Saturday, June 2, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert's review -
Int'l Reviews - Germany/Deutschland (Orig, ENG-Trans), Cz. Rep (Orig, ENG-Trans), France (Orig, ENG-Trans), Ital (Orig, Eng-Trans), India (Times of India), Japan (Orig [1] [2], ENG-Trans [1] [2])

Snow White and the Huntsman (directed by Rupert Sanders, screen story and screenplay by Evan Dougherty along with John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini) is a post-Lord or the Rings Film Trilogy [2001-2003] presentation of the classic/beloved European fairytale of Snow White.

I call Huntsman a post-Lord or the Rings [2001-2003] film because while much has been made in the United States of Twilight series [2008-2012] star Kristen Stewart's playing the role of Snow White [IMDb], the feel of this film's imagery is far closer to that of the Lord of the Rings films (or otherwise "Dungeon and Dragons" inspired fantasy role-playing video games like Neverwinter Nights, etc) than to the Twilight series.   And actually the recent remake of fairy tale Red Riding Hood [2011] had much more of a Twilight series feel than Snow White and the Huntsman does.

I also use the phrase "classic/beloved European fairytale" because while in the English-speaking world Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is often remembered as a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, the Grimm version is neither the only nor the "original" version of the fairy tale.  This fairy tale is really part of the cultural patrimony of all the peoples of Central Europe (hence why I made it a point of offering links above to how this film was being reviewed not just in Germany but also in the Czech Republic, France and Italy -- and one could easily add the many other countries of Central Europe as well).

Finally, taking a page from the recent remakes of Mia Wasikoska's Alice in Wonderland [2010], Mandy Moore's Repunzel in Tangled [2010] and possibly Amanda Seyfried's Red Riding Hood [2011] mentioned above, the Snow White played by Kristen Stewart is different/somewhat updated from that of the classic/original story.  Kristen Stewart's Snow White is something of the classic Snow White [IMDb] crossed with Joan of Arc [IMDb].

Similarly, there's some development the evil Queen/step-mother in the film named Ravenna and played by Charlize Theron.  The Evil Queen wishes to preserve her youth by consuming the hearts of innocent young women who are still growing up.  More fundamentally, she seems consumed by being/remaining in Control hence her desire to become Queen, eliminate the King -- who might still prove too meddlesome -- and then to remain the sole Monarch (Queen) even to the point of consuming the hearts of those young maidens.  To the film's credit, it even seems to provide some of the back-story as to why she would have become so driven.  Go see the film if you wish to explore further that aspect of the film...

So what then is the basic trajectory of the tale presented here?  A King Magnus (played by Noah Huntley) and Queen Eleanor (played by Liberty Ross) wisely reign over a happy and prosperous kingdom.  And they have a daughter, Snow White.  However, Queen Eleanor dies young.  King Magnus, initially mourning the loss of his wife/queen nevertheless succumbs to the charms of a young woman, named Ravenna, of mysterious background who quite suddenly appears on the scene, and marries her.  Ravenna soon disposes of her new husband the King.  More to the point since Snow White remains too young to rule, she takes over the realm as Regent but de facto sole Monarch (how's that for a hostile takeover?) locking-up Snow White in a tower "until she grows up."  The only two adviors that Ravenna trusts is her swarmy, hideously evil looking brother named Finn (played by Sam Spruel) and, of course, her Magic Mirror (voiced by Christopher Obi).

Snow White (played then as she approaches adulthood by Kristen Stewart) grows-up locked-up and more importantly kept ignorant in the Royal Castle's Tower.  When by chance she is able at least briefly to talk to a young maiden who was being locked-up in the cell next to hers (prior to this young maiden having her heart sacrificed to the Evil Queen), Snow White puts two-and-two together and when an opportunity presents itself, makes a run-for-it to freedom.   How she manages to escape after years of having been locked-up in what appeared to be de facto solitary confinement requires a good deal of suspension of disbelief.  Perhaps some scenes from Snow's teenage years (after her father had died) that could have given more plausibility to her escape ended-up on the editor's cutting room floor awaiting a "director's cut" of the film.   However, be that as it may, realizing finally what the Queen had in store for her, Snow takes advantage of a rare opportunity to escape, one which involves a harrowing dive from an obscure ledge from the castle into a cold raging sea in what appears to be winter and swimming for a long distance to a Dark Wood some distance from the Royal Castle.  That would seem to be one heck of a feat for a girl who had spent the better part of her older childhood locked-up in the Castle's Tower.

When the Evil Queen's brother proves unable to find Snow White in said Dark Wood, he hires (that is  coerces) a Huntsman from the Village named Eric (played by Chris Hemsworth) to find her.  But Eric has no great love the Queen or her Brother.  Eventually in that Dark Wood or even in a wood beyond it, both Snow and the Huntsman run into the Dwarves played by Bob Hoskins (Muir), Ian McShane (Beith), Johnny Harris (Quert), Toby Jones (Coll), Eddie Marsan (Duir), Ray WInstone (Gort) Nick Frost (Nion) and Brian Gleeson (Gus).   Much ensues ...

Among that which ensues, of course, is the Evil Queen finally decides that, since her henchman Brother was proving hopelessly incapable (incompetent?) in tracking-down Snow White, to look for her herself.   In perhaps the greatest feat of CGI in the film (shown already in the movie's trailer), the Queen, versed in various forms of dark magic, is shown to be able to convert herself into a flock of ravens, fly to a distant location and then materialize back into her human form upon touching ground.

In the meantime, Snow, who is royalty after all, convinces the villager Huntsman and the Dwarves (none of them particularly fond of  "titled people" ...) to help her link-up with her childhood friend William (played by Sam Claflin) and his father, her father's old friend, the Duke Hammond (played by Vincent Regan).   When they do finally link-up, this allows for a climactic Lord of the Rings [IMDb] meets Joan of Arc [IMDb] sort of an ending...

Thus most of the basic outline of the traditional Snow White story is kept.  However, Snow also proves adept in leading an army, charging on a horse and in hand-to-hand combat with a Dagger and Sword.  So this damsel proves to be able to defend herself ;-) ... as if we are honest, we'd probably want the young women in our lives to be able to do as well.

Now for something of a surprise: Christian and Catholic viewers will perhaps be surprised that in a film that otherwise updates/rewrites much of common traditional fairy tale, the film also chooses to preserve, even repeatedly bring in, various Catholic/Christian elements into the story:  Men unambiguously dressed as Bishops with Miters are shown to be present officiating at King Magnus' ill-fated marriage to (the Evil) Queen Ravenna.  The Bishops return in positions of officiating at Snow White's Coronation at the end.  In her cell, Snow White is heard praying the Catholic version of the Our Father.  Hmmm... perhaps these are simply to be taken as "flourishes" in a story, which was shown as taking place in a European Medieval setting after all.  Even if this were all that was to it, I;d have to say that I do not mind :-).

I would add, however, that these flourishes were added in a way that were in no way challenging to what one would call "traditional Catholicism/Christianity."  That is, the Bishops shown were all men, and when Snow prayed the Lord's Prayer she was shown praying Our Father (not Our Mother-Father, or Our Creator).  Yet also the film-makers clearly had no problem with Snow being Queen (Sole Monarch) at the end of the film.  All this is to say that the film-makers appeared to have no problem leaving ceremonial-religious roles to men, while similarly having no problem with having temporal (actual?) Power being wielded by women (and then wielded by women throughout most of the film!) -- be it the troubled/Evil Queen Ravenna throughout the large middle section of the film or the presumably kinder, Good Queen Snow at its end.  Hmm... what's going on? / much to think about ... ;-)

Finally a note to Parents: I believe this film to be rightly rated as PG-13.  There is nothing in the film that would be inappropriate to older minors, while the some of the battle scenes in this film along with some of the creepy magical scenes mostly in the Dark Wood would be a bit too much for preteens.

All in all I have to say that I liked this updated version of Snow White surprising and leaving viewers with much actually to think about afterwards.

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