Friday, June 29, 2012

What Writers Can Learn From Snow White and the Huntsman



Visually compelling but short on lots of story elements.
 I’ve just watched Snow White and the Huntsman and I emerged from the cocoon of the movie theatre a mite confused. Was it an action movie? A love story that didn’t get off the ground? Why were the characters so confused? Why did no one have any real motivation except the Huntsman and his was simple: money. Why did minor elements such as the amazing Troll and the wonderfully cantankerous Dwarves steal the show?


My YA daughter, a stalwart Kristen Stewart fan (thanks to Twilight) countered my every criticism with, “Oh, it’s not that bad.” Then I realised how much was just not that good, and how a movie’s failings (visual book thing again) can translate to the page for authors. So, what can we learn from Snow White and the Huntsman?

I read a few reviews to help me understand why I did not enjoy this visual feast, for a visual feast it is. From the red blood, to the white snow, to the raven black elements, to the knights in silvery shining armour racing along the beach with swords drawn, all the beauty is there … but it cannot sustain what is essentially a great story told poorly.


Great action sequences!
 Synopsis: Snow White is the princess of Tabor. After his wife's death, King Magnus marries the beautiful Ravenna after rescuing her from the Dark Army, an invading force of glass soldiers. Ravenna—who is in fact a powerful sorceress and the Dark Army's master—kills Magnus on their wedding night. As Ravenna seizes control of the kingdom, Duke Hammond escapes the Castle with his son William, but is unable to save Snow White. Snow White is then locked away in a tower of the castle.


Real scene stealers!
 The kingdom declines under Ravenna's rule as she periodically drains the youth from young women in order to maintain a spell once cast by her mother, which allows her to keep her beauty. When Snow White comes of age, Ravenna learns from her Magic Mirror that Snow White is destined to destroy her unless Ravenna consumes the young girl's heart, which will make her immortal. Ravenna orders her brother Finn to bring her Snow White but she escapes into the Dark Forest, where Ravenna has no power. Eric the Huntsman, a drunken widower who has survived the Dark Forest, is brought to Ravenna who orders him to lead Finn in pursuit of Snow White. In exchange, she promises to revive his deceased wife Sarah. Duke Hammond learns that Snow White is alive and has fled into the Dark Forest, and his son William, Snow White's childhood friend, later infiltrates Finn's band as a bowman to find her.

The Huntsman locates Snow White in the Dark Forest but Finn admits that Ravenna cannot resurrect the dead. The Huntsman then helps Snow White to escape, promising to escort her to Duke Hammond's castle in exchange for a reward of gold. They meet the dwarves who just about steal the show, and thereafter it’s on to the Duke’s castle to round up an army to defeat the evil Queen.


Wonderful fairy tale troll!
 Fairy tales are part of the dark mythological underbelly of civilisation, and many lessons and social commentaries exist today in these handed down tales. In like fashion, many books are simply repeats of or expansions upon eternal themes such as the quest/journey/coming of age etc. Anne R. Allen says: Experts don’t agree on the exact number of narrative plots, but there aren’t many. (Good post in case you think someone like James Patterson stole your plot!)


So how can we look at this film and learn some writing lessons?

Let’s check out the reviews. These comments (I've underlined the most telling) can be applied to writing.

Rotten Tomatoes: While it offers an appropriately dark take on the fairy tale that inspired it, Snow White and the Huntsman is undone by uneven acting, problematic pacing, and a confused script.

The Washington Post: Michael O’Sullivan says: Too many bad apples spoil a tale. Overlong, overcrowded, overstimulating and with an over-the-top performance by Charlize Theron as the evil queen Ravenna, the movie is a virtual orchard of toxic excess, starting with the unnecessarily sprawling cast of characters. Snow White and the Huntsman feels less like a movie than a deadly cocktail of movie clichés, all of which have been thrown into a blender, set to ‘slow’ and pureed for two hours.

The San Francisco Chronicle: “…which takes everything mythic about ‘Snow White’ and pounds it out until it's flat and dead. It takes something whose truth is elusive and turns it into a movie that's obvious and trivial. The fairy tale … suffers from a problem in its rhythm. It's not that its pace is too slow, but that it's too regular, and this lack of syncopation makes it feel slow.

Ouch!

A Writer’s Digest article advises: Analyze successful stories. They (writers) ask questions when reading and use their findings to help strengthen their work. For example:

• How does the writer make me want to turn the page?
• Why am I drawn to the lead character?
• When are the stakes raised?
• How does the writer integrate minor characters?
• What makes a scene work?
• What’s the key to conflict?
• How does the writer handle dialogue?

In my humble opinion, the problem with Snow White is that loads of bad stuff eclipsed loads of good stuff. A cleaner, simpler story, tighter pacing, consistent characterization, believable motivation, a good sub-text and backstory, and quicker links to the actually great action scenes would have transformed this film into a iconic version of a tried and tested tale of good triumphing over evil. People don’t get tired of a good story told well.

How well are you telling your story?

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