In wake of the enormous success of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, not to mention Tangled, it was inevitable that studios would scramble to find other classic fairy tales to bastardize for their monetary pleasure. How else were they going to make a killing without taking creative risks? Since Beauty and the Beast has already been done to death, Mulan would translate into something too martial artsy, The Little Mermaid into something too expensive, and Sleeping Beauty, well, into something too sleep-inducing, creativity-exhausted studio heads had no option but to go back to Snow White.
This being Hollywood, we get not just one but two renditions of the classic tale this year! Aren’t we the lucky bunch? While the second adaptation, titled Snow White and the Huntsman looks like a mash-up between The Lord of the Rings and a bunch of those historical epics from the early half of the last decade, director Tarsem’s Mirror Mirror, which opened around the country last weekend, takes the family-friendly route, by way of The Princess Bride and the criminally under-seen Stardust i.e. sugary with a dash of cynicism, mischief and feistiness. Though the results are barely successful, it’s a pleasing enough time with just the right amount of visual razzle-dazzle and quirks to warrant a watch. Do not mistake this comment as an endorsement because despite Tarsem’s tenacity for eye-popping visuals and keeping the energy of the film flowing, his flair still falls captive to the pedestrian script by Jason Keller and Melissa Wallack – which sounds as if it were written by a group of high school kids – what with its absurd pinky-swear jokes, PG-rated bathroom humor and pre-teen pandering plot elements.
Like most of Tarsem’s previous works (The Cell, Immortals, The Fall), Mirror Mirror is an undoubtedly sumptuous-looking film. You get the gist of it from the film’s very first scene– a nifty little prologue that uses CG animated dolls to tell the story of how the King, after losing his wife in childbirth, remarries an evil woman, played by a campy Julia Roberts, who uses her sorcery skills to concoct the mysterious disappearance of the king, and eventually take control of the kingdom. When we first meet the Queen (here named Queen Clementianna), she’s hosting a lavish party wherein the guests stand about as pawns in a larger-than-life sized game of chess. While the Queen drains the kingdom off its wealth on her extravagant masquerade balls and lavish games, the kingdom’s true heir to the throne, Snow White (Lily Collins, sporting some really bushy eyebrows), spends her days locked up in her beautiful room in the gigantic castle, wishing for the day when she can go free.
When young Snow sneaks outside the confines of her castle on her 18th birthday, she becomes fully aware of the misery of the kingdom’s citizens. Distraught, she lashes against the Queen who in return orders her execution. But because the Queen’s steed (Nathan Lane) doesn’t have the heart to cut short this bushy-eye browed princess’ life, he lets her off into the woods where she later comes in contact with the seven dwarfs – re-written in this incarnation of the fairy tale as a Robin Hood-esque band of merry thieves. With the help of these diminutive guys, who teach her the trade of being an independent and skilled fighter, Snow is soon crossing swords with the dashing Prince Alcott (a charming Armie Hammer), a handsome lad who the Queen intends to marry in order to pay off her rising depts. But Alcott, who had encountered Snow on two previous occasions, is instead smitten with the young princess, and eventually vows to join her in her fight against the tyrannical queen.
Roberts, being the film’s sole star, unsurprisingly gets most of the focus – and thus most of the screentime. It may not be one of her best works but she plays up the camp and comedy to deliver a largely comical and delightful performance. The best thing I can say about her work here is that she looks like she’s enjoying herself – something I couldn’t really say for her work in last year’s Larry Crowne. Hammer, so great in The Social Network doesn’t get to deliver on the promise he showed in David Fincher’s Oscar-winning film, but he does enough with his thinly-written role – which is to stand around shirtless, looking handsome and later on, whining and panting like a dog – literally. Collins, daughter of singer Phil Collins, doesn’t make much of an impression at first (other than those distracting bushy eyebrows) but she grew on me with her earnestness, unlike those bushy eyebrows! Couldn’t they have had a make-over scene in which the dwarfs pluck off those caterpillars?
Along with Roberts’ hammy performance, Hammer’s chest and Collins eyebrows, the most memorable element in Mirror Mirror are the colorful and extravagant costumes designed by the late Oscar-winning costume designer Eiko Ishioka, which may as well end up netting her a posthumous Oscar nod next year. It’d be a deserving nod and likely the only take away from this enjoyable yet utterly forgettable trifle.
Directed by: Tarsem
Written by: Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller
Starring: Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer, Lily Collins, Nathan Lane
Rated: PG (for some fantasy action and mild rude humor)