your tale.
Let me give the example which really rankled with me – as the audience, we find ourselves inhabiting a world where trolls, dwarves, magic and all manner of High Fantasy tropes wander the countryside in clear defiance of Him Upstairs and what organised religion would have us believe as the established order of things. We get frequent references to Heaven and a central character reciting the Lord’s Prayer at one point.
We’re not dealing with a C.S. Lewis-like, heavily foregrounded religious analogy – we’re watching a story which desperately wants some of that sweet, post-“Harry Potter” fantasy cinema cash and yet gets scared enough of offending devout believers with disposable cash that it has to find some, wholly inconsistent way of abruptly jamming unwanted Christian dogma into a film not requiring any such addendum to work well – it’s so out-of-place that it genuinely annoyed me.
How Very Black Metal? None More Black Metal. Charlize Theron as Queen Ravenna in “Snow White & The Huntsman”…
Besides, I can’t imagine many God-fearing families being that delighted with their carefully screened outing to the cinema when the film also tries to interject a rather better-handled and more interesting feminist subtext into the story – for the most part, I actually warmed more to the villain, Queen Ravenna, than the titular heroine, especially when we get a brief flashback to her childhood and events which offer context for her behaviour, whilst not condoning it. She’s bad to the bone, but we can legitimately blame Patriarchal Royalty for the rot setting in and wholly buggering things up for the citizenry. Huzzah!
So, to sum up – the story wants to be kind of feminist and yet God-fearing, whilst originating from an American media conglomerate who would be queueing up to condemn the desirable, simple-minded monarchy depicted as being essential to the well-being of a country in their product. Yes, no confused messages there at all. Ahem…
The acting’s reasonably okay, which is the biggest surprise that I took away from this film – Charlize Theron is superb as Ravenna, getting her teeth into the heavily costumed, frequently hysterical wronged queen and budding despot in a way that she wasn’t allowed to in Ridley Scott‘s largely bobbins disappointment, “Prometheus” (blame an underwritten role for that one). She steadfastly dominates the screen whenever she’s appears, in a turn which somehow bestrides the middle line between high camp and convincing character turn.
“You take the left 500 Twi-Hards – I’ll take the 800 on the right…”
She’s mostly matched by Chris Hemsworth, who is likeable if not always completely understandable as the unnamed Huntsman – he’s a chipper and convincing action hero in this foray outside the Marvel Cinematic universe and he does a good job of showing something of an arc between the alcoholic bum we meet at the outset of the film and the rather more engaged, focussed hero with a cause we see the climax of the film. His accent, though, is utterly ludicrous – a generic Celtic mash-up hailing from somewhere between Melbourne and Glasgow and never quite settling in either for more than twenty seconds at a time. It’s to his credit that this doesn’t detract from his other work in the role.
To Kristen Stewart, then – she’s genuinely quite good. If the “Twilight” flicks have put you off watching her in anything else, try to get over that and give her a chance in this film, as she does the best accent of any of the non-Brits on show and makes for a pleasingly matter-of-fact fairytale heroine, low on vanity (everybody in this film has to cope with being soaked by a seemingly omnipresent, roaming rain cloud which is so prevalent in scenes that you expect to see it in the cast list somewhere) and high in earnest conviction. She copes well with a dreadful, cod-Shakespearian speech which is meant to rally the troops at the end and instead just baffles – they all suit up and follow her, so I suppose it worked.
In the supporting cast, I should mention the likes of Nick Frost, Brian Gleeson, Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Bob Hoskins and Ray Winstone, who assay your Seven Dwarves despite not being of applicable stature – there’s some serious, undercover effects wizardry at play in their scenes but the film doesn’t seem to know quite what to do with what is a daft amount of acting talent – if a sequel does arrive, we might hope that the makers find these guys something decent and worthy to do in it.
Overall, then? Decent but not earth shattering – a high fantasy tale which seems a little embarrassed of its roots and wants to ground the action in an occasionally glum, realistic milieu which should help provide a comparison to the fantastic elements when they arrive but instead just helps to make the film’s identity that bit more confused. Some decent acting and amazing technical feats are rather undercut by a script which doesn’t really have a concrete point of view – if I graded films, I’d probably give this a C. There’s definitely room for improvement in many areas, which is what a sequel should set out to do.
And if they could avoid having the endlessly annoying Florence & The Machine on the soundtrack next time around, that would be quite lovely…