Sunday, November 17, 2013

Swords! Sideboob! Guns! Groans . . . Why The Snow Queen Flops!

The Good: Costumes, Scenery/cinematography
The Bad: Cheesetastic b- or c-rate acting, Sound editing (falloffs between lines), No real character development, Ren fair b-roll!
The Basics: The Snow Queen is beyond campy; it’s hokey, fantasy filmmaking at its most amateurish.

As it is a dismal day here in Northern Michigan, I thought I might catch up on some indie cinema, as opposed to going mainstream. To that end, I sat down to enjoy the low budget The Snow Queen, a film that will never hit theaters (for obvious legal issues, unless they actually got clearance from CBS/Paramount to use iconic prop replicas in their movie), and I found it to be every bit the cliché of independent moviemaking that one might expect. While the budget may have been blown on armor and props, The Snow Queen does not look amateurish in terms of film stock and there are some moments where a professional lighting department and special effects crew were obviously used.

If it seems odd that I would compliment the film quality (it was likely HD digital anyway, not actual film) up front, it is because I am stretching before I lambaste the movie for its horrible script, painfully awkward acting, pointless (albeit beautiful) cinematography, listless characters, and utterly baffling mood-setting/time-eating footage that has nothing to do with the movie. So, before I rip The Snow Queen apart after the plot summary, I figured I would say some nice things up front.

A woman is followed by a knight across a barren mountainside and when he confronts her and removes his helmet, she instantly recognizes him. As they embrace, they are stalked and attacked by the Snow Queen, a magic-wielding woman who drains both the swordsman and young woman of their life energy with her sword and bauble. As the maiden, Gerda, flees the mountainside with her lover’s dagger, her fiancé is resurrected as a zombie to serve the Snow Queen. After a protracted chase, nature itself rises up against the zombie – who seems to be hunting Gerda for his dagger – and Gerda is able to escape by leaving the snow for the bare earth.

The time then shifts to the future when Annika is scouting through the same mountainside when she is stalked by a U.S. Military commando. Colonel Wagner interrogates Annika, who is on a scientific expedition, and has Annika lead him back to the cabin where her scientific team is holed up. The scientists agree to leave the restricted area while Wagner goes in search of an officer who stole a vital piece of equipment. When he finds the defector, a gunfight and chase ensues, with Wagner only getting hit by one of the many, many bullets shot at him when he encounters a zombie/alien creature. Back in the past, Gerda is led out to where Brother Liolinus waits. There, Liolinus tells Gerda about the Snow Queen, and how she feeds on love, and that if the Snow Queen gets both her and her fiancé, the world would fall under her thrall for generations. Convinced by Liolinus’s other monk Brother, Gerda becomes determined to stop the Snow Queen, while in the future, Annika and the scientists attempt to stop the alien monster, rescue Colonel Wagner, and defeat the Snow Queen there.

Perhaps the only thing more insulting than director Rene Perez using toy Star Trek: The Next Generation tricorders as props in The Snow Queen is that the two actresses holding them do not hold them rightside up! Seriously, Perez and fellow screenwriter Barry Massoni are begging for a “cease and desist” order or lawsuit from CBS/Paramount (I know; I went nine rounds with their legal department over including a display quote in my novel Living In The Wakes, reviewed here!). In addition to using Star Trek: The Next Generation toy prop replicas, their character Annika Hansen is the human name of the Star Trek: Voyager character Seven Of Nine and is probably trademarked by Paramount (keep in mind that Paramount trademarked “Q”!).

If only reusing the name Annika Hansen was the only deficiency in the script for The Snow Queen. Alas, the story meanders for over half an hour with two pointless chase sequences (really?! You have two commandos with automatic weapons shooting at each other across bare fields and neither one hits the other one?!), a delightful bit of pointless nudity (Gerda washing her dress in a stream would have made much, much more sense had she actually been blood-covered – instead of barely spattered – and had something else to get into as opposed to being out in the middle of nowhere, near the snow, in a thin cotton dress just washed in a freezing stream) with ample sideboob (did none of the women on set tell Iren Levy that there were other ways to get on screen?!), before a contrived bit of plot exposition prepares the viewer for the second half of the film. Is Gerda defying Liolinus to try to go after her fiancé predictable? Absolutely! Could it have been done better than having the other Brother essentially talk her into it? Virtually any other way the writers had tried!

Gerda is a painfully weak character, which mirrors the generic scientist characters speaking in technobabble clichés and the Snow Queen not really being evil, but rather just an entity trying to survive. As is the problem with so many small indie films, director Rene Perez includes performances that (one has to desperately hope) are rushed. Otherwise stiff, delayed responses from Aurelia Scheppers and Jenny Allford are unforgivable. Did Perez not ask for a second, third or fourth take? Or was what ended up on screen actually the best take of the bunch?! To the credit of The Snow Queen’s producers, the cast list is a virtual “who’s who” of prior “uncredited” roles on the IMDB (and this does appear to be Iren Levy’s first film project). So, the producers went inexpensive and for untested; the cast looks universally good, their acting, however, is largely abysmal.

In fact, only John J. Welsh (Brother Liolinus) and Nadia Lanfranconi (The Snow Queen) seem to get through their lines without any flubs and with a realistic amount of emotion in their inflections. The Snow Queen might not have the look of a c-rate indie film like Assisted Fishing (reviewed here!), but it does have the stiff acting one expects from a movie that screams “low budget.” Whether that is the fault of untested actors or a director not demanding enough to get the best performances out of his players, I cannot say.

I tend to blame the director for a lot and it is easy with The Snow Queen. In addition to reusing a very small portion of forest for chases – hoping to hide that by shooting the same space at different angles - The Snow Queen suffers mightily from pointless shots. I am all for establishing setting, but one feels Perez shot b-roll at the world’s smallest Renaissance Faire – or SCA event – and was obligated to include X number of minutes of footage in exchange for . . . armor, weapons, corsets, etc? So, just as the movie has taken a left turn into the future, it takes a drop off a cliff into the past for an extended not-really-bellydancing sequence.

This year, there are some low-budget fantasy films that are getting exposure. Hammer Of The Gods (reviewed here!) made it to some theaters and is now streaming on Netflix. The Snow Queen is a film bound for sales almost exclusively on the convention circuit and with its weak performances, characters who do not truly grow or develop, and utterly contrived plot that has an easy conflict/easy resolution, its sales are bound to be best by those who buy it before seeing a single frame.

For other fantasy films, please check out my reviews of:
Snow White And The Huntsman
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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