Thursday, 5 April 2012

FILM REVIEW: Mirror Mirror

Well this was a first of its kind - released on a Monday! I don't think I've ever known a film - well, of such stardom - to be released on a Monday. I assume it was to make the most of the Easter holiday crowds, as the first Snow White tale of the year is firmly wedged in the family friendly genre.

I had supremely low expectations for this one, apportioned mainly to the awful, awful trailer that was released a couple of months ago which showed a side to visionary director Tarsem Singh I had never seen before: cheesy comedy. But then critics started giving it surprisingly good reviews and Tarsem Singh had come out to say how much he hated the trailer: "The movie looks fantastic and the trailers look so hammily off." Was he right and everyone else was suddenly discovering the truth - that Mirror Mirror had been misleadingly portrayed and written off by the whole of the film loving public?  

I'm a big advocate of Tarsem Singh - was wowed by The Fall when I saw it a few years ago (gutted I never got the chance to see Immortals on the big screen). He may be style over substance but I'm a bit of a sucker for that sort of thing anyway (hands up the only remaining fan of Zack Snyder's work). Singh is at his best when he's working in fantasy, lovingly creating these spectacular backdrops and settings for his characters to adventure in. What better prospect than the world of fairy tales - castles, forest, monsters, beautiful costumes - for him to excel in? The story is already there for him to exquisitely exploit: a princess trapped and hated by her stepmother after her father's demise, exiled from the castle and sentenced to death, but rescued by a group of dwarves who take her in as their carer, only then pursued by both the evil queen and a handsome prince. And of course, a disagreeable apple. But Mirror Mirror has put a modern spin on events (not going as far as the upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman) with an emphasis here on the princess saving the prince, and being trained by the dwarves - now bandits - in swordsmanship, cunning and thievery. No room for a nap in a glass coffin in this adaptation.

Unfortunately for all its efforts film is tonally all over the place. The modern twist just feels misjudged - comments from the characters such as: "Apparently nobody had a job back then; they just sang and danced" and, "you're too old to still believe in fairy tales" work better in a set-up like Enchanted where there is a visible and decisive divide between the animated fairy tale world and the live-action present day New York city. You can't send up something you're still in! It doesn't work as satire either, as how can you satirise something you still endorse? It's trapped within the limitations of its genre. If you're going to change the whole story, tone, humour of the classic fairy tale then commit to it and go whole hog, not dip in and out. This film never makes its mind up about what it's doing.

Visually and unsurprisingly it's beautiful - you can't deny he is not a stunning filmmaker. I loved the sparse, still, deep backgrounds with the buildings shimmering in the forefront: the lone castle bathed in snowflakes teetering on a cliff, and the exotic oceanic retreat of the Queen when she passes through the magic mirror - here, the mirror is not its own entity but a wiser, smarter, wrinkle-free version of the Queen herself. The masquerade ball was stunning to look at, as were the costumes in general (now I want a swan hat). The fighting/bandit sequences are excellent too - the dwarves elevating themselves onto accordion spring like stilts who catapult around one another to outwit their enemy. Great swordplay too - Singh does not hold back on his strengths as a director.

I was surprised and delighted by the amount of puppetry in the film too! Loved the opening sequence with the almost Russian-like animation of the characters, and again later when the Queen uses black magic/voodoo to try and kill the dwarves in their home - harks back to the brilliant scene in Stardust where the witches manipulate the voodoo doll possessing Mark Strong's body. In fact, there were several moments when I thought of Stardust and Labyrinth, too. Both films far superior to this, but the feeling of high fantasy adventure really shines through, if only sporadically.

When it's not playing sumptuous escapism it verges on being flat (the jokes), juvenile (the prince being under a puppy love spell and licking everyone), dark (the black magic) and a bit weird (the dwarves prepping Snow White for her first kiss) - it doesn't hang together as well as it should. I was entertained, but not necessarily enthralled throughout. This doesn't have the broad sense of humour or depth of narrative to appeal to both adults and children. The younger audience are likely to be charmed and in awe of the spectacle, whereas the adults will be wanting more bite.

Julia Roberts looked like she was having a whale of a time, but I'm not quite sure what the Queen was supposed to be. Evil? Bitchy? Childish? Petty? Greedy? Cold? Bored? I couldn't quite grasp her motives - she didn't push it enough for me. Armie Hammer was great, he's such a fun presence to have on the screen and a great leading man - thought he was a perfect dopey prince! The dwarves stood up to the mark too - just about fleshed out enough to have individual personalities (though separate from their Grimm labels).

Lily Collins I just can't make my mind up about. She is beeeeeautiful - absolutely gorgeous girl (when she was trying on the different outfits to find the perfect bandit leader attire she looked achingly fabulous in all of them - loved that little fashion show) and she had a sweetness to her that was perfect for Snow White, plus could embody the cheekiness of a bandit rebel princess. But one of the things the Queen hates about her is her irritating voice and presence, and it's hard for that not to seep through at times too, especially at the end when she realises the wedding gift apple is poisonous (just a bluff at the end) and rubs her victory in the Queen's now haggard face. She has a smugness to her which stops her being completely likeable. And then at the end - she bursts into a Bollywood number! I could have cried. I can't love any film with a dance number at the end to celebrate the happy ending, I just can't (see my vomit at the end of Slumdog Millionaire).

Oh Mirror Mirror - you almost had me. I was so open to being won over but I just couldn't love it. File under hot mess.

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