I love films that look like art, like paintings. Brotherhood of the Wolf was probably the first film that opened my eyes to this way of filming. 300 is another favourite. Even the recent Captain America movie had a great matte feel to it, like very rich comic art.
Of course, my penchant for fantasy trailers has also meant that I've seen some pretty awful films. Last year's Red Riding Hood being one of them. And I've also dragged my poor, fantasy-hating husband off to numerous snorefests. Tonight he rather uncomplainingly (at least until about half way through the movie) accompanied me to see Snow White & the Huntsman.
I didn't have high expectations for the movie - it was one that I thought would be more visually appealing than truly substantial. I certainly wasn't expecting much of the acting, particularly with Kristen Stewart in the cast. I also figured it would be lacking in writing and direction as well. But I was counting on it being striking to look at.
For the first 30 minutes, I thought my expectations might be met. Charlize Theron was stunning on screen, and the cinematography and art direction were quite interesting. Unfortunately, it all went downhill as soon as Kristen Stewart came into the picture. OK, maybe that's not fair - it wasn't entirely her fault. It's just that, as soon as her character entered the storyline, the movie fell into one unimaginative cliche after another.
Actually, it was even worse than that. Some films can smartly play homage to great movies of the past. Quentin Tarantino is a master at this. But instead of simply honouring the great fantasy films of the past, Snow White & the Huntsman blatantly ripped them off. I was utterly shocked to watch Snow White galloping away from a string of (I think I counted nine) dark riders, while mounted on a grey steed. She then rode her horse into a bog and watched it disappear. Neverending Story anyone?
It got worse. From this point on I counted stolen plot devices and visual images from Game of Thrones, Princess Mononoke, Return of the Jedi, the Wizard of Oz, more Lord of the Rings (check out the tree on Snow White's shield), and even Cate Blanchett's portrayal of Elizabeth. Here I was hoping to see something new and original and instead I saw some of very brash plagiarism.
I had another major problem with this film. One of the first lessons I learned back in my junior high creative writing classes was "show, don't tell." In fact, this is one of the things I love about myth and fairy tales. They don't spell everything out - instead, they use metaphor to help you reach a dream-like understanding of the truth.
The writers of Snow White & the Huntsman chose to interrupt the flow of the film to constantly have characters explain to the audience what was actually going on. In addition to being irritating and clunky, this actually ruined one particular scene that otherwise would have been the highlight of the entire film.
As Snow White enters the Sanctuary, the home of the fairies, she is greeted by a mystical white stag. Anyone with even a limited exposure to myth would have recognized the stag for the magical being he was, and would have correctly interpreted the meaning of the scene. But leaving nothing to chance, the writers had one of the dwarfs keep up a running narrative. Ugh.
The one thing that kept this film from being unwatchable was Charlize Theron's portrayal of the evil queen. She was not only brilliant, her mere presence on screen overshadowed the rest of the cast and the film itself.
It's too bad - I was looking forward to this one as I thought it had some real potential. It always seems like a greater disappointment when you can easily see how a bad film could have been brilliant.
For a comical review of Snow White & the Huntsman, check out this one by theonering.net.