The first question when you come out of the cinema, asking a friend’s opinion or reading a review such as this one is to find out if a film is actually ‘good’. For some, they like nuance, the tailoring of the opinion to their specific criteria like ‘Does Kristen Stewart show her multiple emotions?’, ‘does this construct an interesting debate in feminist theory’, and the grand mainstay of YouTube comments, ‘do we see Charlize Theron naked?’
While I can answer these questions (1. sort of, 2. yes, 3. you do the math, it is PG-13), it always comes down to this: is the film actually, objectively ‘good’?
What it is, however, is possibly the most entertainingly camp film I have seen in a long while. The film plot gets moving after a rather lengthy and lazy prologue to Snow White (Kristen Stewart) escaping into the dark forest, evading the clutches of the tyrannical Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) who wants to destroy her as she is not just the fairest of them all (note: this is a film, not reality), but also could ruin her kingdom. She forces the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to track her down, but after a few moments, they are on their way to try and build an army.
Within the first moments of seeing this film, the script blunders through images that we have seen from countless other films, hoping that the overall idea of a dark Snow White story would help the film to achieve popularity. Its brazen attempt at something that could be called ‘epic’ instead makes for a rather droll, for lack of a better term, film, that I could not help but enjoy because of its countless flaws and train-wreck performances.
Overly-melodramatic in every sense of the word, film’s infrastructure is purely wrought emotions send this film into heady heights of ostentatiousness. The illogical jumps from plot point to plot point without discrimination, the débutant director Rupert Sanders seems to make fun any of the screenwriters’ attempts at narrative, with Charlize Theron as the figurehead of what is so right and what is so wrong with this film, defining it. Her performance takes the cake, runs with it, decided to put crack cocaine into it, and then fall off a cliff. Her villainess role is captivating as it rips chunks of the traditional fairytale into a hysterically critical take on stereotypical images of femininity and how it works in society. The film comments on male dominated hierarchies, as her only power is beauty in the world of men, used to control and by extension, control her… though without the nuance of a Game of Thrones episode, but the sledgehammer of a Lady Gaga-like music video.
The film is confused in its ideas, for example, do we praise Theron or not? As an allegory of an earlier generation’s feminism (feminism that confesses to being feminism) vs. post-modern feminism (‘feminism’ that says it isn’t ‘feminism’) a high degree of thematic confusion is created. The film does not clearly show what it wants to say as Theron’s performance and limited character development appears to be nearing dimensionality but not succeeding, making the film neither good vs. evil, nor provide an understandable character arc to drive the narrative. This leaves Kristen Stewart in even choppier waters, as this new symbol of femininity of the Twilight era seems to be very out of sync with her character or just her acting in general. It is oddly contrived, if somewhat interesting, to see how unevenly matched the two stars are and how the narrative attempts to justify Snow White’s duller counterpart as ‘fairest of them all’.
Truly, the film doesn’t even know what to do with many of its characters some of the time: Chris Hemsworth barely survives on pure charisma alone to come out of the film as modest in spite of a hideous Scottish accent and a cutting room’s worth of deleted scenes, as the film began with him narrating only at the beginning, never to return. The dwarfs make for stand-out comedic/dramatic/sincere performances by countless British thespians, but also seems entirely pointless and perfunctory, added in to appease the countless fans of their titular Disney counterparts, but remain inoffensive.
However, what adds to the film’s capriciousness in a positive manner (as for many of these films) is the film’s visual nature. Rupert Sanders creates a truly visual world that inexplicably has visual touches accompanied by the absurdity. Grieg Fraser, who did the cinematography for the scrumptious Bright Star, seems to be told to scope for beautiful images, only for the editing to obliterate them beyond all reason. The images stand out, or at least amaze in an unintentionally comedic way. It is a testament that the film does look like a great advertising campaign.
Sander’s hunt for images and motifs for the film could not help but have me transfixed on how many images this film borrows from other films: Stardust; Princess Mononoke; Robin Hood; even Inception. This post-modernistic streak stops before the audiences notices it too much, and somehow it gets away with it just by being brazen in its attempt to conduct a sincere, gritty take on Grimm’s fairytale.
In the end, I do not think I viewed the film the way the film-maker wanted. The film’s flaws became a vehicle for comedic/mercurial value, that while it had epic visuals, it was haphazardly combined with Mommie Dearest-like performance from Theron. With confused themes about the role of feminism littered in and shallow characters, it was not good, but at least it’s pretty… interesting.