* Prices may differ from that shown
It sometimes feels like you've seen a completely different film to everyone else; despite a generally underwhelmed reaction to this movie, I had high hopes - and they were wholly justified. Everyone's familiar with the story of Snow White, but the director of this project may be less well-known. Tarsem Singh is, as every member of the cast unfailingly gushes in the extras, a visionary director with an eye for visual flair. Actually, that's an understatement; visuals are just about everything in his films. Anyone who's watched The Fall (and if you haven't, you might want to correct that) will have witnessed the jaw-dropping beauty he manages to create on-screen. That trend continues here, and you won't have seen a better-looking film this year.
Of course, beauty isn't everything - a moral that the antagonist of this story might have done well to heed, such is her infamous vanity. There's got to be more to a film than the visuals; Avatar proved that well enough. For the most part, there is more here - Mirror Mirror is well-cast, generally well-scripted and after a so-so start, picks up enough momentum to keep things moving during its two-hour duration. More than that, it's also done with a keen sense of humour that's suitably black - the best fairy tales should after all be fairly dark affairs.
Julia Roberts kicks things off as the acerbic Queen who keeps Snow White locked in her tower, having wormed her way into the King's affections some years back before disposing of Snow's father. This, she insists, is her story - and Roberts is well capable of carrying the burden of the narrative, making for a agreeably vindictive villain. Generally things run as in the story with which we are familiar, with Lily Collins' Snow White incurring the wrath of the Queen and being flung into the woods, where she makes the acquaintance of a band of little people.
There are a number of departures from the version we're most familiar with - which is probably the Disney story rather than the Grimm original - but they're largely for the better, steering the film away from cliche and schmaltz and in a darker, more inventive - and more entertaining - direction. The twist on the iconic "Mirror, mirror ..." scenes are wonderfully realised, and a distinct improvement on the familiar interpretation. In fact, throughout the film there are little touches and riffs on the old formula that make things so much more engaging and memorable. I loved the introduction of the dwarves, which felt like something Pythonesque with a hint of A Clockwork Orange. Tarsem seems to have tapped right into the vein of black, lopsided humour-with-a-moral that should run through every fairy tale, and he allows this magic to spill forth time and again.
The costume design is simply phenomenal - again, I'm praising the looks of the film over its contents, but the outfits the characters wear are so inventive and wildly outrageous, they need to be lauded. There's something of Tim Burton's style here, but the gothic slant has become something much more colourful, rich and decadent. It's quite brilliant.
To try to steer back towards substance rather than style, it's worth commenting on Lily Collins; an interesting choice for the central role. If it sounds insulting to say that she's not a classic beauty, it's not supposed to be - but it has to be a fairly onerous task to depict the fairest of them all. She's certainly striking, though, with her dark hair and thick Hispanic eyebrows, and suits the look of the film perfectly. As an actress, she's excellent, leading the line with panache and charisma, making for a strong-willed, thoroughly likeable Snow.
There's little to criticise about the film in my eyes - it starts a little slowly, and it feels like the dialogue gets crisper, snappier and more believable as the film goes on - but these are small flaws that are easy to forgive in light of how well the film ultimately comes together. Tarsem is rightly praised for his aesthetic achievements, but for me this film demonstrates that he's got plenty of substance to back up the considerable style.
Mirror Mirror is a modern take on the age old Brother Grimm story of Snow white and the seven dwarves, in this instance we have a fantasy setting, snow, beautiful princesses and unfortunately comedy dwarves. This film uses the Grimm's concept and the use of a still beautiful but now slightly older Julia Roberts as the evil stepmother to give snow white played by Lily Collins an incredibly hard time. Lily Collins is the daughter of Phil Collins and after watching this film comfortably the best thing to come out of Phil Collins in a very long time, she's petite, beautiful, and feisty but shame about the acting.
Mirror Mirror starts with the king's wife dying in child birth whilst delivering Snow white, he however remarries and once away from home his new wife expels Snow and takes the country for herself. The evil stepmother (Roberts) is obsessed with looks and image and is constantly asking her magic mirror if she is the fairest in the land, when the mirror one day says that the fairest is Snow White then the queen orders a loyal retainer to kill the child. He can't of course but Snow finds some friendly dwarves who take her in, the dwarves are however masquerading as raiders who pick off unsuspecting travellers and Snow soon becomes a part of their bandit group.
How do I begin with how bad this film is? Well it's described as an adventure, comedy drama but has precious little comedy, a bit of adventure and almost no drama. Roberts seems to sleep walk through the film and the term half-hearted springs to mind, this viewer really wanted Glenn Close to walk in and say shift it here comes the real queen resplendent with wickedness and attitude. Lily Collins is a terrible actress and appears to spend most of the film pouting at the camera, it might work on the catwalks of Milan but for 2 hours in a film then no it doesn't work. As for the dwarves, I think the term character assassination is closer to the mark, not only are they cast as the comedy element of the show though why when they just reinforce dwarf stereotypes is beyond me. So we have a miss-match of a film, neither one nor the other, not an adventure nor a romance, Prince Charming is camp and rather timid and the closest we get to humour is when he is drugged with a portion of puppy love and proceeds to want to sniff everything and everyone.
There are elements in the film which succeed, breath-taking special effects and one of the best fairy-tale castles I've seen for a long time but it neither deviates enough nor stays close enough to the original to make it really worth watching. This is a strange mix of a film, beautiful on the outside, all snow, beauty and amazing set designs but once watched there is a feeling of when does the real film start because that can't be it can it? The treatment of the dwarves is even more bizarre, when Snow first meets them they all have extreme life-styles and seem to delight in having strange personalities, one thinks he's Napoleon, another a wolf, another a cowboy and seem to delight in their eccentricities, the whole approach just seemed to highlight their differences to Snow.
This isn't the worst film I'll ever watch and I'm sure appeals to a young teenager probably female and starting to become interested in boys etc but for an older viewer it had very little to make me watch it.
The tale of Snow White has been told so many times that it would be rare to find a grown-up who isn't familiar with the story of a young, beautiful girl who faces the deadly jealousy of her new evil stepmother. In the most celebrated Disney version, the princess with the most irritating voice ever put on a character eats an apple, dies, but is awakened by a prince she has barely met once because her "true love" delivers the kiss of life. Tarsrem Singh's "Mirror Mirror," the first of two Snow White adaptations in 2012 (the other is "Snow White and the Huntsman" out in June 2012), puts a surprisingly fresh twist to this plot, although remaining faithful to the characters we expect. We get the princess (Lily Collins), the prince (Armie Hammer), the queen (Julia Roberts), the magic mirror (a creative aspect the film handles brilliantly), and last but not least, seven hilarious dwarves. And as an added bonus, a beautiful animated prologue sets the background story for those who may not be aware of the tale of Snow White - of how the queen, the princess' step-mother, managed to get to where she is now.
It must be said the terrible, tacky trailers released don't do this film enough justice. Roberts, who seemed to deliver an embarrassingly uneven performance in the two-minute clips, is absolutely spot-on. Seated in her colourful, gargantuan, incredibly over-the-top throne, the bitchy, sarcastic and cynical Roberts seems to be having fun verbally abusing everyone around her, using her well-written dry humour and dialogue to her advantage. She's not scary, and it's clear she's not supposed to be. Instead, she is devious, selfish and a child at heart. Immature, grumpy and materialistic, she, at times, mirrors (no pun intended) Helena Bonham Carter's Red Queen from "Alice in Wonderland" although here, Roberts is less interested in violence, and is dressed in spectacular wardrobe.
Another striking, outrageously overdone aspect here is the costumes. Usually, anything so big and dazzling tend to become a distraction rather than an asset (hence the phrase "less is more") but here, Singh shows us that sometimes, more really is more. Roberts, whenever she enters the screen, does so with a huge bang, thanks to her immensely colourful and gigantic dresses. They're all fantastic to look at, and Roberts is a gripping enough actress to competently pull them off. Roberts isn't the only one who gets to show off her clothes - Collins also gets her fair share of oddly beautiful dresses to wear. Some of them may be too eccentric (in one of the scenes she is dressed up as a swan, much like Bjork's infamous 2001 Academy Award dress mishap), but nonetheless the sheer scale and volume of the outfits are simply stunning.
There is a couple of ballroom scenes set in the gorgeous looking palace - and here director Singh, who first gained worldwide recognition for his visually daring "The Fall" and his much underrated psychological thriller "Cell," doesn't disappoint in delivering some breath-taking set pieces. Singh never holds back, and the shiny, glittery glamour Roberts' palace surrounds itself with is a marvellous achievement, and the gold-studded walls and pillars are simply to die for. We are told the queen is bankrupt and is struggling to keep up with her finances, forcing her poor citizens to pay high taxes, and the audience can easily see why that is the case.
Once the princess is banished to the deep, dark secretive woods as a result of the queen's jealousy, the dwarves and prince enter the narrative. And although each dwarf is given very thin material to work with, all seven of them embrace their own limited humour with pride, effectively adding a brighter, comical touch, in contrast to the queen's more sinister, deliciously dark comedy. Some may find them one-dimensional, and it wouldn't be realistic to expect all seven of them to turn into memorable characters, but the dwarves as a unit serve an important purpose for the story, in which they train Snow White in swordsmanship and general outdoors survival skills, so that she can hopefully take over the kingdom as the rightful heir. It's a little ridiculous to think how a young girl masters so many crafts in such a short period of time, but that's the kind of cinematic pacing one should be able to forgive.
Hammer, last seen on more serious films such as "The Social Network" and "J. Edgar," charmingly holds his own as the prince. The chemistry between him and Collins is delightfully fresh and unforced, and his occasional dim-witted lack of intelligence does allow several characters to outsmart him, leading to interesting consequences involving the removal of his shirt, and the evil queen's reaction to the prince's broad chest. Hammer is a likable, cheeky, often goofy, but when required, a brave, sword-wielding, useful prince. But as good as Hammer is, the less said about the disturbing and cringing "puppy love potion" scene, the better (Hammer acts like a puppy, licking, fetching etc. It's disgusting). The beautiful and lovely Collins effortlessly slips into the role of Snow White, firmly becoming the centre of the film without any fuss or awkward moments.
More humour arises from the priceless Nathan Lane, acting as the queen's loyal servant who is constantly mocked and picked on by Roberts for his incompetence and weak nature. He's the queen's designated punching bag, and as he becomes the helpless victim to the queen's dictatorial rule, he's an amusingly nervous wreck, afraid to speak up, providing lots of juicy comedy for the audience. Also having a noticeable supporting role is Mare Winningham, an always reliable yet highly underrated actress, giving much care and warmth to the princess she has remained loyal to.
Being targeted at families with young children, a lot of the action may be tame to grown-up eyes. More disappointing however, is the final "villain" the good guys face off against. The computer graphics used to design an odd furry, cartoon-like hybrid which was obviously supposed to have made an impact, are a huge letdown. Given how magnificent a lot of the CGI-driven, technologically masterful atmospheres looked beforehand, not a lot of time or effort seems to have been spent on the final showdown. It's alarmingly brief, and despite a welcome twist that wraps everything up quite nicely, Singh should have paid more attention to give the finale more of a bang.
Despite the familiarity of the plot, and despite the terrible marketing campaign that must have damaged people's perception of the film, Singh's visual mastery, Roberts' highly watchable performance, as well as the admirable effort from its well-assembled cast, "Mirror Mirror" is both a suitable and high-quality entertainment for all as a light-hearted fun fare.