Directed by Tarsem Singh
Screenplay by Melissa Wallack, Jason Keller
Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane, Sean Bean
How long is Mirror Mirror? 106 minutes.
What is Mirror Mirror rated? PG for some fantasy action and mild rude humor.
Beautiful scenery and stunning costumes
can’t save this rather bland re-telling of a classic tale.
The word “visionary” has become almost synonymous with director Tarsem Singh whose first two films, The Cell and The Fall, contained imagery so vibrant and breathtaking that his place as a major filmmaker was solidified very early in his career. Last year, Singh took on Immortals, his first major Hollywood blockbuster, with mixed results. The film suffered from confusing storytelling, but, once again, the film’s visual appeal was undeniable, especially with the added impact of a post-production 3D conversion.
With Mirror Mirror, Singh makes a drastic departure from the dark, brooding territory covered in his previous films and instead sets his talents to work on a family-friendly, PG-rated adaptation of the classic Snow White fairytale. While it is admirable (and refreshing) to see an auteur like Singh challenge himself by choosing material markedly different from what he is used to, in the end Mirror Mirror fails to cohere into a satisfying experience, despite wonderful acting performances and Singh’s signature visual richness.
In this re-telling of the Brothers Grimm classic tale, Snow White (Lily Collins) is essentially held as a prisoner by her evil stepmother, the Queen (Julia Roberts) after her father, the King, mysteriously disappeared when she was a child. The Queen is unjustly cruel not only to Snow White, but to her servants and her kingdom, bankrupting them through ever more taxes to fund her lavish galas and ostentatious lifestyle. Finding herself completing broke, the Queen must find a man to marry whose riches will more than satisfy her greed.
Enter Prince Charming. Actually, it’s Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer), a man half the Queen’s age who is in no way romantically interested in her. He is, however, immediately attracted to Snow White who returns the flirtatious behavior. Upon witnessing Snow trying to usurp her suitor, the Queen orders her loyal servant Brighton (Nathan Lane) to lead Snow into the woods and murder her, thereby keeping Alcott all to herself. What the Queen doesn’t count on is Brighton chickening out and setting her free. As a result, Snow falls into the company of seven dwarf bandits who have been ostracized by the villagers and spend their time robbing the rich folks who travel through the woods.
Snow’s new friends may be criminals, but they are kind men. With the help of Half-Pint (Mark Povinelli), Grub (Joe Gnoffo), Grimm (Danny Woodburn), Wolf (Sebastian Saraceno), Butcher (Martin Klebba) and Chuckles (Ronald Lee Clark), Snow White develops her confidence as a young woman and, when she hears of the Queen’s marriage to Alcott (thanks to a little help from a magic potion), she decides to crash the wedding and save the kingdom.
As far as family-friendly fare goes, Mirror Mirror falls into the category of entertaining, but forgettable. There is enough juvenile material for children to enjoy and a smattering of jokes just for the adults, but overall the film never coalesces into anything more substantive. The film’s main problem is the script, written by Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller. The film oscillates between fantasy, cartoonish action and preteen angst, never deciding which one should encompass the film’s overall tone. The dwarves behave clownishly, obviously for the sake of the youngest audience members, but Snow White and Alcott’s longing to be together is targeted directly at the Twilight fans. Meanwhile, the Queen is in a completely different movie, one that involves magic, haunting doppelgangers and alternate dimensions.
Irrespective of those detractions, Mirror Mirror is a Tarsem Singh film and therefore a magnificent visual adventure. In his previous three films, Singh relied heavily on CGI to generate the breathtaking imagery he wanted to present. The Cell and Immortals, especially, involved a great deal of computer-aided visual effects to create the world of the film. With Mirror Mirror Singh has opted for practical effects, shooting the film on a giant soundstage in Montreal large enough to erect the obscenely enormous sets. The great gothic rooms of the castle reflect the Queen’s need for overly ornate decoration and production designer Tom Foden clearly had a ball translating that desire into reality.
In stark contrast to the brightly-lit castle and flamboyance of the Queen, the woods in which the seven dwarves live are almost monochromatic, which, as the film progresses, further separates Snow White from the life she once led. While the unabashedly fake forest set teeters on the edge of becoming a Tim Burton-esque mockery, the film’s set designers give it just enough flare to keep it brimming with life.
Singh demonstrates his almost endless talent in the film’s opening prologue, narrated by the Queen, in which we are introduced to the story and the characters. In a brilliantly animated sequence, we watch the story of young Snow White, the King and the evil Queen in the style of a pop-up book that has been turned up to 11. The rest of the film is captivating to be sure, but these early moments are the work of a true artist.
Roberts is absolutely terrific as the Queen, both hilarious and intimidating. This is Julia Roberts’ movie and the other actors are just there to support her. Collins does a fine job of playing Snow White as both a submissive child and then a brave young woman, but her performance is uneven at best. Hammer, who was wonderful in both The Social Network and J. Edgar, has some genuinely funny moments, but his character suffers the same fate as the film’s script. It is never clear if Prince Alcott is supposed to be the straight man or the comic relief, leading Hammer to alternate between slapstick and serious posturing. As the Queen’s pitiable servant and footstool, Lane does what he does in every role, but since his performances are always so entertaining, his lack of range is forgivable.
Mirror Mirror is not exactly a children’s movie and is definitely not just for adults. Once again, Tarsem Singh has crafted a visually rich film overflowing with imagination and creativity, but the poor screenplay and confused tone contribute to the film’s ultimate demise.
Matthew Newlin lives in St. Louis, Missouri and has been a film critic for over six years. He has written for numerous online media outlets, including “Playback:STL” and “The Weissman Report.” He holds a Master’s of Education in Higher Education from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is an Assistant Director of Financial Aid. A lifelong student of cinema, his passion for film was inherited from his father who never said “No, you can’t watch that.”