June 6, 2012
The hugely profitable Twilight series has left Hollywood scratching its collective heads. In theory, the discovery that there's a vast audience out of there of girls who don't mind cheap-looking crud churned out fast sounds financially exciting. So, let's take what's her name, the star of Twilight, Kristen Stewart, and slap her in some public domain fairy tale and maximize ROI!
The funny thing, however, is that filmmakers have a hard time getting motivated by these blatant opportunities. So, rather than make a cheap "Snow White," they decided to try to bring in the boy audience, too, by promoting The Huntsman up to titular equality with Snow White. He's played by Chris Hemsworth (Thor in The Avengers) as a fairy tale version of True Grit's drunken marshall Rooster Cogburn.
That marketing plan in turn justified a $170 million budget -- and it's all up there on the screen -- to make a lavish, scary, serious version of the old story with impressive levels of craftsmanship but not that much entertainment value. (For instance, the screenplay can't come up with a single laugh for Bob Hoskins to get as the eldest dwarf.)
The real star is Charlize Theron as the wicked stepmother / queen. Theron has been on a hot streak lately (e.g., last year's funny Young Adult) playing beauties who aren't as young as they used to be and aren't at all happy about it.
A major problem for "Snow White and the Huntsman" is that Theron is a star, but Stewart is not. I thought Stewart was the best thing in the one Twilight movie I saw, but that says more about the slapdash quality of those movies. All the ingenue has to do in the Twilight movies is smell nice (literally -- that's the engine of the plot), but here she is supposed to be an extraordinary beauty, the embodiment of purity, and then turn into a charismatic political leader and buttkicking Joan of Arc. It would be an implausible role for any actress, and it's a massive stretch for a tomboyish actress not gifted with feminine charm.
Snow White and the Huntsman is set in mythic medieval England (and perhaps Wales), but we've seen a lot of Tolkienish fantasy-medieval England since Lord of the Rings. Snow White meets a giant stag, for example, much like in Narnia. The battle on the beach at the end is indistinguishable from the battle on the beach at the end of Ridley Scott's 2010 Robin Hood. Ye Olde British Isles have been well-served in movies lately (for example, the upcoming Pixar movie Brave looks like Braveheart with a buttkicking princess), so it's time to do some other European cultures. This famous Brothers Grimm story could have been an opportunity for a German setting.
Obviously, there's not a lot of sense in comparing Snow White and the Huntsman to Walt Disney's 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which are extremely different movies. But I do want to make one observation: household chores seem to have been a much larger theme in old kids' movies. (For example, Whistle While You Work from Disney's Snow White, Cinderella scrubbing the floor, the Sorcerer's Apprentice from Fantasia, and so forth). Maybe I've just missed out on the last decade of children's movies other than Pixar's, but this does seem like it could be a big cultural shift. Perhaps children don't respond to fantasies of getting out of chores as much anymore because they don't have to do as many?