Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Master Of Visuals Makes A Crappy Movie: Mirror Mirror

The Good: Sets, Costumes, Direction, One or two lines
The Bad: Story is unimaginative, Acting is unremarkable, Character development is virtually nonexistent.
The Basics: Mirror Mirror barely holds up as a child’s movie, offering nothing enjoyable for adults that we have not already seen many, many, many times before.

It is chic to reinterpret fairy tales on film these days. While many of the reinterpretations involve modernizing the story, like Beastly (reviewed here!) did not too long ago, the other way to try to make a fairy tale fresh is by simply providing modern dialogue or themes in the otherwise fantastical context. Mirror Mirror does the latter and it does it sparingly enough that it is hard to imagine Snow White as a helpless damsel in distress afterward. Yes, Mirror Mirror is a comic-fantasy reinterpretation of the Snow White fairy tale and despite what the advertising campaign has claimed, it is not the most anticipated movie of the year. For my consideration, it is not even the most anticipated Snow White movie of the year (that honor belonged to Snow White And The Huntsman, reviewed here)!

Unfortunately, the advertising campaign for Mirror Mirror is one of the most accurate ones in recent memory. Mirror Mirror is light fun, looks good and is utterly insubstantial. Sadly, it is not terribly funny, it is not a clever reinterpretation and it does not give the viewer anything new. Instead, once the visual marvel of the movie fades, so does any positive impression of the film. Mirror Mirror is very much a children’s movie and for the kids who can handle the comedic violence the movie has, the themes of the movie should already be pretty well ingrained. In other words, even for children, there is not a lot in Mirror Mirror to get excited about, save the movie’s appearance.

The story is pretty much the classic one: the Queen takes control of a kingdom, diminishing the heir apparent in the process. Unfortunately for the Queen, she has inherited a kingdom more magical than rich, so she seeks to consolidate her power by marrying the wealthy Prince Alcott. Unfortunately for her, Prince Alcott remembers Snow White from a chance meeting in the forest and is quite smitten with her beauty. With the kingdom near bankruptcy and the Queen determined to marry Alcott and retain control, she has Snow White put to death. Snow White is merely banished by her bumbling assistant, Brighton. As the Queen takes desperate measures to keep Alcott interested in her, she finds her control on the kingdom slipping. Using magic to make Alcott believe he is in love with her, she works to obtain his wealth. Meanwhile, Snow White has been rescued from a potential death in the hainted woods by a band of dwarves. The dwarves give her the confidence she needs to rise up and take the kingdom back. While the Queen tries to keep Alcott ensorcelled, Snow White moves to retake her rightful place.

The other night, my wife and I watched Star Trek: Insurrection (reviewed here!). We were both surprised by how much the movie got away with while still getting a PG rating. Mirror Mirror is PG and it is so safe and silly that it almost made me wonder what one has to do to make a movie G these days. The storyline is utterly inoffensive and appropriately predictable.

The real changes from the familiar story involve the characterization of Snow White and the inclusion of more farcical elements. Snow White in Mirror Mirror is more empowered than in other versions of the Snow White story. Unfortunately, that is not what is stressed nearly as much as her beauty. Everyone in Snow White fawns over the character’s beauty, not her brains. Ironically, this is the role of Lily Collins’ (Snow White) where she seems to be trading least on traditional notions of beauty or cuteness and yet is treated like she is the most attractive woman ever. She has looked better in some of her other films where her looks were not called attention to. Regardless of the ironic disparity, Mirror Mirror features a Snow White who is more cunning than other versions of the story, which is nice. The thing is, she starts the movie that way, she ends it that way; there is not really any development of the character throughout the film.

Similarly, the Queen seems more bored than actually evil. Sure, she does bad things, but there is the real sense that she feels some of the same pressure most everyone else in a capitalist society does. She feels more poor than she would like, so she works to change that . . . just through corrupt means. That change is not nearly as annoying as the dwarves. The collection of allies for Snow White is annoying. They provide the comic relief in an already silly movie and they fall down at that. They are more ridiculous than interesting and watching them becomes tiresome, despite how well actors like Danny Woodburn commit to their roles. When added to a movie that includes a dance number that instantly reminded me of Ella Enchanted (reviewed here!), Mirror Mirror seems hardly original or even enjoyable.

The comparison to Ella Enchanted is not a bad one. Mirror Mirror is like Ella Enchanted without the charm or sense of originality.

As for the performances, I was not impressed. Nathan Lane and Julia Roberts each bring a confidence and professional bearing to their roles of Brighton and the Queen, respectively, that they overshadow the rest of the cast. While Roberts and Lane seem to be performing well within their established range – nothing either of them did in Mirror Mirror made me say or think “Wow, I’ve never seen them do that before!” – they fill their niches well and are perfectly plausible in their roles.

By comparison, Lily Collins is surprisingly listless. Frequently stiff and not emoting what her lines dictate, Collins plays the empowered young woman without any zest or passion. She never bursts off the screen in a way that makes the viewer care what happens to her. In fact, at one point, I just shrugged and said, “Oh wow, a good looking young woman encounters a minor obstacle.” Collins might be playing the impassioned young woman on a rebellious mission to take back what is hers, but she fails to emote the unquenchable longing for what is hers by right. As a result, Snow White never becomes sympathetic, much less a character we empathize with.

Ultimately, director Tarsem Singh created a movie that looks good with Mirror Mirror, but does little else. It is refreshing to see a film that is visually engaging without being horrific – like Singh’s blockbuster The Cell - but while Singh creates a fantasy realm, it is not on par with other cinematic settings of late. This is not Middle Earth, nor Narnia, nor even the fantasy kingdom from Once Upon A Time. The castle is an interesting digital model, but what makes the movie more visually interesting than anything else are the costumes. Snow White and the Queen’s costumes are lavish and beautiful; the garb on the dwarves is appropriately worn and dirty. Mirror Mirror is, at its best, easy to watch.

That leaves the viewer with little go get excited about. The slapstick humor is ridiculous, the story is familiar and all the rest never rises above being mediocre. That makes it easy to pass on Mirror Mirror.

For other fantasy films, please check out my reviews of:
Red Riding Hood
The Lord Of The Rings
Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time


For other movie reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the reviews I have written!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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