Friday, March 30, 2012

Review: "Mirror Mirror"

The first of two big studio take on the classic Snow White tale, Mirror Mirror was always quite upfront about its status as the lighter film. Clearly made with younger audiences in mind, visual genius Tarsem Singh's film is a mixed bag overall, despite some truly wondrous costume and set design. That doesn't stop it from being enjoyable in bits and pieces, but outside of the production values, there's not enough here to justify the journey, at least not at full theater prices.

Yet even though the film is truly Snow White's (Lily Collins and her magnificent eyebrows) story, the film pays just as much attention to its evil queen, played by Julia Roberts. The particulars of the story aren't really worth bothering with, but we'll get to that later. What's worth discussing is how, like John Carter, some decent acting and strong production values are sunk by a wildly flawed script. Singh's films have never been loved for their writing, but the difference between his art house fantasies The Cell and The Fall and something like Mirror Mirror is instantly noticeable. This film feels a little stiff, and watered down by big studio meddling. Had this project landed in different hands (at least at the studio level), we could have had a film that was both a sincere fairy and a razor sharp satire of the genre. Roberts has a few lines that come close to capturing this, but they come few and far between. She and Armie Hammer are obviously having fun in their roles (and Roberts' signature laugh is put to grand effect in one scene), but as is often the case with projects like this, they're left with material that's far beneath their efforts.
Less compelling is Collins, though some of this may be due to the script's weak attempts to make her more than a damsel in distress. Yes, she wields a sword and manages to outdo a man in a duel, but the girl-power elements of the character often come off as forced and feel hollow as a result. The story as a whole also runs into problems, particularly in the conclusion, where it throws out a lame monster, an all-too-neat resolution, and a lazy and rushed attempt to integrate the iconic poisoned apple. Throw in an insect on insect rape joke, and you begin to get a better picture of the script and its transition to the screen.

Worth more attention are the production values which, unlike Tarsem's last film, Greek mythology cluster fuck Immortals, actually make an impression. The castle interiors, where much of the film takes place, are a wonder to behold, a mix between a fairy tale castle and an opulent Russian palace. Even more impressive are the late Eiko Ishioka's marvelous costumes, which often have such a wide array of colors and styles that they sometimes distract from the film's weaknesses. Ishioka was a true visionary when it came to her craft, and while watching Mirror Mirror, I couldn't help but be sad during parts of the film because I knew it was the last time we'd see any original designs from her. Worse, thinking about Ishioka's passing got a stronger emotional reaction out of me than anything Mirror Mirror actually had to offer.

Grade: C+

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