Tarsem takes on Snow White
Imprisoned by her wicked step mother, Snow White (Lily Collins) lives a life of isolation until her 18th birthday when the queen’s jealousy forces her to run for her life and into the company of some diminutive new friends.
The tale of Snow White has been told in every possible medium in the two centuries since the Brothers Grimm first recorded the German folk tale and movie going audiences will get to see yet another version when Snow White and the Huntsman arrives in June. But before that, visually splendiferous director Tarsem Singh wants to give you his version of the tale.
The basic shape of the story remains familiar but Mirror Mirror is also unashamedly revisionist – giving Snow White a much more active role in her destiny and crafting a romantic entanglement between the Prince (a well cast Armie Hammer) and the evil Queen (Julia Roberts). It’s also frequently self-aware, most obviously in the character of the Queen – who spends much time on her beauty regime and serves up snarky comments via voice over.
These elements are enough to keep Mirror Mirror feeling relatively fresh and they’re ably supported by the visual stylings of director Tarsem Singh (here credited as Tarsem Singh Dhandwar). He’s helmed a mere three films so far – The Cell, The Fall and last year’s Immortals(read our review)– but anyone who’s seen them can’t doubt his artistic credentials. Like Immortals before it, Mirror Mirror is less obsessed with the details of production design and editing than The Cell or the mind-blowing The Fall but even Tarsem running in neutral is a joy to behold. The sets are expansive and elaborately appointed, while the costumes mostly side-step the ridiculous (animal heads notwithstanding) into the sublime.
A new version of the story, some age and demographic-spanning humour and stunning design all combine to make the experience of watching Mirror Mirror generally entertaining. But the movements of the narrative and the rather slow paced nature of the plot also make things feel more incidental than they should. Snow White is fighting for her very life, the Prince is battling for his freedom and the people of this tiny kingdom are destitute and broken by the rule of the Queen. And yet everyone just ambles about their business for the most part – being jolly and spending no time on worrying about their dire situation.This carefree attitude sits uncomfortably with the occasional peaks of darker material – the Queen has no qualms about putting Snow to death, the plight of the dwarfs verges on tragic and even some of the action moments will likely terrify children.
The performances are mostly played for laughs but at least the casting is mostly up to snuff. Roberts’ accent grates but she’s generally watchable while young Collins (who you may remember from Priest or Abduction, or as the daughter of Phil Collins) certainly looks the part and does a decent job with everything that’s thrown at her. The undoubted star of the show though is Armie Hammer who takes what could have been 100 minutes of cinematic embarrassment and mostly salvages his career. He looks every inch the all American hero and graciously embraces every opportunity to ridicule himself – including spending a good proportion of the film shirtless and surrendering the demands of puppy love. Oh and Nathan Lane pops up too – pressing repeat play on his performances from the last 15 years.Mirror Mirror is a fitfully interesting take on the fairy tale with impressive production credentials, some sharp lines and a couple of decent performances strung around Hammer’s near tectonic charm. But it’s also, sadly, rather forgettable and likely to fade into obscurity as Kristen Stewart dons the chain mail for Snow White and the Huntman this summer.