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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

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Readers Blog: Second Take

Snow White & The Huntsman: If looks could kill, I wouldn't be writing this.

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SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN is a good film but is slighted by the fact that it could have been a great one.

A very welcome, darker, more sinister addition to the Snow White franchise, SWATH stars Kristen Stewart as the titular character flanked by Chris Hemsworth’s drunken and brawling Huntsman. Daughter to a noble king and queen finding themselves on the wrong end of a vicious coup by the gloriously evil and rage filled Ravenna (Charlize Theron) – who owns the screen but is woefully and surprisingly underused – Snow White finds herself locked in a castle tower and in a tight spot when Ravenna discovers from it is only Snow White who can solve her quandary. A rushed back-story informs us that Ravenna’s life is bound to the extent of her beauty and youth, and eating bird hearts to retain those things will no longer cut it. Snow White escapes into the perennial Dark Forest that we find, with the help of some extraordinary special effects, works very hard to earn that title. Ravenna needs her heart, and it becomes pretty clear she’s not keen on waiting for Snow White to first find a viable replacement donor. Ravenna forcibly enlists the services of the recently widowed Huntsman, a man with experience navigating the taboo forest to track her down, and off we go.

Visually, the movie is nothing short of spectacular and has plenty of allusions in both style and tone to the swashbuckling PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN movies and the epic location filmmaking of the LORD OF THE RINGS franchise. The action is polished and crisp, and I’m always smitten towards movies where during scenes of chaos and movement I have a clear idea of where characters are in relation to one another, sans shaky cam. Hemsworth – who’s already having a huge year with the impossible success THE AVENGERS is achieving – continues here to prove himself an incredibly charismatic action hero with a skill for smashing bad guys with heavy, blunted objects. 

SWATH features some particularly stimulating special effects, notably a thick-skinned bridge troll and an fascinatingly clever rendition of the seven dwarves, where a merry troupe of notable British actors (Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, and Nick Frost, to name a few) find their heads seamlessly connected to tiny torsos. The result is uncannily good, to the point where head scratching over the employed technique may distract from the action on screen. A storm-the-castle sequence towards the end of the film also does a good job titillating the senses with a ton of horses, shiny armor, and flaming catapult missiles – all of which are always appreciated.

Sadly, the execution of the story does not match that of its visual splendor. Theron, SWATH’s strongest link, finds herself in her evil lair for most of the film, too far away from the action we’re told to care about and the film suffers for it. She can huff and puff all she wants – which she is exceedingly good at – but when she’s so far removed from our heroes it comes off as mere posturing. We spend more time with her unsettling, bowl-cut donning brother, who isn’t nearly as interesting. Stewart brings a quiet calm and confidence to the Snow White character but too much of the story is placed on her petite shoulders and short range of emotional expression, both of which prove incapable. The script attempts to work in an awkward love triangle by throwing in a loyal childhood friend of Snow White’s into the mix, which seems to serve little purpose. The movie flirts with, but never gets serious about its New Testament parallels, leaving that aspect of the story unclear as well.

And the script encounters a number of logical fallacies – if Ravenna felt the need to hire the Huntsmen to track Snow White through the dark forest, why did her brother, who seems to be more than able to navigate its dangers, not go after her in the first place? And how does a girl who spent the majority of her life locked in a tower become a military strategist and first class warrior? I suppose these are minor gripes, but it’s just too bad that a movie that wholly and so successfully embraces its fantasy elements but still grounds them with grittiness and a real-world feel is unable to avoid pitfalls in its story. But looking past its narrative flaws, SWATH is still a visual treat and a worthwhile movie-going experience. 

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