Is there be room for two Snow White films in one year? This was our question when it became apparent that Mirror Mirror and Snow White And The Huntsman would be released only a couple of months apart. As promotional material started to appear, it became obvious that each would be aimed at two very different audiences.
Huntsman was aiming for the hardcore fantasy audience, demonstrating impressive action and creatures to entice a lucrative young male democratic. Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror, on the other hand, looked like it was playing for a younger, female audience.
Having missed the film on its theatrical run, I came to the Blu-ray fresh, although the mostly negative reviews did lead me to believe that I was not in for a pleasant time. For those who need a quick synopsis of the story, the traditional tale is largely forgotten, even thought its major elements – evil queen, prince, dwarves, magic mirror and apple – are included, seemingly as an afterthought.
Snow White (Lily Collins) is living with her stepmother (Julia Roberts), who’s taken over the kingdom after the ‘disappearance’ of the king. On hearing that the queen may be evil, Snow White decides to leave the castle, and within minutes, bumps into Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who’s just been mugged by the seven dwarfs. On stilts. We are then told that the queen has succumbed to a great evil – bankruptcy, and therefore must marry a young rich prince and live happily ever after. As the prince loves Snow White, the queen is suitably miffed and decides to do everything in her power to kill Snow White and marry the prince.
As you can tell, the plot is heavy on the whimsy and light on drama. In fact, while I was watching it, I was reminded me of another artform: pantomime.
Now, I may have given you the impression that I didn’t enjoy the film, but that’s not exactly true. Mirror Mirror breezes along, never taking itself too seriously and at times, is actually fun. Julia Roberts obviously enjoyed her role, but there is never any menace to her evil queen, and at no point do you actually think that Snow is in any danger. This may reduce the drama for older viewers, but it’s great for little ones, and I suspect this is where the film will win most of its fans.
The dwarves are perhaps the best thing about the film; they certainly get the best lines, although the humour in general is all over the place. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is Lily Collins’ Snow White. Amongst the campery and hammy antics of both Roberts and Lane, Snow White just comes across as a little too bland. You never buy into her change as a sword wielding thief, nor her selfless acts of courage. This isn’t entirely her fault, since the script’s juxtaposition of modern dialogue against a fairytale background, although fine in the mouths of some characters, seldom gives White any more than clichéd princess yearnings and innocence.
The film could have gone in a more interesting direction when she became part of the dwarves’ troop of thieves, but I suspect the requirements of the aforementioned tween audience was too strong to ignore. Arnie Hammer’s prince was also short changed, and whilst certainly looking the part, he shares a similar lack of depth and development.
Tarsem’s signature visual flourishes are certainly present, although at times his vision feels contained. Yes, there may be moments (the queen’s ‘alternate’ home) that rank up there with some of his best, but generally the film seems rather limited. For what appears to be a big production, a minimal number of sets are used. Even in the woods, where you would think that a man of Tarsem’s imagination would relish the potential of that setting, it all seemed strangely unimaginative.
Despite the unevenness of both the acting and direction, there is fun to be had. Unlike Snow White And The Huntsman, the dwarves are given serious screen time, which they certainly make the most of, and the acrobatic stilt scenes will certainly raise a smile.
The Blu-ray itself is well presented, with a crisp, sharp picture capturing Tarsem’s wondrous visuals. The blacks during the night scenes are beautifully captured, as are the CGI enhanced backgrounds. Of note, though: the HD is unkind to some of the creatures, showing the limits in the budget, although this is only mildly distracting and won’t bother younger viewers.
The DTS-HD Master 5.1 audio is powerful, but dialogue remains clear throughout, with environmental effects largely relegated to the surround speakers. In fact, for a fantasy film, the use of surround is subtle, and only rarely does the bass get to boom, which at times can be jarring rather than complementary.
Extras are the now standard fare of deleted scenes and behind the scenes documentaries. Again, the filmmakers clearly know their audience, as the Storybook and Prince and Puppies extras will amuse younger children, but there is nothing of any real depth, and surprisingly little on the costumes and design process, which, considering the director, is certainly an opportunity missed.
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