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This many-times-told tale of Snow White didn’t initially draw my notice because of its stars, Julia Roberts, Nathan Lane, Armie Hammer and Lily Collins.  Nope, the compelling aspect to this retelling was who was telling it, director Tarsem, whose works I’d adored since his days making some of the most gorgeous music videos back when MTV actually played them.  Tarsem, along with his collaborator and aesthetic muse, the Japanese designer Eiko Ishioka, had created such innovative features as The Cell, The Fall and last year’s Immortals; each one visually stunning, sumptuous and unique.  It seemed like the pair pushed each other forward to greater heights of creativity and weren’t afraid to work outside the Hollywood cookie cutter.  I was eager to see what would become of the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale in their hands.  It was with some sadness that I realised that aside from Eiko’s brilliant costumes and design sense, there wasn’t very much in Mirror Mirror that was meant for me.  Maybe me at seven years old perhaps, but definitely not today.  Tarsem’s first foray into a full-blown children’s feature was bound to be different, and it is not exactly a comfortable fit.

Mirror Mirror begins with The Queen, played by Julia Roberts, who acts as occasional narrator and immediately hijacks the story as her own.  Having previously usurped the crown after the mysterious death of Snow White’s father, the King, she spends her days taxing the already-beleaguered poor so she can dress extravagantly and throw lavish parties to entertain various wealthy suitors.  Her pesky stepdaughter is locked in her room all day and thought to be simpleminded, or at least that’s what the Queen tells everyone.  On Snow’s eighteenth birthday, she escapes her confines and takes her first journey into town amongst her suffering people.  Completing her day of surprises, Snow then wanders out into the woods and happens upon a pair of noblemen suspended upside down from a rope and stripped of nearly all their clothing, having been robbed by the famous bandits of the forest.  One of the victims is instantly smitten with his wide-eyed saviour, but she vanishes before he can act.  As the prince of a neighbouring kingdom, he also is expected at the palace to present himself before the Queen, who immediately marks the handsome, wealthy young man as her next prey.  A ball given in his honour reunites Prince Alcott and Snow, who illicitly crept down to join the party just once.  The chemistry between Snow and the Prince is noticeable to everyone, especially the Queen, who takes extreme measures to make sure the upstart never upstages her again.  Snow is dragged out to the woods to face the mythical beast that terrorises the townsfolk.  In her rush to escape the howling creature, she finds herself in a tiny hovel belonging to the other danger in the forest, the bandit crew; seven very small men very good at walking on stilts.  Taking pity on the girl in need -- and really enjoying her home-cooked meals -- the dwarves allow Snow to remain while they devise a plan for the princess to take her rightful place as her father’s true heir.  Meanwhile, back at the palace, the Queen uses witchery to enthrall the reticent Prince and a misbegotten potion has him on the verge of marrying the evil empress until Snow and her diminutive gang rescues him.  The Queen also discovers Snow’s not quite as dead as first thought and she uses all her magic heedlessly, with no thought to the consequences, to kill the girl and the dwarves hiding her.  In the contest of wills between the princess and her horrible, vain stepmama, no prince or mighty team of small men can come to her aid; Snow must find the strength to must save herself and occasionally those around her to defeat the evil Queen.

In the curious case of Mirror Mirror, it’s tempting to begin at the ending.  Prepare for spoilers, folks; we have a happily ever after, Tarsem doesn’t go that far off the grid.  There is an “Easter egg,” or added-on sequence that starts as the end credits roll, where Tarsem hearkens back to his music video days by directing his cast to partake in a little Bollywood-style musical number, complete with hypnotically catchy song sung by our Snow, Lily Collins.  The scene is so vibrant, fresh and full of fun that it practically kills the entire film by virtue of being so much better than everything that came before it.  As I mentioned, the movie is aimed at families and young children, which is new for the director, whose works often take an operatically dramatic or surreal edge.  Mirror Mirror focuses a lot on comedy, much of it slapstick and broad and so much meant for the kiddies that it’s sometimes downright infantile.  It is something I never thought I’d say about a Tarsem film, but there is something decidedly lackluster about the movie.  The first twenty minutes or so is flat and uninteresting, despite Julia Roberts’ and Nathan Lane’s best attempts at camping it up; one can see they’re trying really hard to make the dialog work, which is a very hit or miss affair.  The Social Network’s Winklevii, Armie Hammer, is perfectly cast and the handsome, valiant, often perplexed Prince Alcott, and he throws himself into whatever the role requires, including a lot of standing around in naught but long underwear and vigorously licking Roberts’ face while under the Queen’s “puppy love” spell.  Charming, indeed.  There are occasional sparky moments that both kids and grown-ups can appreciate, like the Prince’s embarrassing semi-nude appearance before the Queen after being thoroughly mugged by the bandit dwarves.  The movie doesn’t seem to click at all until the dwarves discover Snow White in the forest; then the lines get a little funnier and there is a bit of action introduced.  Most notably, there is a very cool sequence where the spirit of the Queen -- her magical self caught in her mirror world -- plays puppetmistress to a pair of wooden artists’ mannequins that appear giant-sized and destroy the dwarves’ home in their search for Snow White.  That scene and look of the mirror world are some of the only instances that met the creativity I would have expected from Tarsem.  Shockingly, the movie is often quite ugly, with a washed-out, yellow patina permeating the film until the very end that seems meant to imply the unhappiness of the Queen’s rule, but just makes everyone look like they have jaundice.  As it stands, the film is dreadfully uneven and never quite finds the middle ground that makes a movie fun for all ages, including adults.  It’s the other factors that come into play that make it salvageable; like the aforementioned casting of the more experienced stars and including ingénue Lily Collins as Snow White.  Once you get over the shock of her imposing, paint roller-thick eyebrows, Collins may not be particularly mesmerising, but is adorable and sweetly feisty as the feminism-infused Snow White.  It’s never a bad thing to show the young girls who’ll admire this version of their fairytale heroine that waiting for the someday their prince will come will never get them anywhere and true love’s kiss doesn’t have to be a one-sided affair.  All good intentions aside, had Mirror Mirror clung to the unique and uncompromising vision that Tarsem is renowned for and not hobbled itself by being a movie just for the kiddies; it could’ve been a real achievement.  The joyful music video at the end is a bitter reminder of the energy, audacity and freshness the director is capable of, but is rarely present here.  Why oh why, couldn’t the whole film have been a musical just like the video -- and this from someone who doesn’t particularly like musicals.

Reluctantly setting aside my expectations for a Tarsem film, for which it is far below par, and judging Mirror Mirror solely on the basis of what it sacrifices so much to be; a family film, I suppose to that end, despite its many flaws, it entertains sufficiently.  The youngest audience members will enjoy the dwarves’ hijinks and the silly, slapstick humour.  The film’s only other success is in being a final canvas for the astounding work of Eiko Ishioka, who passed away from cancer this past January.  It is a melancholy victory because Mirror Mirror is the last time the world will ever see anything on screen from the visionary designer, who worked on all Tarsem’s films, as well as others like Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  How I wished amidst the breathtaking torrent of masquerade costumes, peacock patterns, crystals, feathers and obi bows so meticulously crafted until she was no longer able to work, that Mirror Mirror had been a more worthy swan song.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

March 30th, 2012



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MIRROR MIRROR created a featurette about their fabulous costumes as a tribute to their brilliant, visionary creator, the late Eiko Ishioka.




Thanks to some lovely person on YouTube, I can share that Mirror Mirror Easter Egg.  Here's the clip of Lily Collins singing I Believe (in Love) that appears over the end credits. Enjoy!



































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