Snow White & the Huntsman (PG-13)
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We all know the basic story of Snow White, and have doubtless seen or read or heard various versions of it throughout our lives. And most of us are aware that the original versions of fairy tales tend to be much darker than the modern (often Disneyfied) interpretations of those stories, whether we've ever read or seen dark versions or not. So it's nice to to see, here, a very un-Disney version (although animals do tend to gravitate toward Snow, and she has a preternatural ability to soothe savage beasts, and she receives some oblique yet suspiciously helpful guidance from birds on more than one occasion). At least there's nothing cartoonish about the movie. And it's definitely not a musical (though there is a bit of singing by a dwarf, and one of his songs, Gone, is subsequently sung as background music by a woman- Ioanna Gika- with a much better voice). And... there are always countless things about fairy tales that tend to bother me, such as the general idea of people falling in love for no particular reason. So I like the fact that no one in this movie really seems to do that. On the other hand, the possibility of romance is hinted at (with two possible love interests for Snow, though neither is a prince), but in the end, those hints never really lead anywhere. Which is kind of frustrating, I suppose, but fairly realistic. (The movie does seem to imply which guy she's destined to end up with, though I think most would agree she'd be better off with the other guy.) But the movie really isn't a romance, it's just an action/fantasy movie, so it doesn't really matter.
Something that's always bothered me more specifically about the story of Snow White is the idea that beauty can be judged objectively, to wit: Snow White is the fairest woman in the world. She just is, okay? You can't argue with it, because a magic mirror said so, and obviously magic mirrors' opinions on beauty are more important than yours. Personally, I think Snow (played by Kristen Stewart) is perfectly lovely, though the evil Queen Ravenna (played by Charlize Theron) is actually more beautiful (at least when her eternal youth spell isn't slipping). Still, I'm willing to overlook that because the concept of an objective "fairest of them all" actually plays into an interesting (if only vaguely explained) plot point, which I don't believe I've ever heard in any other version of the story. (To say nothing of the misogyny of comparing women's looks or judging them based on looks, in the first place.)
Anyway, the movie begins with a beautiful and kind queen on a beautiful winter day, finding a beautiful rose that thrives in spite of the cold. The scene leads the queen to wish for a daughter, and in the next scene, she has one. And her daughter, Snow White, grows to be a beautiful and kind little girl, loved by everyone in the kingdom. Especially her friend William, the son of Duke Hammond, the king's most loyal supporter. And then one day, the queen dies, and the king is filled with grief. And then an army attacks, but the soldiers aren't real, so they're easily defeated. The king finds a beautiful woman named Ravenna, who had apparently been a captive of the army. And because she's so beautiful, he suddenly forgets his grief over his dead wife, and marries her. (I'm not a big fan of that plot point, but it's necessary.) And on their wedding night, she kills the king, then opens the castle gates to her creepy brother Finn and their real army. Some of the king's men manage to escape, including Hammond and William (though William didn't want to leave Snow behind), but most are killed. And it is assumed that Snow would be killed, too, but instead Ravenna locks her away in a tower.
Years pass between scenes, and now Snow is all grown up. Over the years, Ravenna has maintained her youth and beauty by draining the youth of countless beautiful young women (and she doesn't even need to use a Dark Crystal to do it). I guess she's also maintained Finn's youth, and she's apparently been doing this for the both of them for "twenty lifetimes." But, we later learn in a hazy flashback that the spell originally cast upon her by her mother ensured that she would have power as long as she was young and beautiful, but the spell could be undone by one fairer than Ravenna herself. Now that Snow has come of age, she could be the Queen's undoing... or her salvation. If she consumes Snow's heart, the spell will last forever, and Ravenna won't have to keep draining other women's youth. (Which, now that I think about it, makes Snow seem sort of Christlike, a metaphor I probably should have gotten just from the fact that she eventually dies and comes back to life, which happens in every version of the story. Maybe I'm just dense... or maybe it's unique to this movie... or maybe even in this movie, it's just in my head. But seriously, one death means no other innocents will have to be sacrificed from now on? I can't be the only one seeing a metaphor in that, right?) Anyway, I'm a bit confused because I got the impression that the spell was supposed to be broken if Ravenna ever ceased to be the fairest in the land, which technically shouldn't require Snow to actually do anything. But I guess it just means Snow is the only person capable of killing her. Because she's fairer. (Seems legit, right?) Like I said before, it's not just about Ravenna losing her youth and beauty, but also her magical powers (which she would have lost anyway if she was dead, but whatever).
Anyway, Ravenna sends Finn to bring Snow to her, but Snow manages to escape. Finn and a group of soldiers pursue her into the Dark Forest, where they lose her. Later, Finn hires a Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) who has previously been in the Dark Forest to guide them through it, to find Snow. The Huntsman, in this version, has a drinking problem, because his wife had died awhile ago, and alcohol is his only way of dealing with his grief. But he's still a pretty badass fighter. Anyway, he doesn't want to go back into the Forest, which is pretty dangerous (it's full of apparently hallucinogenic spores shot out by mushrooms, among other dangers). But Ravenna promises to bring his wife back to life if he brings her Snow. The Huntsman has no idea who Snow is or what the Queen intends to do with her, but he's eager to get his wife back, of course, so he agrees. When he, Finn, and the soldiers find Snow (after practically no tracking whatsoever), she begs for his help, and Finn admits Ravenna doesn't have the power to bring the dead back to life, so the Huntsman helps her escape. She wants him to take her to the stronghold of Duke Hammond, but it will be some time before they can get there. Meanwhile, Hammond and William learn that Snow is still alive (having thought her killed years ago), and William (who has grown up into a badass fighter, himself) sets out to find her... by joining Finn's hunting party.
Snow and the Huntsman eventually get captured by some very un-Disneylike dwarfs, who end up helping them. (I didn't count the dwarfs nor really learn any of their names, but Wikipedia tells me there were eight. And they had very un-Disney names.) This wasn't until after Snow and the Huntsman had received some help from some other people, in a scene that was sort of interesting, but completely unnecessary. (The movie, by the way, is two hours and eight minutes long; the DVD I watched also has an extended edition, four minutes longer, which maybe I'll watch someday. But the version I watched on the DVD was the theatrical version, which was long enough that it has lots of unnecessary scenes, which seem to be inspired by any number of other stories. For example, at one point they met a stag that reminded me of the Spirit of the Forest from Princess Mononoke. I'm sure I thought of other things to compare the movie to while watching it, but already I've forgotten them.) Anyway, of course Ravenna eventually tricks Snow into eating a poisoned apple, that's a plot point that has to be in pretty much any version of the story, though the way it was presented here seemed original, and nicely done. In fact, it's foreshadowed very early in the movie, which should make it all the easier to see it coming when it finally does, but somehow I think it makes it almost come as more of a surprise, which is a neat trick. So, it's not until after Snow White dies that her allies finally get her to Hammond's stronghold, and by then they've all given up hope of her leading a rebellion against Ravenna. But of course she does come back to life, and takes on a sort of Joan of Arc role in leading an assault on the castle (hey, look, I remembered another thing to compare the movie to).
Well, it seems like I've said a lot, but I've also left out a lot of details. And I'm not going to say exactly how it ends, except that of course it ends happily. Everyone did a fair job of acting (even if Ravenna occasionally came dangerously close to being over-the-top). It was also nice to see Lily Cole in a small role (as one of Ravenna's victims.) And the action scenes weren't bad (if nothing truly special). And Finn turned out to be more of a badass than I expected him to be, early on. And as I said, I liked the movie's darkness, but also the fact that it never really got excessively dark. I never felt like there were any really strong connections between any of the characters, though it did seem like Snow and William could have had a strong connection, there just wasn't really time to fully explore that. And there was a vague attempt at making us feel a connection between Snow and one of the dwarfs, but I didn't feel that was as effective as it could have been... which is not to say that it was totally ineffective, dramatically. I also would have liked to learn more about the history of Ravenna and Finn, in particular what made it necessary for their mother to cast the spell on Ravenna in the first place. Seems like there was a good story behind that, but I have no idea what it was. If we knew the story, it might make the Evil Queen seem a bit more sympathetic (but perhaps redeeming fairy tale villains is best left to Once Upon a Time). Probably the best thing about the movie is the visuals. Like, wow... I don't even care if a scene was necessary to the plot or not, the use of CGI made it all worth it. The visual effects were just amazing, including things that you only see for a few seconds. Most of that stuff happened out in the wildnerness, though there were some stunning scenes in Ravenna's castle, as well. Including one with her magic mirror... which we're given reason to think is all in her head, which seems kind of pointless, considering she definitely does have real magic. And the mirror's opinion really is important. But Finn didn't seem to see or hear what she did, so... I don't get it. Anyway, all in all, it was a good movie. And I couldn't help thinking that if people from the time in which it's set watched it, who'd only ever heard fairy tales told orally, they'd be thoroughly blown away....