Before you say it: I know, it’s a weird comparison. One movie is a maybe prequel to a classic, very adult, sci fi franchise. The other is a fairy tale mired in adolescent appeal. I’m not even sure I’m going to be able to write coherently about either of these movies but people seem shocked that I liked Snow White more than Prometheus and I want to dive into that. Because on the surface, if you know me, that probably doesn’t make any sense.
I don’t know what Snow White is trying to do, maybe it’s trying to capitalize on Twilight and The Avengers and the recent fairy tale popularity all at once? I’m not really sure what Prometheus is trying for either for that matter. But they both have Charlize Theron. So there’s that.
Interestingly, both movies have a lot of things going on that are great topics of conversation even if they fail to fully explore these topics themselves. I’m going to maybe try and avoid massive spoilers for Prometheus but pretty much anything I can talk about regarding that movie is a spoiler so consider this your warning. If you haven’t watched Prometheus yet, I will probably spoil some things for you.
Mostly I’m talking about these two movies together because I happened to see them within a week of each other. And while I’ve seen a lot of movies in the theaters lately, along with The Avengers these are really the only big budget, mainstream Hollywood ones I’ve made it to.
Where do I start?
First off, while I didn’t love Snow White and the Huntsman, I really didn’t hate it either. It’s like this strange pastiche of every fantasy and fairy tale movie I’ve ever loved. I think it falls short of what it could have been mostly through the casting and the fact that there is absolutely zero chemistry between Kristen Stewart and basically everyone else in this movie. There are parts in the film I wasn’t really excited about but mostly it’s kind of a fun retelling of the Snow White story.
It’s also beautifully shot. I know people are saying Prometheus looks great but honestly I wasn’t that impressed. While Snow White is really, really pretty, it’s also pretty in a way that serves the story. I like that. Prometheus just has some aerial shots of desolate landscapes that I didn’t find any more impressive than anything we saw in, say, Lord of the Rings. It does have some impressive space shots and the set design of the Engineer’s ship is cool, but all of this fails to elevate the story above the level of “A Mess.”
Snow White meanwhile, like Lord of the Rings, manages to use those sweeping landscape to build the world of the story, everything feels connected with a purpose. Conversely, in Prometheus they just feel excessive.
They do have some things in common on a thematic level. Both are about characters carried away by the whims of destiny. In Snow White, the characters are fighting to save the light in humanity from the darkness. In Prometheus, the characters are searching for the meaning and origins of life. But both are really about Life, there’s stuff about harmony and cycles, about parents and their children, about reconciling the past with the future.
One just happens to be a fairy tale, the other a giant, sprawling, sci fi mess.
Not to say that all of the visuals in Prometheus are wasteful. I’d be remiss if I ignored the scene when Michael Fassbender’s David finds himself in the Alien’s control room. He somehow manages to engage the controls and a star map brilliantly lights up the chamber. I found myself desperately wanting to break the barrier between myself and the screen to stand in the middle of that room with him. The look of wonder on his face is evocative and the moment is as close to perfect as Prometheus ever gets.
And look, I know Prometheus asks these big questions about life, the universe, and everything but come on. Just because someone asks the question, doesn’t mean they’re automatically deep and brilliant. I like how Joe Morgenstern says it on this point:
“This tale of an interstellar search asks cosmic questions about the meaning of life, but comes up with lame answers in a script that screams attention-deficit disorder.” (Joe Morgenstern in his review in The Wall Street Journal)
Actually, just go read his entire review because it pretty much sums up all of my problems with Prometheus. Visually appealing, but ultimately disorganized and nonsensical. Characters that consistently behave in increasingly illogical ways. And yes I’m including David in this. His actions are only sloppily, offhandedly explained with “well he’s a robot and he’s been programmed to do this.” He seems to have an almost magical, prescient ability to understand the alien language and symbols that are encountered in the alien craft. And I’m sorry, but his studying ancient linguistics does not explain how he so expertly and brilliantly knows how to work all of their technology instantly. No way.
I’m hesitant to lay blame solely on screenwriters, but the Prometheus script really was not great. It has some good moments but someone, somewhere should have stopped and said “Wait a second, this makes no damn sense.” Because none of this movie makes sense beyond a very superficial glossing over. Characters behave in ways that are overwritten and forced, actions serve only to further the plot along this strange, convoluted path. I found myself constantly asking “Why?! Why would you do that?!” The scientists are only scientists in the thinnest, this-is-what-I-think-a-scientist-is kind of way. With the exception of David (who is a ROBOT) and maybe Shaw, these people are caricatures, not characters. Even Charlize Theron isn’t ever allowed to break out of her proper, I Represent the Company persona. The one odd moment where she almost has a human exchange with the stereotypically surly captain of the ship (Idris Elba, another wasted actor), ends inexplicably with absolutely no follow through.
And this then all brings me back to Snow White and the one place where this film really fails. Kristen Stewart. Snow White’s writing is sometimes as banal and silly as Prometheus’s, but at least Theron (as the Evil Queen) and Chris Hemsworth (as the Huntsman of the title) are given the room to play with their characters. They both manage to breathe life into sometimes stilted dialogue. Unfortunately they’re both competing with Kristen Stewart and her Twilight hair. Where Theron and Hemsworth sparkle or terrify, Stewart is consistently wooden and confused. She has the teenage angst thing down, she isn’t terrible in movies like In The Land of Women or Into the Wild. I even kind of liked her in The Messengers, as much as it’s possible to like that movie. Here in Snow White though, she just muddles through the adventure with that one expression and the hair flip that defines her Bella-ness. Maybe one day she’ll escape her Twilight mold but I’m not sure how much else she has to offer. She’s the most moving in those moments when she’s, quite literally, asleep. The rest of the time she’s blank and empty.
The rest of the movie is a mix of great and meh. The set design, the cinematography, Theron’s incredible costumes, the special effects, all of these things shine. But like Prometheus, the pacing falls victim to the current trend of fast is better (thank you Michael Bay for that. Ugh). We’re rushed through moments we want to savor and the few times the story tries to slow down, we’re stuck with Kristen Stewart’s bafflement. I’m not sure which I prefered. The music also left something to be desired, it’s an overwrought adrenaline rush of a score that occasionally hits us over the head with its drama. And I really didn’t get the whole thing with William. I mean, I guess every movie ever now has to have a love triangle. But seriously, what was that about?
It was kind of hilarious to watch Huntsman and William bro out though. There are a few coy looks thrown between the two of them. This makes me giggle. Anyway, back on point now.
Whether the problems in Prometheus are the fault of Damon Lindelof or Ridley Scott or someone else, who knows. Ultimately it’s Scott’s responsibility to make these calls. I don’t even know where you would go to begin to try and salvage this film from the mess that it is. Snow White on the other hand could have been vastly improved by casting a different lead for our heroine and letting its story occasionally breathe. And maybe removing the awkward, heavy handed religion vs magic thing or whatever that was.
In the end though, both of these big budget affairs are victims of the current system of Hollywood filmmaking. Faster is better, Bigger is best, Technology trumps all. Story and Character and Common Sense are the afterthoughts. And unfortunately we keep going to the theater and these things keep performing and the box office and making money so this mind set is most likely not going to be changing anytime soon.
In the end, I’m happy to just go watch Safety Not Guaranteed again. Now there’s a movie that makes me smile.
Fun things from Snow White that made me smile:
Also, I swear this movie made me think of every fantasy movie I’ve loved ever. Here’s as much of a list as I can remember at the moment. Am I missing anything?
-other versions of Snow White (duh)
-Lord of the Rings
-The Princess Bride
-Disney’s original Sleeping Beauty
-Return of the Jedi (holy crap the dwarves are like Ewoks!!)
-Once Upon a Time (the new ABC show)
-The Secret of Nimh
-The Last Unicorn
Some of the moments are pretty blatant references, others are just things that popped into my brain for one reason or another. Either, way I’m sure this all makes some people say Rip Off, but I enjoyed it.
PROMETHEUS SPOILER FOR SERIOUS
Sticking this on the end because someone please it explain it to me…
WHY IS THERE A SQUID BABY???? OMG WHY??
Seriously, of all of the WTF moments, this was the biggest for me. Really though I was not okay with that whole weird operation scene. Seriously. Not okay.