The first and last time I went to Disney World was when I was six years old. While I probably enjoyed it, the connection I had with the park was more out of curiosity and fascination than anything more personal than that. I did not, unlike a majority of my peers and, I suppose, a majority of children in general, grow up on Disney films. I was not as exposed to the ubiquity of its ephemera until my mid teenaged years. By that time, I was able to understand what Disney was: not only iconoclastic in his determination to make dreams come true, but perhaps the biggest corporation one could ever imagine. That isn’t to say I don’t have any connection with Disney ilk at all: I am prone to nostalgia watching The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. But what I understand about that film, and the other properties that the Walt Disney Corporation has either created, readapted, or bought, is that it’s as much of a powerful pop culture machine as one can fathom, the kind of machine that eat you up, chew you to pieces, and then spit you out. Randy Moore’s Escape from Tomorrow explores how that industry, and the culture itself, affects our perceptions of the real world, in a debut feature film that’s ballsy, filled with morbid imagery, and an incredibly competent, nightmarish take on “Happiest Place on Earth”.
As a child, when it came to fairy tales, I was infinitely more interested in Grimm’s original collected stories than the watered down, neutered Disney versions that anyone else in my age group seemed to fawn over. When I was seven or so, my mother bought me a book entitled Grimm’s Grimmest, collecting the most gruesome and horrifying of the tales that the Brothers Grimm had taken down in Germany. I thoroughly enjoyed its perversity. I never did end up watching the entirety of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, but I read over the original tale several times growing up. Which brings us for a less Disney-fied, more “adult” interpretation of the fairy tale. Snow White and the Huntsman attempts to right the wrongs of dull, sterile Disney version, making it supposedly closer to the original and all the more action packed. Sadly though, while the attempt to make the tale both exciting for a contemporary audience as well as try to adhere somewhat closely to the story is significantly marred by there being a total lack of depth, lousy acting, and a terribly weak script.
Of the worst things you could say about Snow White and the Huntsman, one of them is that it seems half assed and bland. The sad attempt to make Snow White more action packed, director Rupert Sanders recreates the story like a piece of mythology, with the prologue taking on this dark vision of bleakness with intense narration and slow motion cinematography. Snow White’s father, a kind king, rescues a fare maiden after defeating a dark army, takes the fare maiden home, marries her, and then, that fare maiden kills him. Yup, it just so happens that that fare maiden acts like a Trojan horse and it is revealed that she is the evil queen, taking the name of Ravenna. The dark army takes over the castle, lock Snow White in the dungeon, install the mirror, and Ravenna remains the fairest of all the land. That is, until Snow White comes of age. Also, Snow White escapes, and Ravenna hires what is basically a bounty hunter to track her down.
You would guess right in saying that the story itself is not really that engrossing. There’s very little of interest, and despite the attempts to make it more interesting, it seems like the writers were pulling from thin air. It is almost incredibly disappointingly boring and dull, the “almost” preceding it because one’s expectations should be fairly low. The dialogue, though, is terribly problematic. Sounding less naturalistic than even Lord of the Rings and sounding more like the writers had “Medieval English for Movies for Dummies” by their side, the tonality and cadence of the lines is grating because, boiled down to it, the words mean so little. They portray very little drama or emotion and seem to just be there to make it feel like a period piece of some sort. It probably would have been more effective had the lines been written and spoken plainly. The dialogue, though, could be another example of how superficial this movie is, lacking depth or interest. Plot holes abound, dialogue sounds hammy, and all the actors strain to make it worthwhile for the audience.
Regarding hamminess, it is with much disappointment and regret that I should have to say that Charlize Theron was not very good in Snow White and the Huntsman, which honestly surprised me. She can play a bitch, and she can do it damn well (see: Young Adult and Monster). Despite her ability to channel into a cold, selfish persona so well, her performance as Ravenna was startlingly overdone. It seemed she was exerting far too much energy into the role, so that it came off as fake, unbelievable and terribly annoying. She felt the need to imbue her every line of dialogue, not with effortlessness, but with great exertion, with breathy sighs, and with lots of yelling. I was hoping that at least she would be enjoyable, but she ended up just making me more annoyed. While the writers attempted to give her story some feministic origin story (which ended up coming off oddly as misandrist), it gave little depth to the character herself. She, like the film itself, was nothing the cold superficiality of looking good but lacking any real power.
I am mystified as to why Kristen Stewart was cast in this film as the lead, Snow White. Not because she’s a lousy actress (even though she kind of is, she couldn’t even play Joan Jett well), but when people think of an actress who embodies and epitomizes innocence, beauty, and strength, they don’t automatically think, “Oh, Kristen Stewart!” Well, I guess the director did, otherwise they would not have paid her a hefty $34 million to be in the film. Unsurprisingly, she is dull, does not give Snow White any more depth than one could expect (which is probably more the writing than her), and adds little to the film. Again, a bit puzzled as to why she was cast in the film and why she was paid so much. I guess we will never know. What particularly troubles me is that Snow White is essentially the story of a woman coming into her own (leave the sex off the table here), and the film is supposed to portray that aspect her as some kickass heroin. The thing is, we never actually get to see that aspect of her. While she may run quite often, there are no moments when she really takes control of the situation, to really be the heroin.
The rest of the cast is just as bland. Chris Hemsworth (Thor) is essentially fine in the film, and he adds some much needed humor to the game. The seven dwarves serve very little purpose, but the faces of famous actors seemed to have been super imposed on the bodies of little people. Hey, look, Bob Hoskins! Ian McShane! Nick Frost!
The action sequences are actually less than interesting and the way that they are edited is comparable to something called chaos cinema. But there seems so little point with the action sequences that are included, as they do pretty much nothing to drive the story forward. With the scale that they have, the actual purpose is minimal.
After all that negative stuff, there are some nice things to be said about the film! Yes, I’m not joking! It is very, very pretty to look at. The cinematography is often breath taking, the production value is extremely high, the visual effects are stunning, and the costumes (by Academy Award winner Colleen Atwood) are gorgeous. Yup, that’s about it. There’s no reason why it should look so good but be so bad.
Snow White and the Huntsman felt like a half assed Lord of the Rings rip off, trying to recreate that same stylistic majesty with none of the depth of its source material. Its convoluted and shallow writing, by three people (Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini, the latter of whom wrote the flawless screenplay for Drive), offers no reason or depth or nuance for the audience. The acting is sadly subpar, even from the High Priestess of Bitchery, Charlize Theron. What can be said about the film is that it is pretty to look at. It is eye candy and nothing more. But great cinematography and production value does not a movie make. There has to be a reason why we care that Snow White, blandly played by Stewart, is the fairest of them all. Otherwise, it’s technically fare game.