I think that most people are aware of the fact that in 2012 we are going to be witness to two adaptations of the “Snow White” story. Initially there may have even been a third, as Jean-Pierre Jeunet was circling a “Snow White” project recently that was meant to be more dark and adult, but when he decided not to commit to the project, Tarsem Singh was announced as the director, but I find it really hard to believe that “Mirror Mirror” was to be the “Snow White” film Jeunet was attracted to, only if because it is anything but dark. The other film (which is to be released in June) is titled “Snow White And The Huntsman” and appears to be more of an action take on the story, with Kristen Stewart cast as Snow White and Charlize Theron as the evil witch. When both projects were announced, I was immediately attracted more to “Mirror Mirror” (which at the time was still untitled) because of Singh’s attachment as director, however when the trailers for both came out it was “Snow White And The Huntsmen” that appeared to be the stronger film, while in fact “Mirror Mirror” looked like an absolute disaster. My heart just sank after seeing the trailer and I lost all anticipation for the film. However since that first viewing of the trailer, my interest has slowly returned to the film and it was released in Australia this week, so I decided to check it out and see if it was the disaster it looked destined to be.
In this version of the tale, Snow White is basically held captive and treated like a slave by her wicked stepmother, the Queen, who as ruler of her kingdom has starved it of all its resources and money. The people are living on the street unable to support themselves, while the queen lives above them in her beautiful palace tower. While it looks as though she is swimming in wealth, in actual fact the Queen is in severe debt. Luckily for her, a young Prince comes walking into her life, a Prince wealthy beyond belief and the Queen decides that she will marry this Prince and secure his money for herself. Meanwhile on her eighteenth birthday, Snow White ventures out of the palace to discover the real world. She is shocked to see it in the depressing state it has become because she has fond memories of visiting the place as a child, when her deceased father, The King, was still ruling and the people were singing and dancing in the streets. It doesn’t take long before she realizes that the Queen is behind all of this misery and when she returns to the palace, she confronts her claiming she is not fit to rule. Anticipating a challenge from Snow White, the Queen sends Brighton, her loyal right-hand man, out to the woods with Snow White, where he is to assassinate her. He is unable to do so and sets her free, telling her to run and to never return. While in these woods, she happens to come across seven pint-sized thieves who take her in and look after her. Back with the Prince, and he has fallen madly in love with Snow White, as the two had a brief meeting in the woods when the young girl went to see her kingdom in disguise. This development is sure to create a problem in the Queen’s plan.
As much as I wanted to love this film, and believe me I really did, there is something just off about it. It has a number of fine elements to it, but as a whole, it just didn’t weave its spell on me. The whole thing is played out for laughs, yes this film is a comedy, and that is part of the problem of it. Some of the jokes, like Julia Robert’s one liners are quite good, but some of the broader comedy (like the “puppy love” scene) is just ridiculous and took me out of the film entirely. I’m sorry, but I just cannot laugh at a man acting like a dog, it is cringe-worthy. Both of my girls do it at home, and I don’t like it when they do it either. Like I said, I really wanted to like this film, it is common knowledge that I love fairy tales, but when that whole scene appeared on screen it lost me. Whether or not it is the editing (which I’m sure doesn’t help) of the film, the film isn’t paced very well. It never really takes off. The story moves along and you expect the consequences to increase but it basically stays on the same level throughout which is a little frustrating.
I have a theory that “Mirror Mirror” was actually a rushed production due to the competing “Snow White” film. I have nothing to back this up, but the director Tarsem Singh is an incredibly visual director. He creates amazing, sumptuous worlds for his characters to inhabit (see his work in “The Cell” and “Immortals” especially) and you would assume the world of fairy tales would be the perfect environment for a man of his visual expertise. It stunned me, that while still beautiful, “Mirror Mirror” is Tarsem’s least visually spectacular film, and I believe it was due to having to have the film finished quickly to beat “Snow White And The Huntsmen” to the screens first. I have been a big fan of costume designer, Eiko Ishioka, for awhile (her Oscar winning work in “Bram Stroker’s Dracula” is to die for), but she rarely works on films. Luckily she has worked on all of Tarsem’s features but again, I felt this was the first time I was less than impressed with her designs. With the exception of the ball sequence near the beginning (which is stunning), Ishioka’s costumes seemed too over-the-top for this film, with characters from later scenes looking like they had come off of the set of the children’s program “Lazy Town”. However, I will say that she nailed the look of Snow White. Sadly though, Eiko Ishioka passed away in January of this year, so this will be her last credited work. Other issues I had with the film were the visual representation of the magic mirror, and I thought Armie Hammer as the Prince was just a sap. He was the weak-link of the film, and it is hard to believe that this is the same guy from “The Social Network”. Hammer has the required charisma, but he brought no gravitas to the role of the Prince, and he also had no chemistry at all with Lily Collins, making the romance between him and Snow White, unbelievable. Finally, these two characters have one of the worst swordfights I have ever seen in film. It was slow, poorly staged and filmed, and the comedy throughout it didn’t work.
From the above paragraph it sounds like I hated “Mirror Mirror” but that is not the case, as there was a lot I did like. First and foremost was Lily Collins as Snow White herself. I felt that she was cast to perfection. Her look, her demeanor, the way she holds herself, she was born to play this role. I liked that she was able to smile throughout the film too. Too often these days, classic characters are made darker and grittier, but it is not going to work with everyone and they made the right choice to keep Snow White as naïve, caring, simple and beautiful. I also felt that the filmmakers handled the dwarves brilliantly too. Each of them was given a distinct personality and they were always easy to differentiate. In fact, I feel that “Mirror Mirror” shined its brightest when we were in the company of Snow White and the seven dwarves. The film was much more interesting when they were on screen. If I had to pick a favourite dwarf it would have to be Half Pint, with Grub a close second, but really they are all good. Comedy wise, Nathan Lane stole the show here as “Brighton”, his comic timing is superb and he has a great chemistry with Julia Roberts who surprised me at how good she was. As I said early, most of her one-liners were fun and they were delivered with quite the acid tongue, all while smiling towards her victims. However, when she is working alongside of her reflection in the mirror scenes, she is less effective, but again I think the whole mirror thing never works conceptionally speaking. Finally, I also loved the artificiality in regards to the look of the film. When it is required, I admit that I enjoy artifice in cinema. Here, it is obvious to tell that everything was stage bound, and the filmmakers made no effort to hide this. It is like they were admitting right up front, that this is not reality, this is a fairy tale so sit back and enjoy, and I liked that. I loved the snow covered forest set with the big trees which never looked real, but felt so right in this world.
Overall, “Mirror Mirror” was a missed opportunity to me. Its target audience is children, but there is enough in it for adults to enjoy, however it was too slight for my own tastes. The film does have strong elements, but the negatives of the film are truly cringe-worthy. I despised the “puppy love” sequence, and seriously what was up with the Bollywood number at the end of the film. Another thing I forgot to mention was the very underwhelming score from Alan Menken whose work with Disney always seemed to produce such memorable tunes, yet here it is entirely forgettable. While I am disappointed with “Mirror Mirror” it was not the outright disaster the trailer made it look, and I also think it is a strong piece of work from Lily Collins, who makes the film worth seeing.