Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

I had been meaning to say something about The Longest Journey for a long time but was finally prompted to do so a few days ago because I had recently seen Snow White and the Huntsman and was impressed again by that sort of personal development within the larger-than-life fairytale hero persona. It would be an understatement to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the movie. It elicited from me the same reaction as Beowulf and Grendel, regardless of their very different treatment of their subject matter. It is exceedingly rare to find a film which successfully captures not only the essence of a cultural staple like the epics or fairytales but also the nature of our fascination with such storytelling. Like Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire  or Tolkien's Middle-Earth books, these movies have the ability to get under the skin of mythical or fantastic characters and elevate them to the status of actual personalities.

What rankles is the public's response to the movie, and I know, I know, by now it's no news that the public is absolutely moronic, but... to just utterly lack any appreciation of style and subtext as a society is inescapably harmful to the intellectual development of the few in that society who might have a chance to appreciate what the movie does. In reading a smattering of reviews from both random IMDB Joe-sixpacks and paid journalists, magazine reviewers, you tend to run into the same two complaints, both utterly nonsensical.

One: Stilted.
This is basically the "it's not Disney" argument. The characters are not ecstatically prancing around and breaking into song with bluebirds perched on their fingertips all through the movie. Mostly it's the actors who are attacked, especially the lead.
Two: Weird.
Where do they get off making it all dark and gloomy, Snow White is supposed to be a cheerful romp with cute cuddly dwarves not murderous, bitter, outcast mercenary dwarves. What's the deal with the stag and the weird magic stuff the queen does, etc.etc. and oh, wait, this is just the "it's not Disney" argument again.

I suppose the main point I should make before anything is that Disney did not invent fairy tales you worthless corporate-brainwashed backbirths! Every criticism I hear about the movie seems to stem from this expectation that it would be a remake of Disney's old cartoon, which was in itself a bastardization of the actual fairy tale. I'm battering my head against the wall here trying to figure out how to remind the American public and the worldwide victims of corporate revisionism that these fairy tales existed for centuries before cinema, and their flavor as stories told around the hearth by one's grandmother in a 19th-century wattle-and-daub cottage in Bavaria was very different from the "sunshine and puppy-dogs" mass-market feel-good product of the 20th century. As collected by the Grimm brothers, Andersen, Tolstoy or the comtesse de Segur, the old stories are not cheerful. Even though the hero usually succeeds, he is subject to pain and loss, and the ending is only vaguely optimistic. They are gory and violent, thrilling and macabre. They are filled more with boogeymen than with helpful fairy godmothers. For a child listening to your grandmother's raspy voice reiterating those old fairytales, the world is a dark and dangerous place outside your father's little thatched hut and the comforting warmth of your hearth and these stories are meant in part to give you the courage to fight those odds, not blow sunshine up your ass. Fairies are not nice people, no more than people are nice people.

It is from this starting point that the creators of Snow White and the Huntsman built their story, not Disney's charming little take on the original. They refused to re-adapt the old adaptation and instead honored the spirit of old storytelling while developing the stock characters into figures with at least two facets and actual motivations. Mon dieu, what gall!

No, the acting is not stilted, it is restrained, it doesn't spell everything out for you in scenery-chewing dramatism because you're assumed to have knowledge of the original material. When you go into an opera, you're assumed to have read the libretto. The Grimm brothers? That's your libretto for Snow White. You're also assumed to have seen the old Disney version and be acquainted with various other famous works of fantasy. The movie includes many references and blatant inspirations from the Disney movie, Princess Mononoke and The Hobbit at the very least. Can you spot the resemblance of Snow White to Jeanne d'Arc? I could, and I'm not much of a history buff. How pathetic is it that people are insulted by the assumption that they would have even the tiniest bit of cultural background. We're not even talking about references to Kant and Nietzsche here, but the better side of basic mass-consumed entertainment and at least the flimsiest notion of history. The Grimm brothers are not hard to read, and it would probably take you less time than watching the old Disney movie.

Taken as a whole, the criticism of the movie, stemming as it does from the "it's not Disney" mindset is blatantly hypocritical. It's criticized for being "Twilightized" by the same audience that's been cramming into theaters to make that idiotic Twilight farce a string of blockbusters, even though it's Twilight that's a dumbing-down and Disneying of vampire and werewolf stories. It's criticized as being too "gothy" or dark (in other words not safe for preschoolers) and at the same time criticized for not having passionate love scenes. It's criticized for being too "emo" and in the same breath for lacking the over-the-top hammy overacting American audiences love so much. Can the idiots bitching about Snow White not jumping into Prince Charming's arms and swallowing his tongue while humping his leg step back a bit and realize that she's been locked in a tower for the past decade? She's lucky she didn't turn into Gollum. How overfed on scenery-chewing has the public gotten that everyone misses the obvious tension of the prince-princess-huntsman love triangle and the repeated commentary on the sacrifice she makes as a states(wo)man through the choice she is implied to make at the end of the movie?

How blinded can everyone be by that quaint little saccharine pastel pastiche from the 30s that they managed to miss every single good point of Snow White and the Huntsman?

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