Friday, June 01, 2012

Vamp or Not? Snow White and the Huntsman

I went to a preview of this at the cinema and, in truth, it is not a difficult ‘Vamp or Not?’ but I felt it reasonable to look at director Rupert Sanders' film in those terms. Of course it wouldn’t be the first time that the Snow White story had been given a vampiric element, Tanith Lee’s Red as Blood had such elements as did Neil Gaimen’s wonderful Snow, Glass, Apples.

This film is very much a dark fantasy revision of the Snow White story with the young Snow White (Raffey Cassidy, Dark Shadows) growing up in an idyllic fairy tale kingdom until her mother (Liberty Ross) dies. The death leaves her father, King Magnus (Noah Huntley), heartbroken and then the kingdom is attacked by a mysterious black glass army. The King defeats the army and frees a prisoner, Ravenna (Charlize Theron). He marries her the next day (got to be wary of those short engagements) and finds himself murdered on his wedding night. Ravenna had summoned the magic army as a ruse and opens the castle to her flesh and blood army.

Whilst the Duke Hammond (Vincent Regan) manages to escape with his son Will (Sam Claflin), Snow White is captured by Ravenna’s brother, Finn (Sam Spruell), and imprisoned in a tower where she grows up to be Kristen Stewart (Twilight 1, 2, 3 & 4 (part 1)). Now, Ravenna is definitely a witch – she casts magic spells, we know, such as summoning a whole animated black glass army – but she is also a vampire and we first see evidence of this when Snow White is still imprisoned.

Ravenna has been using her power a side-effect of which is the appearance of wrinkles as she suddenly ages. Finn brings her something to help her – a pretty young prisoner called Greta (Lily Cole). The Queen grabs the girl and sucks the youth out of her… Note that it is the youth she sucks out of the girl, rather than simply the life; this is reminiscent of our vampires in Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter. Indeed Greta, back in her cell now aged with the appearance of a crone, brought said film to mind. The mirror (Christopher Obi) warns the Queen that Snow White – who has just come of age – is her downfall but also her salvation – if she takes the Princess’ heart it will grant her immortality with none of the associated pesky youth sucking.

So Snow White escapes into the dark forest and a Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) is sent after her and is soon helping her on her quest to restore the kingdom and thus the land (which has become barren under Ravenna). This is, of course, because the Snow White tale is about imbalance in nature via the Maiden, Mother, Crone archetype as the now barren (step) mother refuses to become the crone and relinquish her position to the maiden who is of age and due to become the mother herself; nature stagnating as a result and the imbalance passing only when the maiden defeats the (step) mother to attain her rightful place… However it is vampiric elements we are looking for, not pagan archetypes. We do see some more youth sucking, or the aftermath thereof with bodies aplenty, and we find a village of women who have scarred their own faces to save themselves from Ravenna (she only sucks those she deems the pretty ones). We discover that she has lived twenty lifetimes and that the original spell cast upon her involved blood (three drops of fairest blood) and it is through Snow White’s fair blood she can be stopped. When she dies (I assume you do know that Snow White is destined to be triumphant) the Queen rapidly ages (as does her brother when he is killed, having been kept alive through her sorcery).

That’s it, but definitely enough to class this as Vamp – especially as it is the core element of the main antagonist. The film itself was rather watchable, if too referential in places. Scenes look as though they might have been lifted from Lord of the Rings – incidentally the dwarves are created much the same way as the dwarves and hobbits in Lord of the Rings with some very familiar actors resized on screen – and a set scene lifted directly from Princess Mononoke. Kristen Stewart again only has one expression but it actually fits the film (except at the end, where it is almost painful watching her try to crack a genuinely happy smile). For some reason crossing the land with the Princess takes forever, whereas other characters zip back and forth like the clappers (a common fantasy film complaint). I am also unclear as to how Greta managed to get her youth back at the end and have put it down to a bad case of the happily-ever-afters. However the core film is dark, interesting, looks good and is Vamp.

The imdb page is here.


Gabriel said...

Thanks for the review

This is yet to be released down in Oz (this month some time), but I find it interesting you label this "vamp". Other reviews I have read do mention her sorcery but label her magicks more Necromancy than Vampirism?
What do you think of that angle?

I guess when I see the movie I'll do my own review of it, and make an informed decision. Of course the other logical argument here is that only in a fantastical land could Kristen Stewart be fairer than Charlize Theron ;)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

In honesty, I wouldn't at all know where the necromancy lable came from... I can't think of a moment within it that could be classed as necromancy.

Other reviews mention Bathory and Countess Dracula (though blood is only used as mentioned). Re Charlize Theron v Kristen Stewart, i totally agree but... the makeup effects with regards Theron have a similar impact as those used with Ingrid Pitt in the aforementioned Countess Dracula.

The fact is she drains youth to remain young... definitely a type of energy vampire and reminiscent of Kronos (as I said in the article) but I'll be interested in hearing your thoughts once you have seen it.

Unknown said...

An excellent review and once again I completely agree! Just saw this one, it did have a tendency to drag on a bit occasionally as you mentioned, I couldn't decide if this was because of Kristen Stewart or not, something about her performance made me impatient with the story, I think...or maybe it was the story itself. I felt like some scenes were meant to strengthen the developing relationship between Snow White and the Huntsman, but somehow just fell flat and I couldn't help but think this might have been because of Stewart, overall though it was quite enjoyable, and I would agree definitely vamp. Charlize Theron's performance was great fun. Just out of curiosity, have you ever looked at Snow White: A Tale of Terror from a Vamp or Not perspective? I don't really know if it warrants it, but it is another dark telling of Snow White that I have always really loved.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Margaret. It did strike me, overall, that they ran out of ideas of what to do with the huntsman (perhaps they should have dispensed with Will and concentrated on him alone?) but take your point re KS's performance.

Re Tale of Terror, I recall seeing it many years ago (on vhs) but I haven't looked at it in context of vampirism.

I enjoy the reclaimation of fairytales into the darkness they should have remained in. I have a couple of volumes of dark (and often psycho-sexual) retellings of fairytales in prose and Company of Wolves is the finest reclaimation of Little Red Riding Hood!

Gabriel said...

I have to agree that The Company of Wolves is the finest reclamation of the Little Red Riding Hood story. Also as previously mentioned I read Neil Gaiman's Snow, Glass Apples years ago in that short story collection "Smoke and Mirrors".

I'll have to see if I can get hold of Tanith Lee's version "Red as Blood" in her collection, because I enjoyed her vampire novel VIVIA.

Lastly, I too am glad that fairytales seem to be going back to their dark core, and they've finally gotten rid of the fairy dust and sweetness and light, which I find diluted the tales.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

DHG, re Tanith - Vivia is marvellous, you could also check out her sci-fi vamp novella Sabella, for thick gothic prose there is Blood of Roses and for something a little different there is the Blood Opera Sequence.