– Summary –
Director : Tarsem Singh
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane, Mare Winningham, Michael Lerner, Sean Bean, Danny Woodburn, Martin Klebba, Sebastian Saraceno, Jordan Prentice, Mark Povinelli, Joe Gnoffo, Ronald Lee Clark.
Approx Running Time : 106 Minutes
Synopsis: Snow White, living under the hostile auspices of the evil Queen who rules the kingdom after Snow’s father vanishes into the dark woods,
What we think : Visually stunning, Mirror Mirror often comes off best when it tries to marry fantasy tropes with a modern humor – sly verbal asides and clever modern references (“focus groups” get a run at one point) fill this sumptuous, stylish version of the fables story – but on the whole it’s more often hilariously sweet than groan-inducing or too self effacing. Collins does well, although the film is stolen by older hands in Roberts and Lane, both of whom know just how far to push the cross0ver between stodgy fairy-story and modern humor. Armie Hammer is also a standout (hell, he should be, he’s well over 6 feet tall!) as the jack-of-all-trades Handsome Prince. Well worth a look.
Like many a Hollywood duo of films before it, such as Armageddon and Deep Impact, or Antz and A Bugs Life, or even competing Robin Hood films back in the 90’s, it was something of a coincidence that 2012 saw the release of two films about Snow White. The second, Snow White & The Huntsman, starred Kristen Stewart as Snow and one of those Hemsworth boys as the Hunstman, as well as Oscar winning actress Charlize Theron as the evil Queen. The first, Mirror Mirror, had Abduction starlet Lily Collins as Snow, Oscar winning actress Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen, and….. well, Nathan Lane as the hunstman….. er…. yeah. Whereas Hunstman played as an outright action film with touches of fantasy, Mirror Mirror is definitively a fantasy film first, with action and emotional depth coming a distant, distant last. Lily Collins, whose first major film was the Sandra Bullock football flick The Blind Side, stars as Snow here, and delivers a vastly more presentable version than Kristen Stewart’s glum, sword-wielding video-game variant. Julia Roberts, as the Evil Queen, has vastly more to do than Theron’s glum, angsty, petulant version, while Nathan Lane does his best bumbling idiot version of a “huntsman” in lieu of an actual huntsman when required. If Huntsman was the Michael Bay version of Snow White, what then, are we to make of Indian director Tarsem Singh’s gorgeously photographed, stunningly mounted try?
Look, if you’ve come this far, you probably already know what to expect from a film based on the story of Snow White. The world of the Grimm’s fairy stories has had a fair old pounding of late, what with this, Snow White & The Huntsman, and television series Once Upon A Time all putting their “unique” spin on what is… if you’ll pardon the obscure Disney reference, a tale as old as time. Snow White (Lily Collins) suffers under the brutal regime of her evil stepmother, the Queen (played by Julia Roberts), escapes and travels into the Dark Woods, where she encounters seven men of smaller stature (is it politically correct to refer to them as “dwarves” these days?) and must reunite her Kingdom to fight back against tyranny. There’s the Magic Mirror (Roberts in terrifically creepy makeup), a Handsome Prince (Armie Hammer), and Nathan Lane plays a beefed-up role as the Queen’s Chief Of Staff: the cast of usual characters are all here, in one form or another. Yes, Snow White has the opportunity to eat an apple (although when in the film is an interesting development) and the Queen’s role is larger than you’d expect it to be (after all, you don’t waste Julie Roberts with a three-scene cameo), and the Seven Dwarves aren’t miners (a fact which is paid subtle reference to!), but rather they’re thieves and scoundrels to be set upon the right path by a Good and Just Snow.
While I’m loathe to understand the enduring lure of the Snow White story beyond a children’s tale and anything more than a Public Domain free-for-all, Mirror Mirror certainly spends a great deal of time on the world inhabited by these weird and wonderful people. Whereas Snow White & The Huntsman tried to set its character within a realistic, reach-out-and-touch-it grimy landscape, Mirror Mirror goes in completely the opposite direction; this is a world of fanciful costumes, fantastic magic and truly magnificent (if entirely impossible) landscapes, designed to try and capture the “fairy tale magic” we grow up with as kids. This is a children’s Snow White for adults (Huntsman was an adult Snow White for…. well, teenagers) that manages to straddle both the tweenager crowd interest (in Armie Hammer and Lily Collins) and the more serious film critic crowd interested to see if Julie Roberts could best Charlize Theron in the Evil Queen stakes. In all honesty, Roberts absolutely slays Theron as the Queen in this.
The first thing to note about Mirror Mirror, beyond the well-stacked casting involved, is the production design. The sheer beauty of the film, in virtually every frame, is astonishing to behold. Director Tarsem Singh, who audiences will be aware helmed the delightful film The Fall a few years ago, as well as the less-well-received Immortals, and the older Jennifer Lopez starrer The Cell, is known for his dazzling cinematography and use of costume and location to really sell the film visually; I’m delighted to say that Mirror Mirror is yet another visual feast. Even disregarding the various plot issues and scripting hiccups, Mirror Mirror is simply dazzling – it’s a film that dares you to watch it again to spot stuff you might have missed the first time. Costume designer Eiko Ishoika [who passed away in January 2012], who snagged the Best Costume Design Oscar for her work on Bram Stoker’s Dracula (for director Frances Ford Coppola), truly outdoes herself here, with each magnificent bodice, pantaloon, ballgown and codpiece looking larger than life against the backdrop of the equally stunning set designs and locations. This film is pure eye candy of the highest order, and for that fact alone is worth a look.
Critical to the films lasting success, however, is the story and the casting. The story is predictable to a point (a lot like Snow White & The Huntsman was) but thankfully, screenwriters Marc Klein and Jason Keller have provided enough variation and nuance on the old story to make it seem more refreshing than it probably is. There’s a sharp humor to the script, with modern language humor injected into the mouths of these age-old characters that while it might seem jarring at first, actually keeps the narrative moving along while maintaining your interest. Slick references to the idiosyncrasies within the Snow White legacy and the world of Fairy Stories altogether are strewn throughout this film, and it’s actually quite cool. Leading the way is Lily Collins as Snow White – eyebrows and all – and she does a great job transitioning from sweet-natured princess to sword-wielding heroine, although her physical stature perhaps doesn’t always instil confidence in the outcome of combat as it should. Julia Roberts, as the Queen, is truly delightful, wallowing in the freedom to truly go all off-kilter with the part and delivering one of the better Evil Queens in recent memory. Makes Charlize Theron’s violent psychopath look like hamm acting overall, really. Roberts is abetted in her handling of comedy-slash-evil by Nathan Lane, who’s portrayal of manservant Brighton is a pure delight of camp and crazy – he’s self aware enough not to overdo it, and the script plays to his strengths in delivering staged asides to the audience, and he works well with Roberts as a comedic duo in the film.
Armie Hammer, as the Handsome Prince (whose name is inconsequential to this review) is equally as worthwhile, delivering a comic performance I never thought he’d be capable of – Hammer is the humorous equal of anyone else in the cast, with his square-jawed charisma and piercing eyes contrasting wonderfully with a terrific farcical wit and dry, somewhat laconic delivery. The major comic bonus of this film, and the reason it’s as good as it is in my opinion, is the cast involved with portraying the seven dwarves. Led by Martin Klebba (who appeared in films such as Hancock and the second and third Pirates Of The Caribbean films) and Danny Woodburn, the dwarves are a pivotal necessity in the Snow White story, leading Snow to find it within herself to confront the evil in her world and defeat it. Their ensemble work, ranging from some terrifically loony stilt-running banditry to outright slapstick and verbal chuckles, is probably the most charming thing about the whole film – they generate much of the empathy from the viewer, and their personal stories are the best developed of the lot, although at times their combative natures overwhelm any sentimentality they may bring to the table.
If there are any negatives to be found in Mirror Mirror, they are minor in the extreme. Some slight narrative quibbles – Mare Winningham’s Baker Margaret, who aides Snow’s escape from the castle, is underdeveloped, and the concept of the Beast living in the Dark Woods seems tacked on at the very end – as well as a relative lack of character development (but really, who can complain when the film looks this good!) will annoy some, and it’s worth pointing out that some of the conceptual ideas that should have been prominent simply aren’t (the fact that the lake over which Snow’s castle stands is frozen solid is never put to any use annoyed me); like I said, very minor issues that will not ruin an otherwise high quality film unless you’re a real stickler for that kind of thing.
While I am sorry this review has become something of a comparative essay between the two Snow White films of 2012, I’m sure glad I watched Mirror Mirror. The films eclectic visual style, married with some terrific wit and scripting, abetted by a solid performance from the entire cast, make this film the easy winner of the two Snow White films of 2012. It’s less prone to overly angsty emotive content, nowhere near as dry and humorless than Huntsman’s more action-oriented slant, and delivers a genuine sense of fun that permeates the screen and brings the audience into the story. Red-blooded action lovers who only enjoy a film if it’s got explosions might find themselves switching off on this one, but for the rest of us, Mirror Mirror has plenty to enjoy – for the older kiddies (younger veiwers might be a little frightened by the appearance of a monster late in the movie) and the young at heart, this is definitely a film for all ages.