Snow White and the Huntsman

The one sentence review: Great movie killed by terrible cast and production.

I can’t remember the last time I was actually pissed off at the casting for a movie. Sam Spruell plays his part really well and carries the film. Charlize Theron does fairly well for herself but doesn’t get the room she needs to actually be a character. The wicked witch is indeed wicked right up until the end but I suspect a lot of the performance was robbed because of production, the first part of the movie actually seems like it occurred much later in the film and was cut and pasted in. Granted, that’s the visual effect I get, the plot itself makes better sense with it there but it feels like more of a flashback like something was missing. Kristen Stewart plays Snow White as though she has shoes filled with rocks. She can’t act. Chris Hemsworth puts up a valiant effort not to be Thor in this film and while it works, he has the same problem Charlize does where you know they can do better but something is really awkward about their performance. My take is he spends so much time watching Kirsten act terribly he’s consumed by a desire to punch her in the face repeatedly just to get a different expression out of her.

Frankly, the director (Rupert Sanders) probably ruined it.

Here’s why: The production is shit in this film. You can clearly tell ivy is just plastic ivy they threw onto the set pieces. There are elements missing from the screenplay including one scene where the dwarfs complain about “fairy music” and “put moss in your ears” and people are reacting to it but the music is conspicuously not playing. There are places where Kristen’s hair and wardrobe changes for no obvious reason early on in the movie. Furthermore they stole a lot of the visuals from Princess Mononoke and Lord of the Rings. It’s like they went out of their way to make sure that they got “that scene” from the movies. The party crossing the mountains in the rain is straight out of the Lord of the Rings. The Queens crown was borrowed directly from the Witch King in LotR. Thankfully they avoided lifting Rivendale for the fairy realm, but the fairy realm is the enchanted forest from Princess Mononoke complete with the fairies as domokun and the lord of the wood as an elk with wooden antlers.

You want the movie to work, but the director is so uninspired it feels laborious. This includes accents, they force everyone to talk in ye olden english and its obvious everyone thought it was stupid. It ends up getting in the way of the dialogue because people won’t pronounce the words the same way twice.

That being said, the writing is top notch. My suspicion is that John Lee Hancock carried most of that and the dialog is witty if you’re paying attention to it. Actually paying attention to it is sometimes hard because of the reasons above, but it’s there.

I almost wish someone re-directs it much later. Seeing a different cast and a director who actually has some inspiration would be a nice change and really redeem the movie. Particularly annoying is Kristen’s absolute fear of horses and how much time she spends on a horse. You would have thought they would have worked it out in preproduction with her.

That being said the set pieces were really good once they covered up the fake ivy. The castle is well done. The fairy realm, while borrowing heavily from Mononoke, looks great down to the turtles and snakes covered in moss. The mushrooms amused me greatly. The dark forest was fantastic and a neat twist was notion that monsters don’t live there, but hallucinogenic spores from mushrooms do. The magic mirror in particular shows insight from the writing, the spirit evoked from the mirror is only visible to the queen, which gives her the appearance of insanity to her brother.

Is it worth a view? Yes, but don’t expect it to be perfect.

Should you see it in theaters? Not really, there’s not enough grandiosity to warrant the big screen.

Review of Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising

I traded in Fallout 3 and Burnout: Paradise (the weakest of the series) for Dragon Rising. Fallout was fun but I got about halfway through, got stuck, wandered way off the trail and it got sort of boring after awhile. The constant scrabble for ammo and need to repair guns and such just didn’t interest me. Or, to put it mildly, I spent too much time trying to live and too little time enjoying the landscape. Maybe it was the open-ended plot or the fact that I grew up exposed to 1950s “rocket boy” literature (grandpa loved the stuff) but the game didn’t really click for me.

On the other hand, I also grew up hunting and shooting and I’ve never seen that in a game. Cabelas has their releases, but weirdly enough Dragon Rising has more in common with a hunting game at first glance than it does with other “outdoor engagement simulators”. There’s plants, you can hide in plants, you can hide among weeds, bushes will slow down bullets and deflect them. Weapons jam. There’s wonderful little folds in the terrain you can hide in, and there’s plenty of hiking. Without a truck, get used to humping that pack. Oh, and there’s an actual ballistics model.

The graphics are good. It’s not the best looking game I’ve ever seen but the graphics don’t suck. I have the XBOX version. I also have a standard definition TV. If you don’t have high def, expect to squint to read the text. There were a few times I was trying to plant explosives and accidentally pulled out the wrong item. While it’s hilarious to realize you just threw a grenade at your feet, it also blows you up. This is a personal pet peeve of mine since game like Gears of War have extra large subtitles for nonhighdef sets, but in this game you absolutely MUST hear the audio and recognize stuff on shape because you’ve got no hope of reading it otherwise. Speaking of hard-to-read, the manual is useless. It gives you the most general overview of the controls, but really they saved the manual for the guide. If you’re out in the dark about it, download the guide from your favorite torrent site. Frankly I’m not going to pay for the guide because I don’t want to encourage companies to start selling their manuals seperately from the game.

Now, that being said, the entire game takes place on this huge island. The intro sucks so I’ll just sum it up here – Oil is discovered on a japanese territory. Russian and China invade. Russia allies with the US. (lol wut?) You’re fighting “chinese commandos”. You’re a marine or something. Russian troops are nowhere to be found. The game has a campaign and six noncampaign maps. If you’ve played Ghost Recon and wished it had tanks this game is for you. If you played any of the Battlefield games and liked them but wished they were more real, this game is also good. If you played Call of Duty and think you really should carry 1000 rounds and 10 grenades, please don’t buy this.

Like I said, the manual is worthless. Just leave it open to the “controls” page and start playing. There’s no tutorials but the first mission has the chinese as deaf, blind and dumb so you have until the third mission (“united we stand”) to get used to the game. The third mission turns into a slugfest about halfway through. That being said the game does a good job of immersing you in it and I think once I get better at it I’ll enjoy playing the campaign again with more tactical options. Knowing the controls will help but like the real army, you don’t need to know much more than which button is the trigger in the middle of the firefight. The game does a decent job of sheparding you to the next objective. That being said, a good portion of the game is maneuvering. Don’t just walk flag to flag, try to get into the folds of the earth and next to walls and whatnot. This is what infantry tactics are about, and you’re expected to do it in real time, which is part of the fun.

The AI is decent. There’s a few places the scripted events in the campaign break it badly. In the third mission there’s a fireteam on the hill sighting in a mortar and you’re tasked with killing them. If you run in before you’re prompted to attack the troops are there but the AI isn’t commanding them and you can eliminate them before the AI tells them to start shooting. In multiplayer (essentially terrorist hunt on co-op), the AI will deploy from vehicles, but I haven’t seen any AI use armor or aircraft. The AI is brutally good at flanking, I was hiding behind a pile of rocks and throwing grenades at this one opfor. He ran away from the grenades, into a house, and smoked me through a window. Moments like that make it obvious a well planned attack is much better than having 10 (or two) grenades.

Finally the realism is there. There’s underbrush to hide in, your guy is smart enough to stick his head over walls when you’re aiming, and bullets have ballistics. If you’re reloading while dirt is getting kicked up your gun jams (this is hilarious the first time it happens). The underbrush is a good addition since it adds to the “crease of the earth” you need for cover or concealment. It works incredibly well. The bullet ballistics work semi well, it’s on par with vehicles (which get stuck all the time and end up at weird angles). The guns are all sighted in a 100 yard and you have to hold over from there. While 50 cal fans are going to call foul (as they should), it’s a lot better than other games where you point and shoot. It’s actually fun to kentucky windage the guns. While it’s a simplified model, any game with bullet drop on every weapon deserves a hat tip.

All in all, it’s lovable despite it’s flaws and I would suggest buying it.