Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Mirror Mirror (2012)

Like an increasing number of movies featured on Sky Box Office (i.e. pay-per-view), this film never made its way to Sky's Premier Channel and I was beginning to think that it was yet another movie that had fallen through the cracks. I was therefore pleased to see it turning up on Channel Four in an early evening 'kiddie' slot. I was particularly interested in watching this film, not because I am a great lover of updated fairy tales, but because I think its director, Tarsem Singh (occasionally billed as just Tarsem) possesses incredible visual style and flair. His little-seen 2006 movie "The Fall" was one of the most imaginative and beautiful films of the last goodness-knows-how-many years.

As its title implies, this movie is another version of the Snow White story but it had the misfortune to be released the same year as the infinitely more successful "Snow White and the Huntsman", which Sky did deign to show. Perhaps that flick with its trendier casting, including Kristen Stewart, had more box office clout, but it is certainly to my mind the lesser film. "Mirror Mirror" stars Julia Roberts as the wicked stepmother, an improvement I think on the other film's gorgeous but icy Charlize Theron. Roberts seems to be having a ball playing the baddie, hamming it up beautifully, and is not particularly vain about her aging looks. When her younger version in the magic mirror comments on her wrinkles, she retorts that they are not wrinkles, but 'crinkles'. The Snow role is filled by Lily Collins, daughter of Phil, who looks every inch the virginal innocent despite her caterpillar eyebrows, and is certainly more appealing than the downbeat, pouty Stewart. Her Prince Charming takes the hunky form of Armie Hammer, just before he began to loom large in popularity, and he displays an unsuspected ability for mocking self-disparaging humour. Rounding out the cast are comic stalwarts Nathan Lane and Michael Lerner and seven 'proper' dwarfs with three-dimensional personalities -- unlike the other movie's use of actors such as Ray Winstone's and Bob Hopkins' heads on little bodies. 

The respected film critic Leonard Maltin whose opinions I normally trust, especially when it comes to movies for youngsters, writes that this film is a poor excuse for a fairy tale, lacking whimsy, magic, and heart. I must disagree. I found the movie a charmer, enhanced by Tarsem's taste for flamboyant sets and costuming. For a start, having the dwarfs fighting on stylized stilts so that they appear as fearsome giants, is an awesome idea -- this alone is Maltin's whimsy and magic run riot. As for 'heart', Tarsem may adopt a certain tongue-in-cheek approach to his love story, but the players manage it with complete aplomb. The bit where Hammer is possessed by one of Roberts' love potions -- a 'puppy-love' spell as it happens -- and reacts to the world as an overgrown puppy is beautifully realised. The dwarfs do their best to release him from her clutches by various bits of bodily violence, but only Snow's first kiss can do the trick. Roberts withers into the old hag she always was, Snow's 'dead' father is freed from her curse, and everyone can live happily ever after. How much more do you want Mr.  Maltin?

The end credits are fun too with updates on the dwarfs' future lives and with the whole cast doing a Bollywood style song and dance a la "Slumdog Millionaire". Don't knock it, Tarsem Singh is Indian-born after all. This may not be the most brilliant fairy tale rendering of all time, but it certainly is both a lot of fun and beautiful to behold.   
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