Director Tarsem Singh has a history of reinterpreting the work of others, from the great works of art that inspired the music video of Losing My Religion and the sets of the Jennifer Lopez/Vince Vaughn thriller The Cell to the Greek myths of Immortals, even the obscure Bulgarian film Yo Ho Ho which he adapted into his masterpiece The Fall. Here he creates a skewed version of a more familiar tale, that of the exiled princess Snow White, banished into the woods by her wicked stepmother, where she finds safety and shelter with seven dwarves.
With the story so familiar, the film stands or falls on how it is played, and here it is with broad strokes; Mirror, Mirror is neither sharp or acerbic, but taken as a gentle mocking of the traditional telling with only hints of the satire it could have been, it’s easy to enjoy what is on offer, and any who would prefer Game of Thrones with a guaranteed happy ending instead of so many beheadings are in for a treat.
Armie Hammer’s Prince Alcott is charm personified, the seven bandits are entertaining individuals rather than intrusive clichéd stereotypes, and Lily Collins, if occasionally verging on bland in her underwritten role, is for the most part very good as Snow White. As the vain and corrupt Queen Clementianna, scheming to keep her kingdom afloat and maintain her lavish lifestyle, Julia Roberts is disappointing. This is not to say she is not excellent; rather, as with Tilda Swinton’s Jadis in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, who would have terrified audiences if given full rein, her performance remains strictly within the confines of what is acceptable in a family film; the film never becomes harsher than the observation of the Queen by the Prince’s retainer: “This woman radiates crazy.”
With the exception of the beast who lurks within the forest, even when computer effects are utilised, they are rendered and blended so as to give the effect of reality; the opening scene has the feel of traditional stop motion animation, down to the texturing on the cracked porcelain faces of the dolls, while the flowers shedding its petals within the crystal ball is in appropriate traditional Disney style.
As would be expected of Tarsem, every frame of the film is visually stunning, from the luminous rolling clouds that float above the kingdom, shedding snow on the forests and frozen shores of the lake, to the vast chambers of the palace, decorated in gold and chandeliers draped in candyfloss to the treestump abode of the dwarves. Special mention must go to the costumes designed by the late Eiko Ishioka, who created similarly stunning works on all Tarsem’s previous films, The Cell, The Fall and Immortals, and her creations in Mirror, Mirror are a tribute to her outstanding talent.
Mirror, Mirror is not the only updated fairy tale due onscreen this year, it is not even the only film to feature Snow White, and which film we be most successful or best remembered cannot be judged yet, but looking backwards offers at least one certainty, that it is infinitely superior to Tim Burton’s hideous Alice in Wonderland.