Mirror Mirror is the first of two big-screen adaptations of the Snow White fairy tale to grace movie screens this year -- and with Snow White a central character to the TV show Once Upon a Time's mythology, it's undeniable that Snow White's star is on the rise. Mirror Mirror is a glossy, colorful confection of a film where the visuals are the undeniable star, leaving the story a bit...hmm...lacking. I have to think this is due in large part to director Tarsem Singh's background as a director of music videos and commercials, and his previous films like The Immortals. Visuals are of course a critical part of any film, but as a personal preference I generally like to see them complemented by a decent script, and that is where Mirror Mirror falls short. That said, this movie has a good heart, and the child in me that's loved fairy tales since -- well, ever since I can remember, loved Mirror Mirror's lush, romantic, over-the-top style.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of this film's promotion was the introduction of Julia Roberts, America's one-time silver screen "sweetheart," as the "Evil Queen" of legend. Her on-screen reputation coupled with her larger-than-life costumes make Roberts the most self-absorbed, and frankly silly Queen that I think I've ever seen on film. She's selfish and petulant and whiny, and while to some extent it's a fun change to see Roberts play this very anti-heroine type of character, the script doesn't give her Queen any real sort of menace. She has magic, or rather utilizes it, but there's never any whys or hows, or real rhyme or reason -- instead it is just accepted as a matter of course. Without much in the way of context, this queen is just petty and mean, you know? But she has some pretty amazing clothes. And I'm not gonna try and deny it, the red peacock dress kinda rocked my world (red being my favorite color and all). :) Also, I did think it was interesting how this film handled the whole "magic mirror" thing -- so the mirror was in fact an extension of the Queen's psyche? Thoughts?
Lily Collins as Snow White is perhaps one of this movie's strongest assests character-wise. The Mirror Mirror princess is never meant, I think, to be a completely post-modern radical, so as a princess cut from a more traditional fairy tale mold Collins fits the bill nicely. She has the youth and delicate beauty that makes her an ideal film princess, very much cut from the cloth of the traditional legend. However, this Snow is no complete wilting wallflower -- she grows up a lot in this film as expected by modern standards. But she's not as perhaps quite revisionist as as other modern princesses of her ilk (think Rapunzel in Tangled or Snow White in Once Upon a Time) -- more of a stepping-stone, a midway point between traditional fairy tales and more recent, radical retellings. This Snow is kind and sweet, socially conscious and spunky, and very, very game, especially considering some of the costumes she has to wear in this film (particularly the swan ballgown with its ridiculous headpiece, ha!).
I was rather concerned with Armie Hammer's casting as the heroic Prince Alcott. The more I saw of Hammer in the promotional materials, the more he just didn't appeal to me as a princely type -- and that is a big drawback when it comes to the romantic escapist factor of fairy tales. But you know, Hammer really grew on me as the film progressed. Anyone who can sell adoration towards the princess in question while giant rabbit ears sprout out of his top hat deserves some credit, hmm? *wink* Hammer carries much of the film's silliness on his shoulders and to his credit he seems game. Also, I liked the fact that he could be patently ridiculous but still well-meaning and likable, if that makes sense. The "puppy love" sequence which got a lot of play in the movie trailers unfortunately becomes one of the movie's longest-running gags. But I liked the "twist" that sees Snow awakening her Prince with a kiss, instead of vice-versa, and I'm enough of a romantic sap that the Prince's declaration following the kiss made me met a little inside. :) Oh! -- I cannot forget to give the movie props for accentuating Hammer's 6'5" height with the Best. Coat. EVER. I don't think I've ever seen a coat swish to more dramatic effect.
The script tries really hard to be slyly modern and self-aware, and most of the time it felt a bit awkward. I really think that overall the film would've worked better if they'd played thing straighter with the source material and not concerned themselves with jokes about the ridiculousness of Snow's name, or the penchant for townspeople in fairy tales to dance and sing, etc. :P The script doesn't really do anything new for the dwarves as supporting characters except make them bandits instead of miners, which does, admittedly shake up the legend -- but unfortunately doesn't result in any more well-drawn supporting players. Though I have to admit, I did find the dwarf Half-Pint's (Mark Povinelli) crush on Snow kind of sweet. :)
The end of this movie was interesting. In a surprise twist the fearsome beast the Queen had been using to hold her people hostage through fear turns out to be Snow's father. I don't know what the heck he was supposed to be, exactly -- part snake, dragon, dog, wolf?? Go figure. Anyways, I can only think that the film has Bean show up at the end in an attempt to lend the resolution of the storyline some sort of gravitas -- but for me, anyway, the Sean Bean ship sailed a long time ago. We're a long, long way from Boromir and Sharpe, I'm just sayin'. That said, I appreciate any fairy tale where the parents don't all end up dead, you know? Though it would've been nice to again have some sort of explanation for how the Queen's magic worked, or why she turned the King into a beast instead of just killing him outright.
I realize many are probably going to think I'm being way too hard on this movie, or that I didn't enjoy it all -- that's not the case. I just love fairy tales, and I love inventive, well-done retellings, and on the latter score Mirror Mirror falls a bit flat. It's well-intentioned and good-natured, but it suffers from a lack of focus in the script department. The visuals and costumes are a veritable feast for the eyes, but they don't completely atone for the storyline's deficiencies. And personally I think we really, really could've done without the Bollywood-style musical extravaganza over the credits as well (it should be noted that music-wise I really did like Alan Menken's vibrant score). That came completely out of left field. There's a lot to like here, and the world of the movie is undeniably, gorgeously-rendered on-screen -- this is eye candy I can't help but love, even when it is crazily over-the-top. :) But tone-wise Mirror Mirror can't seem to decide if its a straight fairy tale, a post-modern update, or some sort of mash-up of the two. (The Ella Enchanted film does a better job, I think, of balacing slapstick and camp humor within the trappings of an updated fairy tale.) Mirror Mirror is a colorful, candy-coated slice of cinema that will hopefully serve as an introduction to the glorious, imaginative world of fairy tales and the remakes in both books and films that prove how these classic stories have such staying power.