If there’s one thing I’ve learned about movie audiences during my quarter century of writing for the Mercury, it is that guys paying contemporary ticket prices stay in their seats to watch the film unless they just really aren’t very interested in what’s on screen. If they are confident nothing will come up that they can’t explain unaided, they may visit the gents or go out for popcorn, or a smoke.
The folks watching a first-Friday showing of first-time director Rupert Saunders’s new film “Snow White and the Huntsman” were up and down the whole of the showing. Almost everybody in the crowd was up at least once, and some of us wandered out of the auditorium three or more times as the film was running.
All criticism is subjective. But the audience behavior data shouldn’t be ignored. These moviegoers who wanted to see “Snow White and the Huntsman” didn’t feel like sitting all the way through it. “Oh, you just go on with it and I’ll catch up later. I have a phone call.”
In at least one sense, they were right—they didn’t need to watch every minute of the movie to understand what happened at the end. There are no surprises in the film. Computer generated graphics? Check. Evil Queen and magic mirror? Check. Pursuit through magical forest? Check.
The only surprise in the film had to do with casting. Having learned from the Lord of the Rings movies, the filmmakers here have taken ordinary-sized actors and arranged things so that they do the face and voice acting for characters who are shown in long shots to be short—the seven dwarfs. So the wise leader of the little people is played by Bob Hoskins. Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, and Nick Frost, none of them small in real life, are among the actors playing little.
Before the film was released, regular movie-goers had a running conversation about whether casting little Kristen Stewart as Snow, whose beauty eclipses that of the Queen, played by Charlize Theron, was joke casting. Stewart’s not a bad looking girl. But come on, the preview watchers said. The potential dreamboat rivalry between Chris “Thor” Hemsworth, playing the title’s Huntsman and Sam Claflin playing the Duke’s son doesn’t really surface in the movie.
The story is pretty much the one we tell little kids. The Queen’s mirror tells her that Snow is about to become more beautiful, which is to say more powerful, than is she. So our magical villainess, who early on wears a wig almost as funny as the one Stewart has to wear late, goes to work trying to neutralize the girl.
Finally she uses a poison apple to put Snow into a sort of sleep from which she is awakened by the kiss of one of the film’s eligible bachelors. The climax is dramatized as a military operation beginning with an imitation Henry V speech before the battle—”And gentlemen in England now abed will feel themselves accursed…” and so on. Think of it as a Lord of the Rings pep talk to the troops: “The day may come when the sons of men will forget their loyalties..But that day is not today.” Stewart seems really uncomfortable delivering the speech. And her front teeth look like Chicklets.
Looks are important in this story, which after all is about how the old use their accumulated powers when challenged by the youth and beauty of the young. Generally speaking “Snow White and the Huntsman” looks pretty good. It moves fairly well. It has kind of interesting action. It is passably well-acted. But it doesn’t do anything extraordinarily well. And it is never surprising.
Consequently there were times when ten percent of the movie’s crowd, at the showing I attended, were out in the lobby with each other, admiring shoes and talking early wheat. We were all confident we could all miss ten minutes of the movie here and there without missing anything vital.