Mirror Mirror is not quite clear enough in its re-telling of the Snow White legend.
Sometimes a film just doesn’t work despite the best efforts of all concerned and Mirror Mirror, released this week on dvd, is such a movie. It is one of two versions of the Snow White fairy tale this year, the other being the darker but equally problematical Snow White and the Huntsman. In fact if you were to take the best elements of both a good film might result. What both also prove is that trying a new take on an established myth is not always as easy as it sounds.
"I can feel it, sitting in my hair tonight.."
Mirror Mirror is the comedic version of the traditional tale and for the first few scenes looks as if it might succeed. A witty voiceover from the evil Queen, played with relish by Julia Roberts, is accompanied by a visually striking animated section. Then we meet the Prince (Arnie Hammer) who along with his valet Renbock (Robert Emms) is attacked and strung up while travelling through the woods by dwarves pretending to be giants. So far, so entertaining. It’s difficult to see how a film can fall away after such a promising opening but it soon becomes clear that this wry tone is to be replaced by a much broader farce akin to the Carry On films but without the essential Britishness.
The Queen’s wicked sarcasm is soon overtaken by shouty theatrics and though Julia Roberts gives a rousing performance what the character is saying becomes less interesting as the film progresses. Each strand soon starts reaching for the lowest common denominator and any character that threatens to make matters more interesting is pushed away. Hence Nathan Lane’s Brighton, who fails to kill off Snow White though pretends he has is turned into an insect for a large proportion of the proceedings. Renbock whose straight laced banter with the Prince gives the latter a great counterpoint is sent away after half an hour and is not seen again leaving his boss with nobody to talk to. Then the Prince himself has to behave as if he is a dog for a period.
"You need to widen the door frame, matey"
Matters pick up a little when we spend more time with the dwarves, something both Snow White films have in common. Lily Collins (daughter of Phil) does her best with a role that is unevenly written; she does bring out Snow White’s inner steel at times but the writers seem unsure when to make her transformation from wallflower to warrior hence the moment seems arbitrary. By then the film’s momentum has been lost and it becomes a series of sketches rather than a coherent story.
Director Tarsem Singh and the visual effects people do give proceedings a suitable sparkle while eccentric costumes and lavish palace settings impress. His fight sequences have a martial arts quality about them and to set pieces- one with giant wooden marionettes, the other an impressive monster - work very well giving the movie an energy it lacks elsewhere. The decision to shoot the forest as a studio set is less successful, confining the action and making the film appear cheaper than the $100m it reportedly cost to make. Also, it never looks as if we are outdoors, there is no breath in the air to be seen despite the supposed cold and the snow does not even look snow.
Despite receiving some of the harshest reviews of the year Mirror Mirror has done alright, grossing £162m at the box office and it is fair to say that if you watch it without too much of a critical eye, you will probably enjoy it. Yet there are times when you can see what the writers could have done to make it smarter, funnier or more coherent and more often than not they don’t. It’s a shame for the ahrd working cast and for all the thought that clearly went into some aspects of the film. Several scenes appear like run throughs that could have been sharpened up, perhaps the film had to be rushed through production? Judging from the behind the scenes feature, everyone seemed to enjoy making the film, perhaps a little too much? Overall though, you have to point the finger at the script which after just ten minutes or so becomes too woolly and not nearly amusing enough. Mirror, Mirror could be a very funny film but ends up disappointing the more it goes on.