Friday, 23 March 2012


Roadshow Films
Now Showing

The trailer for Tarsem Singh's Mirror Mirror, a knowing but not overtly post-modern take on the Snow White tale, had a horrible trailer. That is, upon seeing it I thought that the film would be a high camp travesty, and sitting through it was going to make my job a chore rather than a privilege.

But while Mirror Mirror is by no means perfect, nor is it the dog's breakfast I had expected it to be. Understandably, the film looks better than it's written (by Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller) or performed -- Singh is nothing if not a visual stylist -- but it's intermittently (and surprisingly) entertaining.

Just turned 18, Snow White (Lily Collins, her look presumably fashioned on a young Elizabeth Taylor) is itching to get out from under the thumb, and lock and key, of her evil stepmother, the Queen (a wildly inconsistent Julia Roberts). She's ruled the kingdom with an iron fist since the mysterious death of the King, Snow's dad, years earlier.

But as we know, the Queen is as vain as all hell, and with the arrival of a handsome young prince, Alcott (Armie Hammer, channelling the charm and goof of a young Brendan Frasier), she finally senses a rival for her beauty. No, not Hammer (although...) but Snow White, whom the prince becomes smitten with.

So it's off with her head! Sorry, wrong Queen. It's out with her gizzards, or so the Queen believes; her man servant, Brighton (Nathan Lane), abandoning Snow White in the woods and returning to the castle via the local butcher.

That's how the young princess comes to meet the seven dwarves (is that a politically incorrect term nowadays?), a motley crew of highwaymen, with names like Butcher, Wolf and Napoleon, who conduct their robberies on stilts and steal most of the film's best lines.

The princess melts their hearts and they in turn take her in, giving her lessons in swordplay while she teaches them that it's okay to steal from the rich (i.e. the Queen) if you give to the poor (it's a kid's film after all). The poor would be the villagers, whom the Queen has taxed to the point of destitution in her bid to maintain the lifestyle to which she's become accustomed.

All of this plays out relatively closely to the age old tale of Snow White, with the requisite happy ending. But it's not so much the story that concerns Tarsem Singh; he prefers to show rather than tell, and he succeeds with the look of the film.

Mirror Mirror is a wet dream for students of production and costume design. Even if it wasn't relatively entertaining, the look of Mirror Mirror would have delighted and enthralled those with a penchant for aesthetics.

Kudos then to production designer, Tom Foden, and late costume designer, Eiko Ishioka; the film is dedicated to the memory of the costumier, who worked on all of Singh's films, and who sadly died in January this year. Those two, and Singh, of course, give us something to bedazzle our eyes, even if the film doesn't.

Not that it's the chore I had anticipated; 106-minutes skips by. And as cinematic revisionism of fairy tales go, Mirror Mirror is far from a disaster. It may not be in the same league as The Princess Bride (1987), or even Enchanted (2007), where Disney dared to mock its own animated fairy tale roots, but nor is it as lifeless as last year's dog, Red Riding Hood.

That has to count as a relatively happy ending, right?


  1. Great stuff. Fair as always. I was impressed by the production, sets and costumes, but I felt like it served little-to-no purpose in the story. I liked the sequences with the Dwarves, but the acting (and Roberts especially) and how proud it was of being a modernist subversion of the tale, really irked me. Good call on the Brendan Fraser likeness. Hammer really sucked in this though haha.

  2. I'm not one for style over substance or beauty for beauty's sake but as it's a fairy tale, I can accept that the design of the film - the colour and costumes - should be larger and louder than life. Of course, Singh could have paid a lot more attention to the performances; Roberts really needed a much stronger hand. Still, not as bad as Wrath of the the Titans . . .