October 17, 2017

Posted June 1, 2012 by D. K. Holm

One of the most anticipated films of the year, Snow White and the Huntsman benefited from a superior trailer and the failure artistically and commercially ofMirror Mirror, another film derived from the same Grimm fairy tale.1 Unfortunately, SnowWhite … is only about 65% percent successful, if that.

The bad parts of the film include a screenplay2 that dissolves into too many lulls of desultory repetition, the blandness of the prince, his dad, and other “royal” characters, and the over-all Game of Thronesing of the whole spectacle, with dirty faces and straggled hair and bulky costumes and sexual aberrations such as suggested incest between the wicked queen and her albino brother. The Evil Queen is conceived as an hysterical nervous woman, often sick and writhing on the floor – and presented as a weird version of Elizabeth Bathory. But worst of all are the bad British accents of leads Charlize Theron and Kristin Stewart.

The good parts include good, subtle costume design3and interesting special effects work that evokes memories of Pan’s Labyrinth (monocular toad stools). The “dark forrest,” with its witch-fingered bare trees and bogs of what looks like coffee grounds, is legitimately creepy, and the dwarves, played by a host of top UK actors such as Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, and Nick Frost, are terrific, and shot using apparently the same tricks Peter Jackson used to miniaturize regular sized people inLotR. Though clearly they are demoted to tertiary characters, as the title announces.

But one keeps coming back to those bad accents.4 It’s not so much that the pair are trying to adopt British accents and failing, though that is true. It’s also the kind of accent they are affecting, what people always take to be a regal, proud sound that sounds arch and artificial. Note particularly the key words “father” and “sword,” terms that unfortunately keep coming up repeatedly in the script to drive mad the auditor sensitive to their gross articulations. No one pronounces these words like the cast does, with a slight upward sneer of the lip and a tone of privilege hanging in the clammy air, and with impossibly long “O”s and “A”s. One mentally damns the “father” who gave “birth” to these “sword”-wielders.

I’m rather surprised that Ms. Theron is so bad in the film. I’m fond of her as an actress, and she shows a hunger for wider ranging roles than her inherent beauty usually allows a starlet. She was particularly good in the recent Young Adult, whose doubly-meant title capture her character as an unflinching, uneducable narcissist. Here, too, she takes on the task of cinematically critiquing Western capitalist feminine obsessions, in this case vanity and youth obsession. The story means well, but Ms. Theron spends too much of the time writhing around on the ground and slowing CGI-aging for want of youth enhancing life forces. Meanwhile, Ms. Stewart is slightly better than she usually is in such fare, occasionally smiling as she finds herself yet again in the situation of two men fighting over her, and looking, as another character comments, fetching in chain mail as she leads her now-loyal men into battle. In short, Snow White and the Huntsman is Joan of Arc v. Aileen Wournos.

1 The wildly popular TV show Once Upon a Time, which alternates between the fairy tales and the same characters living in modern times under a curse, may also have helped create a hunger for the new film.

2 The script is credited to Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini.

3 Credited to Colleen Atwood.

4 And probably will again in two years time: a sequel is already slated for production.