The proverbial 'fairest one of all' seems to be back in vogue, and how. The Grimms' fairy tale forever immortalized by Walt Disney's 1937 classic has been reincarnated for contemporary audiences in a staggering three adaptations: a television series Once Upon a Time, Tarsem Singh's Mirror Mirror and debutant director Rupert Sanders' Snow White & the Huntsman. Interestingly enough, all three have one common thread: a strong feminist angle. No more does Snow White play a doe-eyed Martha Stewart as her seven… cottage-mates whistle while they work - no, our heroine is now nifty with a crossbow; a leader, an adventurer, a rebel… someone who doesn't need rescuing by a knight in Charming armor.
Right. Moving away from the puns in 3, 2, 1 -
Now, while it was clear from its trailer that Mirror Mirror would give the word frivolous new meaning (which it eventually did, focusing more on production design than a little thing called plot), I was curious to see how Sanders interpreted the tale. SWATH seemed a grittier, darker, truer-to-the-Brothers-Grimm-tale version… oh, and it boasted of a spectacular villain in the form of Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron. These factors almost made me forget it also featured Kristen Stewart - as a bluffing magic mirror would have confounded audiences believe - as the princess fairer than Theron.
However, as the two-hour-ten-minute film (it felt longer) reached its credits, miscasting turned out to be a major problem.
It's like this: in a post-climactic moment, Stewart's Snow White defiantly-yet-calmly declares: 'You can't have my heart.' Now, anyone who's read the tale or seen the Disney animated feature knows the queen never quite managed to claim it.
But neither did SWATH's audience. But before I elaborate…
The Plot: Snow White (Stewart), imprisoned by her evil stepmother Queen Ravenna (Theron) after the death of the King, escapes to a Guillermo Del Toro-esque Dark Forest just as the Magic Mirror declares her the source of Ravenna's immortality. The Queen sends her men, led by a huntsman (Hemsworth) to bring her back. But in a twist to the fairy tale, that very huntsman becomes her protector and mentor in a quest to end Ravenna's vicious reign over the kingdom.
What makes a fantasy film truly epic? I believe along with the visual artistry, scale and spectacle, you have to be emotionally invested in its characters. In SWATH's case, the elaborate design and first-rate visual effects overshadow the story, thanks to a vapid script and a rather uninspiring turn from Stewart. About half an hour into the film, I stopped taking particular interest in Snow White's journey, right when the film became more invested in showing off its various battle sequences and CGI razzle-dazzle.
And it began with such promise. Ravenna's introduction was chilling, and I hoped there would be more of the tale told from her perspective. However, the fact that she didn't murder Snow White when she was a child - hell, she imprisoned her for years without 'stealing' Snow's youth and beauty - baffled me. In fact, there were several screenplay-of-convenience moments, such as making Snow White's castle-escape seem like a walk in the park, or the mysterious appearance of the various 'forces of nature', fairies and assorted woodland creatures that suddenly seemed hell-bent on aiding Snow or seeing her to safety. The introduction of Hemsworth as the Huntsman was again interesting; his tragic back-story gave sufficient reason for him to agree to the Queen's demand to recapture Snow White, but an entirely stupid revelation by the Queen's brother right as he was about to get his hands on her made me smack my head in frustration. But by far the biggest scratch-my-head-in-disbelief moment was the magical land called the Sanctuary, or as I like to call it: 'The Stag, the Witch and the Wardrobe' sequence. No, really: there was a giant stag that acted as a poor man's Aslan who 'blesses' Snow White for no apparent reason save for one of the dwarves to proclaim: 'She is life itself. She will heal the land. She is… the one!' I mean, usually heroes are supposed to go through a journey of self-discovery/self-worth before they are declared 'the one', but fine, a CGI hart bowing down to you works too, I suppose. Then, of course, came the poisoned apple scene. I must confess, the one featured in Mirror Mirror had more impact, simply because it made sense. Why didn't the Queen simply finish Snow off here, rather than engage in a bizarrely sexual smoke and mirrors play (watch the movie and you'll know)?
But you'd have forgiven these little lapses of logic had the performances been incredible - or, more aptly, not been let down by sketchy characterization. Though Theron tries her best to bring both depth and empathy to Ravenna, her character is eventually reduced to a hysterical, vaudeville villain. To her credit, hers is the only character that leaves impact, and then some. Kristen, henceforth dubbed sleepy-eyed Stewart (thank you critic Chuck Vinch!), seems to react to every peril that comes her way with the same slightly vacant, slightly nauseated expression that reminds me of a certain cinematic Bella Swan. Her one shining moment, where she finally owns up to her role as the kingdom's savior, falls flat. Though in her defense, that entire sequence appears sans any justification. Hemsworth as Thor - I mean the Huntsman - is appropriately boisterous and effective in both action and emotional sequences, but is let down by weak dialogue in the most poignant one of all: his big reveal, so to speak. Sam Claflin as William, the other of Snow's paramours, is serviceable, but his character and chemistry with Stewart remain underdeveloped. I understand that at heart this was more action epic than sweeping romance, but if you're going to stay faithful to Disney's 'the-kiss-that-broke-the-spell' twist, at least the lead-up could have been made more believable.
Interesting, isn't it, that both heroine and love story worth rooting for are instead found in Ginnifer Goodwin's version in the ABC series Once Upon a Time.
To the folks that brought us SWATH, I just have this to say: if you were going to go for a nontraditional, darker spin on the fairy tale, you had excellent material in Neil Gaiman's short story 'Snow, Glass, Apples', from his collection Smoke and Mirrors.
I suppose we'll have to turn to Maleficent, Disney's live-action retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale from the perspective of the self-proclaimed 'mistress of all evil' herself. With Angelina Jolie cast as Disney's favorite baddie, I'd say that battle is already half-won.
Watch SWATH for its stunning visuals, its over-the-top yet still-terrifying villain, Rupert Sanders' direction (the scenes in the Dark Forest are, as mentioned before, as inventive and dark as some of Del Toro or Burton's works) and the cinematography. But as for the film as a whole… let's just say this Snow White's fabled beauty is only skin deep.
— Osman Khalid Butt
In the picture
Men in Black 3***
*ing: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones,
Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement,
Michael Stuhlbarg, and Emma Thompson
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Tagline: Back to the past… to save the future
When the agents of the “secret government organization that polices and monitors alien activity on and off of planet Earth” first took over the big screen in 1997, the world simply couldn't resist their charm. Men in Black was a huge summer blockbuster, and in many ways, it deserved to be; it was amusing, exciting, inventive, and altogether entertaining.
But that was 15 years ago.
A sequel, MIB (2002), missed the mark on most counts, and was all the more disappointing because of the standard set by the original. So the news of a third Men in Black film was understandably met with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, although the latter outweighed the former when it was revealed that production had to be halted midway to finish the script. Was this going to be another subpar attempt to capitalize on the success of the sci-fi comedy series? Or would they manage to salvage the franchise with this third offering? The result, it turns out, lies somewhere in the middle.
The story begins when an alien criminal, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), escapes from a prison on the Moon where he has been locked up for 40 years. Seeking revenge, he goes back in time to kill Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), who shot off one of his arms and captured him in 1969; the repercussions of his actions alter the present. It is now up to Agent J (Will Smith) to follow Boris back in time, stop him from killing K, and save the world from an alien invasion.
The time travel premise may seem standard for a science fiction film, but it is made interesting by two stellar acting performances. The first one comes from Michael Stuhlbarg who plays Griffin, an alien with precognitive powers, who is probably the most fascinating, and perhaps even endearing, character of the movie. Tangled in a web of possible futures and alternative realities, Griffin guides our heroes who seek the optimum timeline. The second and most impressive performance in the film comes from Josh Brolin who portrays young Agent K. His deadpan take on Tommy Lee Jones' laconic K (Jones himself is missing for much of the movie) is simply impeccable, and ultimately it's his performance that steals the show.
Barry Sonnenfeld's third time at the helm of a MIB project, the film can't compete with the original, but it's certainly an improvement on its predecessor. As always, lots of special effects are on offer, and there are a number of retro-futuristic gizmos and interesting aliens (courtesy of makeup expert Rick Baker) that will please the fans of the series. MIB3 keeps the viewer engaged for its 106 minutes runtime, and to offset the predictability, it even delivers a surprise payoff by way of a touching ending. And not only does it invoke nostalgia, but it also gives us a new perspective on our favourite MIB agents. It isn't the most original film ever made and it may require you to suspend your disbelief on occasion (and ignore a few plot holes), but the film does benefit from some impressive performances by its cast, and for those who are willing to give in to the premise, MIB3 offers a fun, enjoyable ride.
— Sameen Amer