Film Review – Mirror Mirror
A confession: I’ve sat at my computer for some time now trying to think of how to start my review of Tarsem Singh’s latest film, Mirror Mirror (2012), and…I’ve got nothing. That’s a bit revealing about what kind of impression this new twist on the classic Snow White fairytale has left on me. I admit, I am not the audience that this movie targets, but at the same time, I’m not exactly sure who this film was made for to begin with. There are moments where you’d think that it’s obviously intended for children, but during other stretches there is a kind of cynicism and self-awareness that seems meant for an older audience. Sometimes, if the film is made well enough, both demographics will find some kind of enjoyment in it; unfortunately, that isn’t the case here. This is a corny, drab, and lifeless take on a familiar tale, that leaves very little for anyone to take away.
Tarsem Singh is a director known for his visual style. For movies like The Cell (2000), The Fall (2006), and last year’s Immortals (2011), the very least you can say is that they had a unique look and art design to them. You would think that his style would work well in a fairytale setting, but instead what we find is a film that feels heavy, lacking any kind of life or energy. Sure, the lavish designs of the sets were appealing, but everything felt dark and depressing. There was no brightness to it; colors felt faded, as if they had been rusted through years of wear and tear. Costumes felt overly designed to the point of ridiculousness, with dresses that explode from the hip like an umbrella and coats so long that it was surprising that no one tripped over themselves when they walked. At one point, I simply disregarded the plot and focused on the visual aesthetics. Everything felt like a combination between a European period piece and an over-the-top Tim Burton film, and I mean that in a bad way. This immediately took me out of the believability of this world; it’s hard to accept what’s happening on screen when you have characters walking around in the snow in nothing but royal shirts and lavish gowns.
Enough about the art design. The story of the film is one that we are familiar with. This time, though, we are shown the perspective of the evil Queen, played by Julia Roberts. After her husband the King (Sean Bean) leaves the kingdom and is presumed dead, the Queen takes the reigns and rules with a vain and selfish abandon. Roberts, at one point of her career, was the biggest star in the world, and in this role she does what she can to put a bit of a spark to an otherwise flat character. It does seem that she has some fun in the performance (especially having the unique ability to gain and lose that fake accent), but that is not enough to give us a compelling and memorable villain. The Queen is simply not evil enough for us to hate, nor is she sympathetic enough for us to root for. It feels as though she is just a necessary antagonist to provide obstacles for the protagonists to overcome. If anything, she is an annoyance to everyone else. She taxes the people of the kingdom to host grand balls, she spends most of her time going through “unique” procedures to maintain her youthful appearance, and when she learns that she is at risk of financial ruin, she goes to great lengths to marry into a rich and prosperous family to secure her standing. That is pretty much all we learn about her, and nothing more.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the young and beautiful Snow White, played by Lily Collins. The good-hearted stepdaughter to the Queen, Snow White longs to see the world outside of the castle walls, her adventurous spirit and kind nature inherited from her father, the King. I hate to criticize someone who is relatively new and has not had much experience, but I found Collins’s performance to be forgettable—not necessarily because she was bad, but she did seem to lack any kind of screen presence. For arguably the second most important part of the movie, Collins routinely feels as though she slips into the background—she lacked any kind of chemistry with those who shared her scenes, and with us as the audience watching her. Even when she was talking, my focus tended to drift to the other characters. Compare her to the seven dwarves, who in this story play lovable thieves with disguises straight out of Cirque de Soleil. While they play the supporting characters to her, they were far more memorable in their characterizations and one-liners. Or there’s Snow White’s chemistry with the handsome Prince Alcott. Armie Hammer was one of the few highlights of the film, fitting the part of the “fairytale prince” to a T, and acting without any kind of self-consciousness. Snow White and Prince Alcott had zero connection together; not at one point did I think that their romance was believable. It’s unfortunate that most of Hammer’s screen time involves him falling under a spell that made him act like a hyperactive puppy (and I mean that literally).
The corny jokes ranged from mildly humorous to flat-out not funny, the look was dull, and the special effects were rendered as horribly unrealistic. There are few redeeming qualities that make Mirror Mirror worth watching again, or even for a first time. While I won’t go so far to say that this movie was a complete failure, I do think it was a missed opportunity to make something really good, especially given the familiar story and the star power in the lead role. Is it really difficult to make a good movie out of this kind of material nowadays? Take a look at how earnest and fun a film like Enchanted (2007) was, and see how that was able to take something we’ve seen before and make it new and fresh and alive, and compare how this movie was not able to capture that same kind of magic. I realize that I may not be the kind of person that this movie was made for, but I do think that those people deserve better than what this one has to offer.
Final Grade: C-