In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that over the weekend, we saw two British movies with very different approaches to the subject of aging. What I forgot to note was that our British weekend coincided with Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. What good timing!
Anyway…yesterday I wrote about The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a straightforward look at aging in today’s society. The other movie we saw was Snow White and the Huntsman, which, as the title suggests, is based on the fairy tale “Snow White.”
When most people think of Snow White, I expect the Disney version will come to mind, a beautiful classic in its own right, with a touch of evil—the queen—and quite a lot of folderol and cleaning—Snow White and the seven dwarfs. For avid readers, the Grimm version will come to mind as well.
While Snow White and the Huntsman is more Grimm than Disney, it forges its own dark way, blending modern concerns of aging with a mythical, medieval setting. Those concerns were always there, both in the Grimm fairy tale and in Disney’s cartoon. After all, the desire to be “fairest of them all” implies youth not old age and wrinkles. But in Snow White and the Huntsman, the evil queen (Charlize Theron)wants to be young with an intensity that is truly chilling. Vampire-like, she not only sucks the life force from young victims, but she also drains the life away from the land, leaving it bleak and barren. Her obsession with youth is a death sentence for all that is around her.
The movie, filmed in Wales and Ireland, starts out in happier times, and the early scenes, full of color and vitality, do a nice job of illustrating how good rulers—Snow White’s mother and father—are good for the land as well as for the people. Then Snow White’s mother dies, and things go downhill fast. Enter Charlize Theron as Ravenna, who quickly becomes the new queen and just as quickly murders Snow White’s father and takes over the kingdom with her own army. Theron has the sort of cold beauty that can easily be used to portray evil, and that’s just what she does in this movie. When she was on the screen, it was as though some malignant, poisonous creature had burst forth, and Theron certainly commanded attention.
Unfortunately, Kristin Stewart of Twilight fame, was less effective as Snow White. Stewart’s rather goofy looks combined with her wooden acting style make an odd combination, and “the fairest of them all” is not the first thing you think when you see her. However, the movie gets around this, to some extent, by suggesting that beauty resides primarily within. Still, an actress with more snap, if not beauty, would have been better as Snow White.
The dwarfs, on the other hand, were brilliant, to borrow a term from the Brits. Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, Ian McShane and other British actors played them to perfection. As A.O. Scott put it in his New York Times review, these dwarfs were portrayed as cockney thugs who definitely did not whistle as they worked. No, they didn’t, but they certainly brought a lot of life to the screen, and I wish there had been more scenes with them.
With his scruffy good looks, Chris Hemsworth did a fine job of playing the huntsman. The movie suggests that he, in fact, might be Snow White’s true love, and it’s easy to see why this might be the case.
I don’t think I’m giving too much away by revealing that in the end good overcomes evil, and death comes even to those who are obsessed with youth and eternal life.
Snow White and the Huntsman is not a perfect movie by any means. More care should have been taken with the story, which has some serious plot holes. Nevertheless, good fantasy movies are far and few between, and this one is worth seeing. Our society has practically made a fetish of youth, and Snow White and the Huntsman captures this fetish and shows us how ugly and damaging it is. The cinematography and special effects make this a big-screen movie, and fortunately, they were not a distraction, the way they are in some big-budget films.
So, if time allows, and you like dark fantasies, go see Snow White and the Huntsman.