I'm starting to think that somewhere in a high office in Hollywood, just down the corridor from the swimming pool filled with cocaine, there is a man in an expensive suit sitting at a huge desk in a beautifully laid out office whose job it is to simply throw darts at a chart filled with classic stories, a chart titled "Gritty Reboots”.
Gritty reboots – the taking of beloved stories and making them modern, hip and cool – are a confusing genre in that they are almost guaranteed money makers but rarely ever actually any good. Little Red Riding Hood has already been tarnished forever by a risible Amanda Seyfried vehicle, even the mighty Tim Burton struggled to lift Alice In Wonderland above the mediocre and it looks like Hollywood will continue to cut enthusiastically cutting from this cloth early next year with Bryan Singer's Jack The Giant Killer. And so it is that debut director Rupert Sanders brings us a goth-chic rehash of Grimm fairytale stalwart, Snow White.
Unless you were raised by a family that believes fairytales to be the work of Satan, you probably know where this is going. Kristen Stewart plays the eponymous heroine, the fairest princess in the land, orphaned and imprisoned by Charlize Theron's mad enchantress Ravenna. When Ravenna's magic mirror nonchalantly informs her that she is no longer "fairest of them all”, Snow finds herself on the hit-list and escapes, only to be pursued by a local huntsman in the employ of the queen (Chris Hemsworth). Then there's some dwarves, an apple, a lot of talk about destiny and so forth, as well as, for this version, a nice big battle to take us home. In short, you know this by heart, so it had better be good. Unfortunately despite valiant efforts to keep us entertained, Snow White and the Huntsman (or SWATH as it shall henceforth be known) is a disappointment in nearly every department.
The biggest flaw on show here is the script. Penned by the triumvirate of relative newcomer Hossein Amini (Drive), John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) and Evan Daugherty (newcomer), the story and pacing smacks of too many cooks and a failure of communication between them. The film's opening act is, in a word, boring. Sluggishly paced and with no gravitas whatsoever, it leaves the audience utterly ambivalent to a story we already know, which is a rather catastrophic combination by any standards. The normally splendid Theron is left flailing with a motiveless, textureless antagonist in Ravenna. Poorly conceived and poorly directed, she turns the dial marked "Evil” up to 11 far too early, leaving her with nowhere to go but down to what may be looked back on as a career low for her (yes, worse than Aeon Flux).
Current guaranteed box-office draw Kristen Stewart fares little better. Whilst more likeable than her Twilight persona Bella Swan, we still don't find much to get us behind her Snow White. Again, lack of direction plays its part as Snow cuts a very generic figure. When you're as lovely and perfect as she's made out to be here, how are the audience supposed to relate to you? Stewart often appears vacant and vapid, like the girl at school who sits in the corner, wears too much eyeliner and rights ‘deep' poetry about how nobody cares about her. With all the hardship stacked against her, we're left with one reaction: "So?”.
SWATH does a couple of things right. For starters, it looks fantastic. Cinematographer Greig Fraser and Production Designer Dominic Watkins pull out all the stops in making a believable but sinister fantasy world. The film also picks up noticeably with the arrival of the dwarves. Without giving too much away, the way they are presented adds some much needed fun to proceedings. Indeed, from that point on until the final few scenes, the film revels in its fantastical roots rather than skulking around trying to look cool.
Sadly, none of this is enough to give SWATH any kind of recommendation. It's an out-and-out fantasy that tries to be cool and ends up being boring. It could have been a piece of decent summer escapism, but it just doesn't do enough new things to keep its audience interested.
Overall Verdict: A film seemingly designed for the phrase "Meh". Some decent elements are too few and far between to paper over the plodding pace, stilted performances and uninspired storytelling. A big disappointment.
Reviewer: Alex Hall