Thursday, June 7, 2012

Kristen Stewart Didn't Ruin Snow White and the Huntsman (She Didn't Have To)

That's just what her face does.
Maybe I should put up a disclaimer here? I'm not the world's biggest KStew fan. I don't hate her, by any means, nor do I think that she should never be in another movie ever, I just don't love her. To me, she is the Keanu Reeves of women. Amazing, when cast well. Horrific, when cast poorly.

Fortunately for her, I guess, Snow White and the Huntsman is not a case of horrific casting. It's not good casting, but it's not awful. I mean, it could have been worse. Probably.

Let's put it this way: Kristen Stewart did not ruin the movie. The movie ruined the movie. She just didn't help.

Incidentally, I did not enjoy Huntsman. I am now going to tell you why.

Reason Number One: It had too many directions.

Fierce.
When you watch Snow White and the Huntsman, you start to feel a little uneven towards the end of the first act. The feeling intensifies in the second act, and by the third, you're totally confused. There's a simple reason for that: you're actually watching three different movies.

There's a movie where the evil queen, Ravenna, is actually the protagonist, and you watch from her perspective as this puny little girl keeps escaping her clutches and her power dwindles. You start to feel sad as she begins to wither, understanding the sadness and fear that causes a woman to go so completely out of her head in the quest for power, and you almost root for her to defeat her usurpers and go on being fabulous and crazy.

There's a movie where Snow White and her awesome "bring the earth back to life" magic is at the center. It's a movie filled with magical white stags that turn into butterflies, where Snow's every step causes blooms to appear and as she's fighting the evil queen, blossoms are springing up across the throne room. She is just as hard to kill as the queen because she is life itself. And the doors open after the coronation on a kingdom reborn.

There's a movie centered on the Huntsman. It's a romance, at heart, where he mourns the death of his wife and longs to join her, only begrudgingly helping this whining child. But as he comes learn that his wife was killed as a direct result of the queen's jealousy, and that Snow is the only one who can stop her, he starts to believe. He's drawn to Snow, and her quiet strength, and longs to teach her to protect herself. In the end, though, he can't, because it's not her destiny to be protected. She comes to save him even as he's saving her, and she asks him to stay in her kingdom with her. Love and reconciliation abound.

This version, the one we got, was a mishmash of all three of these. Which wasn't even awful, so much as it was confusing and unsatisfying. As soon as you got a handle on one story, it switched to the other. You never got to settle, and you never got invested. That's the real crime. I'm reasonably sure this is because there are three credited screenwriters, and probably even more uncredited ones, but that's a complaint for a different time.

Reason Number Two: Too many effects, not enough rules.

Okay, one thing I'll give this movie? The effects were stunning.

Truly. They were absolutely gorgeous, tonally consistent, and definitely one of the highlights of the film.

Here's the problem with that: I should not talk about the effects. Good SFX is like good editing. It's at its best when I don't notice it at all. Yes, the effects in Avengers are spectacular, but the movie itself is so freaking good, that I haven't shut up about the plot for long enough until now to even mention them. That's what you want to have happen. Otherwise you're Michael Bay.

What was really missing, though, was the world of the story.

In fantasy and science-fiction, world is everything. It explains the rules, the fallbacks, and what potential dangers await our heroes. While some stories do go overboard in explaining their worlds (John Carter springs to mind, though I did adore that movie), others commit the sin of not explaining them enough. Snow White and the Huntsman falls into this latter category.

You see, I have absolutely no idea how magic works in this world. Like, none. Is it blood based, with that whole "fairest blood" thing? Or is it just inherent, like with the stag and the fairies, and the army of metal shards? Also, why are there dwarves? Are they just part of the world? Where are we? It looks like we could be in England, and they've got Kristen Stewart doing her best British accent (which was okay, but not especially convincing), but nothing is explained. Nothing. Ever.

That's not great for a story like this. Stories need some level of relation to the outside. We need to understand the rules that exist, so that we can know the risks involved. If a spell must always be spoken, we know that our hero needs to gag the evil queen. If the evil queen feeds on beauty, then the women must make themselves unbeautiful. If she feeds on youth, then that doesn't work.

Rules, people.

But the effects were lovely.

Reason Number Three: There no chemistry, and no resolution.

I feel a little bad about this one, because it feels like everyone involved was trying their hardest, but nothing was working. It's just a fact.

FIERCE.
Chris Hemsworth had no chemistry with Kristen Stewart. And they were trying. It was almost uncomfortable to watch, seeing them act at each other so hard, while both grimacing inside with the knowledge that it wasn't really working. They're just operating on two very different wavelengths and it didn't mesh. It wasn't really anyone's fault but the casting director.

Charlize Theron, of course, can have chemistry with a rock, so she shone as a beacon of awesomeness in her scenes. But of course, she isn't actually supposed to have epic chemistry with either of them, so it was a little awkward.

And then, there was the ending, wherein Snow White won, somehow, said something that didn't make any real sense, was crowned, and then stared at a door that didn't open.

The director really needs to be slapped for that scene.

The camera wanders, like it's not comfortable settling on Kristen Stewart, and you can't really blame it, as her face remains impassive as ever while being crowned. Still, it's nice to see the throne room, and all of the restored people. Then the camera turns and looks at the door for a while, and Chris Hemsworth walks into frame.

That, for the record, is really bad directing. It's also not satisfying closure. What's going to happen to their romance now? Is she going to marry him? Is he even going to stick around? Normally, I don't need my movies to end with a wedding or anything, but if the movie is Snow White, and we're talking about someone who is woken by True Love's Kiss, then hell yes I want to know how that turns out! Come on movie!

Reason Number Four: It tried so hard to be feminist, and failed so epically.

There's not really a good way to say this, but this movie was really obviously written by men who don't talk to a lot of women.

I am aware that this sounds mean.

But if you think about it for a second, it makes sense.

The whole film is about beauty. That's fine. Most Snow White stories are. It's about beauty and youth and power. The problem here is that this is set up as the "feminist" Snow White. But it's still about how young beauty trumps old beauty, and how aging is the absolute worst thing that can possibly happen to a very bad person. When Snow is winning, Ravenna gets older. When she finally dies, she withers into a husk.

Ravenna speaks many times about how men use women, and the only way for a woman to be strong is to be young and beautiful forever. The movie makes noises to contradict her, but it really doesn't. In the end, Ravenna gets too old, and Snow White is there to take over, as the young, beautiful, powerful queen.

Guys who clearly wrote this movie without talking to a single woman? This is not how feminism works.

I'm dead. Charlize Theron's fabulousness killed me.
Yes, women are jealous of other women for their looks, and yes, women have power struggles. But we don't call it feminist to revere the young. And we don't consider a woman's physical beauty to be her primary asset to society. You can tell me that Snow White beat Ravenna because she had a fair heart, but trust me. The spell said clearly "fairest blood" and if Ravenna ever qualified, then that had nothing to do with her heart.

I think a lot of the problem I have with this movie, other than the points I've already made about how it sucks, is that it disappointed me. I wanted a feminist fairy tale epic, that could wash the taste of so many years of Disney princesses out of my mouth. I wanted to watch a girl suit up in armor and go off to fight the evil queen herself, and while I got that, it was like getting a salad when you've ordered a burger. Completely unsatisfying.

So here's how I would have done it...

The most interesting elements of the movie were the most underutilized: the medieval setting and the female-centric political aspects. So make the movie about that.

Recast Snow White as Katie McGrath, or similar, someone who can really command a room, but act frail when needed. She's been a political prisoner of her stepmother's (still Charlize Theron, because why the hell not) coup since she was a little girl. The evil queen is a Saxon, part of the invading army, while Snow and her kingdom are all Celts and Woads. It's Britain in the 400s, still rough and wild.

Snow escapes when she comes of age and the queen decides its time to execute her (there's no point in killing a child), and runs off into the woods, where she's chased by the Huntsman, a Celt turncoat working for the Saxons because he can't bear to be around his own people after his wife's death. Snow turns the Huntsman to her side, and they both escape through the wilderness, raising a Woad army to attack the Saxon stronghold, and drive back the evil queen.

Snow is mortally wounded in battle, and only comes back to life after a long night where the Huntsman spoke endlessly to her while the druids chanted over her body. She is invigorated to kill the queen, and leads her army into battle, where they are victorious, driving the Saxons away in longboats. It ends with a druid crowning Snow, and a handfasting with the Huntsman.

Hollywood, if you make that movie, I guarantee you an audience of at least one.

As long as we agree that this is awesome and will also be included.

18 comments:

  1. Excellent! Except, now I want to see a romance movie with Keanu Reeves and Kristen Stewart trying to act like they're in love at each other, and failing miserably.

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    1. That sounds like the greatest movie in the history of ever.

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  2. Also, do you listen to Writing Excuses? http://www.writingexcuses.com/

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    1. Nope, never heard of it. Off to go look it up now.

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  3. Audience of at least two for your movie.

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    1. Sweet! We'll all huddle in the theater and throw popcorn at the Saxons on screen.

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  4. My biggest problem with this movie was the underwhelming climax, which I think was the result of the complete lack of "rules" for the magic that you pointed out. "I've seen what she sees. I can kill her," Snow White says at one point, and there's all this stuff about the fairest blood undoing the spell (of course), and the woman from the village says something like "Your sacrifice will come" to Snow. Then...she just stabs Ravenna in the heart? THAT WAS IT? WHAT ABOUT THE BLOOD? The queen's blood was the fairest? How come no one thought of stabbing Ravenna there before? What makes Snow special then?
    It'd have been cool if Snow White somehow sacrificed her own blood to kill the evil queen.
    So I say yes to your revised movie and would totally watch it, but only on the condition that you do keep a little of the blood symbolism, because that's the part that fascinates me the most about this whole story. Cultural conflict rooted in real life + a believable warrior princess + satisfying defeat of the evil queen? Sounds good to me.

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    1. That's a good point. The blood stuff was really interesting, but completely underplayed. As was the village of women, actually. That was a fantastic image, but then it was killed by the idea that Ravenna ate good hearts, btu then she didn't and aaaaaagh I have no idea what this movie was about.

      So, yes. Blood symbolism please. Something about how we all have the same blood, it all runs red, what matters is what you do with it in your veins. Etc.

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  5. Thank you for summing up so clearly why it didn't live up to what it could and should have been. Though I hoped for an epic where Snow White symbolizes true beauty I pretty much expected to be disappointed from the beginning. Because, for the most part, I find that the bigger the budget the more people you have "editing" the story to the point where they take out all the good stuff. Or that is my theory at least. And I also felt that KStew was cast ONLY to bring in the Twilight fans. If only Hollywood would cast for who is actually right for the part the world would be a better place ;)

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    1. I definitely agree that Hollywood tends to have the "too many cooks in the kitchen" problem. This movie had three credited screenwriters, and probably tons more uncredited. I think the massive budget really hinders movies like this, because then they panic and think, "Well if we have this much money invested, then we better not take any risks!" Which is sad. And dumb.

      Agree wholeheartedly about the casting. She's fine in some stuff, but not a period girl at all.

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  6. Snow White is one of those films that I'd be interested to see genderswapped. Snow as a prince whose father dies and is replaced by a newcomer - who sees the existing heir as a threat to his new dynasty and tries to have him killed. The prince flees and is taken in by seven Vily (female mountain/mine faeries, with a sometime soft spot for lost travellers who show a bit of respect, and yes from folklore, I didn't make them up). But I can't decide whether the huntswoman should just be genderflipped, or also stereotype-flipped to make her a fatale type - but either way, she comes to side with the prince, and is ideally placed to make contact with the princess charming daughter-by-blood of the new king...

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    1. This movie you have described: I want to see it.

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  7. Ugh. We share the same sentiments. I stopped watching TBBT theory because of the said reasons! I'm just staying with IT crowd reruns and whatnot.

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  8. Necromancy!

    Two observations, one sparked by watching True Detective: I wonder if this take on Snow White, given your observation on it having a mishmash of several different foci, Snow herself, the Huntsman, the Queen, would have been better as an 8-10 episode TV series.

    And one sparked by watching Maleficent: I wish the framing for the true love's kiss had been the Huntsman's love for his wife. That Snow White had healed his heart to the point where he could think back to her with joy instead of bitterness - so it's true love's kiss not because he loves Snow White but because she's given him back his ability to feel true love at all.

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    1. That sounds like a very cool show and I totally would watch it. But generally speaking, I think most things are better as a longform TV show. There's so much more room for character development and real depth. I love me some depth. And this movie just plain had too much story.

      (I will be recapping and watching True Detective this summer, by the way.)

      That would be a really cool framing for True Love's Kiss. I would totally be down for that. I personally get annoyed by the very narrow definitions of True Love that fairy tales seem to prefer. Love is a lot bigger than they want to make it.

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    2. I think most things are better as a longform TV show. There's so much more room for character development and real depth.

      And while the big screen is better for spectacle, the small screen is better for intimate character moments. And I think better by a larger margin.

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  9. You are so completely right about this movie. Took the words right out of my mouth. I love your idea about Katie McGrath as Snow White. She would have been spectacular. Now I wish you had directed the freaking movie.

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