Few are going to argue that we ever needed two more adaptations of Snow White any time soon, let alone ones which would abound in the very same year. One, the impending Kristen Stewart-starring Snow White and the Huntsman, evokes a dark, Twilight-esque romp aimed at teens, while this effort from Tarsem Singh, Mirror Mirror, is a silly, light affair with a far younger target audience in mind. Unless Stewart’s film boasts a deceptively strong trailer, there is little doubt that it will be the better of the two, because Singh’s vacuous and outright tedious fantasy film squanders a solid opportunity to revise one of the seminal fairy tales.
To give credit where credit is due, Singh and his team of scribes have at least attempted to subvert the classic tale in an outlandish and unique way – perhaps, with their proactive, vibrant Snow White, aiming to do for live action fantasy what the Shrek films did for the animated equivalent – but the cringe-inducing devotion to campy gags and unsophisticated humour makes this one only the youngest kids will have the stomach for. By mocking some of the original story’s more dated elements, this could have been a smart, postmodern romp in more considered hands, but at the mercy of Singh’s overproduced aesthetic – which has hamstrung every single one of his films as much as it has impressed – the sum of the parts is a shallow, empty vessel.
Problematic casting also does little to help things; Julia Roberts is peculiarly placed as the Evil Queen, adopting a distractingly unfussed British accent which seems to undermine both her menace and her wit all at once. Lily Collins, a perfectly capable actress, is meanwhile let down by an undemanding script, which gives her little of interest to do, and has her mostly wandering around the screen much like the character she is playing, a relative innocent trying to make the best of a bad situation. Armie Hammer and Nathan Lane, however, do fare rather well – playing the dashing Prince and the Queen’s footstool respectively – as they get the best physical moments and smartest one-liners respectively, though truly, it is down to their infectious enjoyment at the silly hijinks going on, even if they also end up fairly embarrassed as a result.
It is difficult to argue against Singh’s flair as an aesthete, making of Snow White’s world an expansive, rich, admirably overblown feast of lush costumes and CGI-driven environments. The problem, then, as with each of the director’s three previous films, is that the script and indeed, everything else, takes a back seat to these flourishes; we can appreciate the skill of the visual craft, but without an accompanying story that is compelling and interesting, it feels hollow and quite soulless. Singh, like his maligned colleague Michael Bay, has keen visual sensibilities, but little knack for narrative, and while The Fall seemed to demonstrate improvement, his work on both Immortals and Mirror Mirror feels like a regressive step backwards.
Tots will get a few giggles out of the seven dwarfs – repurposed here as thieving rogues whose hearts and minds Snow White comes to change – and some of the physical gags (like a “Puppy Love” spell being cast on the Prince, turning him into a canine-man of sorts), but even the least demanding children will be positively disinterested by the story’s bored lack of focus, if not its near-total dearth of ideas which move, entertain and engage. The Princess Bride-esque, family-friendly approach is appropriate but horribly calculated; it lacks the charm of Rob Reiner’s film and is instead both cold and emotionally distant.
This is just more of the same from Tarsem Singh; high camp and low energy, with decent visuals which in no way compensate for the script’s charmless monotony.