One of the peculiarities of Hollywood is the rival film, or in other words, two big budget films dealing with basically the same topic coming out within a close window to each other. Take the summer of 1998 for example; Deep Impact was released in early May only to be rapidly followed by Armageddon in early July, the latter of which went on to make a couple of hundred million dollars more. Rewind a year and the same thing happened with Dante's Peak and Volcano. It seems the threat of mankind's imminent destruction by natural forces was dominating studio execs minds back then, albeit in an unoriginal way. Interestingly when this happens it's not often you see one side giveway to a rival production, although it happened a few years back when Baz Luhrmann ceded victory to Oliver Stone by shutting down his film about Alexander the Great during pre-production, leaving Stone’s Alexander as the definitive word on the man, for now. And here we go again, this time with competing films about the tale of Snow White – firstly Mirror Mirror, which will be followed by Snow White and the Huntsman in less than two months time.
Fortunately both of these films appear to be tackling the story from different angles. Snow White and the Huntsman looks like it will be offering a slightly more fantasy-esque take on the story, with the trailer suggesting it may be inspired by the Lord Of the Rings and Narnia films, whilst Mirror Mirror has gone down the route of more typical family friendly fairytale. This divergence is certainly a good thing to help make it clear to audiences that these are two different films.
Mirror Mirror takes the traditional core of the Snow White story and adds some little twists to it. Snow White (Lily Collins) is eighteen years old rather than a child as in the traditional story, and she meets the Prince (Armie Hammer) early on in this version. The (evil) Queen (Julia Roberts) wants to marry the Prince for monetary reasons (and vanity too obviously) and there is no huntsman, but the ultimate drive of the story here is the empowerment of Snow White as she tries to escape the tyranny of the the Queen and do the right thing, alongside the travails over when she will eventually get together with the Prince. There is less focus on The Queen trying to trick her as is usually seen. I don't think there was anything detrimental to the plot by these revisions.
As this is a Tarsem film it’s only right that I address the visual aspect upfront. It looks beautiful. Tarsem has a fantastic eye for visual aesthetics and we've come to expect having our breath taken away by what he puts on screen. This may only be his fourth film, but in their own ways each of The Cell, The Fall and Immortals are stunning pieces of eye candy, regardless of the quality of the other aspects of these films. And so every visual aspect of Mirror Mirror is perfectly crafted – the set design is impressive, particularly the castle’s design both inside and out, where it dramatically perches atop a precipice overlooking a body of water. There’s an interesting concept around the fabled mirror of the story, which leads to some very typically dramatic Tarsem shots. Then there’s the animation that sets the scene at the start, as well as the fantastic puppet sequence later on (I won’t say more on that). However the costumes are the real visual star of the film – they're sumptuous, extravagant and fit this world perfectly, and definitely should be the leading candidate for best costume design come the next awards season.
Of course stunning visuals alone don’t make a film, but I also believe that Mirror Mirror is well cast. Collins looks as beautiful as you’d expect the character too, and comes across as pure and innocent as her name. It’s not a role that requires much range but within these confines she suits it well. It’s nice to see Julia Roberts back in a lead role and she is clearly having a lot of fun. She doesn’t go for the scary evil Queen option, rather one that's more selfishly misguided on her path to vanity, with a nefarious plan always up her sleeve and an element of dark comedy underneath. Hammer seems to cut a dashing prince, managing to successfully play it straight and amp up the comedy when required. Nathan Lane plays Brighton, the put upon loyal servant slash comic relief, a role he can effectively play in his sleep. And the seven dwarves with their noisy and vibrantly unique personalities are great fun.
I was genuinely surprised that I enjoyed Mirror Mirror as much as I did, as based on the trailer I was expecting a messy film that I wouldn't like (the “other one” looked more appealing). Tonally Mirror Mirror is aiming at family friendly, and it looks and feels like a fairytale brought to life. I suspect this may have been the appeal to Tarsem and I can’t think of any other fairytale adaptations that manage this illusion so effectively. On this level it definitely worked, and it has a certain magic that made it an inviting world to spend time in. Yes it's overly cheesy at times and certain aspects of the script seem too modern, and I know there are many other faults to easily be found with it, but I don’t really feel inclined to pull at these threads because they didn't ruin the film for me. I liked Mirror Mirror, although I certainly didn’t love it, but it was entertaining and offered a pleasant respite from the real world. It's hard to criticise further when that’s supposed to be the magic of fairytales.