June 24, 2012

Who’s fairest of them all: How ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ compares from folklore to film

Once upon a time, as a queen sits sewing at her window, she pricks her finger on her needle and three drops of blood fall on the snow that had fallen on her ebony window frame. As she looked at the blood on the snow, she wished for a child with skin as fair as the white snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony. Soon after the queen gave birth to a baby girl, and she was named Snow White.

Snow White originated as a seventeenth-century French folklore, and was one of the world’s most memorable childhood tales. In 1812 it was famously noted down by the Brothers Grimm, and has been adapted many times since.

Probably the best-known version to today’s audiences is the classic 1937 animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In 2012, the classic story has been revived with three new adaptations, Mirror, Mirror directed by Tarsem Singh; the television series Once Upon A Time; and Snow White and the Huntsman directed by Rupert Sanders.

In each version, the story centres on the fair princess and her evil stepmother who harbors a deathly jealousy of her beauty. There are also regular depictions of the all-seeing mirror on the wall; and the dreaded poisonous apple; and Snow White’s woodland friends, the seven dwarfs.

Snow White and the Huntsman contains all of these core elements, however, unlike most modern adaptations, the film is also dark, ominous, and in this way in-keeping with The Brothers Grimm tale.

The adaptation is a fantastical, epic, all-out action flick, part Lord of the Rings and part Brave Heart with hints of Joan of Arc. Visually, the film also stays true to its fairytale roots, in the lavish style of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

There are some obvious deviations from The Brothers Grimm version. Rather than sitting at her window sewing, the finger of the good Queen is pricked by a single red rose that blooms in the garden in spite of the frost. The good Queen also lives beyond Snow White’s day of birth and her successor, the dark Queen, holds magical powers and evil motives that extend much further beyond her own vanity and envy.

Rather than being taken to the forest as a child, Kristen Stewart’s Snow White is locked in a tower. It is not until she comes of age that Snow White’s beauty surpasses the dark Queen’s, which sets in motion her attempted murder and eventual escape.

In this feminist adaptation, Snow White does not live in the woods keeping house for the dwarfs. Nor does she pass out from having her corset laced up too tight, or having her ebony locks parted by a poisonous comb. Instead, she dons chain mail and commands the respect of an army that rides into battle to avenge her father’s death and reclaim her kingdom.

Stewart does a credible job as Snow White – she is delicate and ethereally beautiful as well as believable as a sword-wielding warrior. I only wish that Stewart would choose a role where she could shake off the Bella Swan scowl.

The dark and dreary nature of this film is a good fit – and it is understandable that this Snow White wouldn’t have much to smile about – but it would have been a welcome change to see Stewart happy. I half expected Edward Cullen to step out from the dark forest and enquire as to why she was running through the woods with a new, hunky man-friend.

Speaking of which, the role of the Huntsman was perfect for Chris Hemsworth, who was able to concurrently provoke a tear and sling an axe with all the brute strength of Thor. His accomplishment is all the more impressive when it is considered that the role was first offered to a slew of Hollywood heavyweights, including Tom Hardy, Johnny Depp, Hugh Jackman and Viggo Mortensen.

The standout performance is from Charlize Theron, who is wickedly enrapturing as the cruel, jealous Queen Ravenna. Whether standing menacingly, encircled by her crazed murder of ravens, or crawling from the black oozing pit of decaying feathers, she is terrifically terrible.

The Queen’s black soldiers are an impressive touch, although I dare say that they too evoked memories of Twilight. In battle, as they shattered into razor sharp shards of iron, I pictured the crumbling stone of Stephenie Meyer’s vampires. The film also hinted at yet another Kristen Stewart-induced love triangle, which was a tad irksome.

And yet, if you look beyond the odes to Twilight and the inevitable Kristen Stewart scowl, this film is an enjoyable piece of escapism that celebrates women, shows-off the potential for special effects, and makes a fine way to spend 127 minutes.

The verdict:
Book or Big Screen? Book
The film is: 4. A fine adaptation that maintains the original’s exceptional qualities

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

What’s coming next? A review of To Kill a Mockingbird

June 11, 2012

Time is nothing: How ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ compares from book to film

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger was given a accurate, descriptive title. The book is indeed about a time traveler, who involuntarily fades backward and forward in time, and his wife who is left behind in the present.

Unlike a sci-fi novel about the time-space continuum or butterfly effects on the past, Henry and Clare’s story deals with the minutiae of real life. It is about love and human relationships, and how such a fantastical thing – the inability to stay in the present – can impact the everyday.

This is one of my favourite novels. What I love about the story is its serendipity – Clare fell in love with Henry when she was six years old, and it was the strength of this love that regularly pulled him back to her childhood. They would never have met in the present, if he did not first visit her in the past; but he could not have visited her in the past, if she did not find him in the present.

Are you lost yet? The beauty of this book is that it doesn’t matter. All that you have to understand, believe and know is that Henry and Clare met because they were destined to. In their world, where time is circular and cause and effect are “muddled”, it doesn’t matter what came first. Like the chicken and the egg, their love is impossible to trace back to its point of origin.

The 2008 film, starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams, manages to capture the complete spirit of Henry and Clare’s impossibly complicated lives. Their love is as passionate as it is painful, and the story is as heartfelt and heart wrenching as the book it was based on.

Entire characters and subplots have been cut, from Henry’s troubled ex-girlfriend Ingrid and her best friend Celia, to his “crazy Korean card-playing babysitter” Kimmy, and from Clare’s childhood friends (and enemies) to her grandma with the beautiful white hair and “eyes like blue clouds.”

All the gory details of Henry’s mother’s death are missing, as is the story about Clare’s mother’s illness, Dr Kendrick’s family troubles and the love triangle with Gomez. You will also have to read the book to find out how Henry learnt how to pick locks and pockets, and how his fifteen-year-old selves spent their time together.

Although so much is missing from the film, nothing is missed. The film focuses on how Henry’s time travels affect his relationship with Clare, and how it feels for her to be constantly left behind and waiting. Everything else is superfluous. And this strict emphasis of their relationship makes the story more dramatic.

The film doesn’t lose any of the book’s impact – when you see Henry disappear, and see the look of anguish on Clare’s face, their story feels so much more dramatic.

This book has a lyrical quality. It is truly poetic. Niffenegger paints a picture with each word and weaves each sentence seamlessly, magically into the next. Through the expert use of punctuation she also creates a staccato rhythm – without this melody, it would be hard to persist with such a nonlinear novel. As dates and ages fly around it is the prose that keeps you tied to the page, committed to working out the puzzle.

Niffenegger writes so many beautiful lines that seem to encompass the heart of the whole story:

“I hate to be where she is not, when she is not. And yet, I am always going, and she cannot follow.”

“I am at a loss because I am in love with a man who is standing before me with no memories of me at all. Everything is in the future for him.”

“Things happen the way they happened. Once and only once.”

The novel is so complex, and yet it works. The real, day-to-day elements of their lives help to ground the fantastical.

In the movie we have to wait for Henry to get to the meadow, but in the book the different ways that Henry meets Clare – and Clare meets Henry – are presented concurrently.

Each chapter, and sometimes each paragraph within each chapter, begins with either “Clare:” or “Henry:” – a narrative device to indicate which perspective is about to be shared. Also pay attention to the dates and ages – they provide important context and will keep you grounded as Henry jumps back and forward in time.

This story – whether its print or motion picture version – will inevitably lead you to question: What is fate? Is everything inevitable?

As Henry time travels, he revisits his own past and then helps to recreate it. The past only happened that way that it did, because his future self already made his contribution. In Henry’s world, the past cannot be changed:

“There is only free will when you are in time, in the present. He say in the past we can only do what we did, and we can only be there if we were there.”

The book is beautifully and brilliantly written. Every time you open its pages you find something new. And the film is its ideal counterpart – a complementary text that adds a whole new dimension to the characters and yet remains intrinsically the same.

In all fairness, I have to say, as much as I love Niffenegger’s novel, there are some deviations in the film that I prefer. The way that Clare becomes pregnant, for example, is extremely clever. The ending of the story was also improved in the film.

Nevertheless, in either incarnation, The Time Traveler’s Wife is the ultimate of love – complete and unending, and at the same time unrequited. A must read and see – take my word for it.

The verdict:
Book or Big Screen? Book
The film is: 4. A fine adaptation that maintains the original’s exceptional qualities

I would be very happy to receive your comments and feedback on ‘Book or Big Screen’ – please click on the below link to tell me what film adaptation you are excited about, or to suggest the book/film that I should review next.

What’s coming next? A review of Snow White and the Huntsman