This is the year that easily could be called the “Year of the Fairy Tale Movie” since there are several different movies being released taking their inspiration from stories told to children to tuck them in at night. From animated family movies like Jack the Giant Killer, Dorothy of Oz, and Brave, to live-action films like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (now pushed back to 2013) everyone’s looking to cash in on the current trend in Hollywood: sticking with what’s already familiar.
This is glaringly clear with it comes to both Snow White adaptations being released this year: first Mirror Mirror (released today) then Snow White and the Huntsman (June 1, 2012). Both Snow White films have their own spin on the old tale, and include box office draw talent alongside up-and-coming stars. The real question is though, which will be remembered by the end of the year?
Mirror Mirror has the earlier release and the Movie Issues boys Leland and Spooky are here to drop another Dual Review, bringing two opinions for the price of a single admission.
I went into this film feeling pretty good about it. I enjoy a good fairy tale movie; I like the cast and do really enjoy the artistry director Tarsem Singh brings to the screen. His films are bold, creative and very stylish. I was a huge fan of The Cell and The Fall. The Immortals was…adequate, but only just. I saw what he was trying to accomplish with it, but it just didn’t work for me.
But if Mirror Mirror were his first directed movie, I would ask him to leave Hollywood and never return.
Mirror Mirror is a mess with absolutely no direction whatsoever. The movie doesn’t know if it’s a slapstick comedy, a satire, a family film or a love story. To be honest it has moments of all of these genres, but unfortunately they are not used properly.
You feel no connection between Snow White and Prince Alcott. They’re “madly” in love with each other after one small conversation at a dance, and then suddenly each is ready to die for one another with no provocation. All the characters seem to fumble along until they need each other, but even then you just don’t care. It’s all high camp but low energy.
This isn’t a question of acting talent, as everyone involved does a good job. Julia Roberts and Armie Hammer are the best thing in the movie. Nathan Lane is good at being, well “Nathan Lane”, and the dwarves are all amazing. Lilly Collins is the movie’s weak link, but this stems from a lack of directorial craft, not bad acting on her part.
The movie has many out-of-place flourishes – archaic English mixed with modern speech, a baffling Bollywood musical number (complete with spontaneous Indian accents and choreography) during the end credit seemingly thrown into the script on a whim from Tarsum. Rather than being endearing, these stylistic quirks feel forced and dissonant with the movie in general.
The costumes are good (although pointlessly lavish), but they clash with mood and style outside the castle scenes. And once you get outside the castle, it’s the same set every time. And it’s clearly a set, not in that “Oh wow, I know that’s a set but it looks damn good,” way, but in the “Oh wow… that’s a 60 by 60 set” way. And they spend several key scenes in this forest. It felt like they spent all their money on Julia Roberts’s bedroom and forgot that there are other sets that need to look good too.
Overall I see Singh’s intent – a family-friendly movie – and by that standard he may have succeeded. There were kids in the audience that were laughing, enjoying the slapstick moments; the 7-to-11 audience will enjoy it for that.
But the dialogue comedy went over their heads. It’s really pains me to say I didn’t like this, despite the talented cast and director, but Mirror, Mirror is a disjointed, rushed, sloppy mess.
Fairy tales are all the rage this year, with Grimm and Once Upon a Time on prime-time television and a mess of kids and family films waiting for release. So it would seem that now’s the time to pick up a public domain story and crank out a movie for some easy money. Director Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror feels exactly like that: a rushed film, given enough funding to bring in Julia Roberts and Nathan Lane alongside rising stars Armie Hammer and Lilly Collins. Unfortunately, a talented cast can’t save this family film from meandering blindly between different comedy genres, committed only to an inconsistent tone.
Hands-down the largest problem with Mirror Mirror is it doesn’t know what it’s trying to be. The only thing it can be called is a “Family Film,” but neither parents nor children will likely have the patience to sit through all 103 minutes with other options on hand. The burden should largely be laid on director Tarsem Singh; despite previous successes with his visually-impressive The Cell and The Fall, he should have realized an all-ages film was probably a bad choice for his fourth big-screen release.
While the visual highlights of the film command attention, such as the prologue (highly reminiscent of Hellboy II’s opening) and creative scenes with the titular “mirror,” little in the film feels cohesive, structured, or compelling.
Despite these problems, the actors do their best. Julia Roberts’ years of experience shine in a solid and entertaining performance as The Queen; she doesn’t need direction to be entertaining. Nathan Lane’s performance as Brighton, the queen’s servant and henchman, is predictable; he doesn’t stretch his acting muscles, but he fits the role like an old glove. Armie Hammer (star of the much-talked-about Lone Ranger film), is perfectly charming as Prince Alcott with a strong comedic performance. Each of the supporting cast does well to add flavor to the main characters, especially in the case of the Seven Dwarves, whose enjoyable performances deserved a better movie.
Unfortunately the weakest acting link is Lilly Collins’ wooden performance as Snow White. Though definitely believable as the most beautiful girl in the kingdom, Collins can’t build chemistry with the rest of the cast, constantly outshone by her counterparts.
While Mirror Mirror certainly isn’t terrible – the crowded theater seemed full of people laughing, if not consistently when the movie asked for it – it felt undeniably rushed. This might be because it aimed to beat bigger production Snow White and the Huntsman to the punch, but it costs the movie narrative coherence and riddles it with plotholes. Fashion doesn’t stay consistent from scene to scene, bizarre technology appears only to disappear without a trace, and the expected presence of magic doesn’t appear until oddly late in the movie. While the adaptation reserves roles – featuring a stronger Snow White able to take care of herself without the aid of princes or dwarves – she still fumbles in fight scenes and seems less capable than her male counterparts.
With so many other children’s movies coming out this year, viewers are probably better off waiting for Pixar’s Brave. Let this one pass and catch up with it when it hits the Red Box.