Movie review – All that glitters isn’t fairy dust

2012-04-20 11:56

Film: Mirror Mirror
Director: Tarsem Singh
Starring: Julia Roberts, Nathan Lane, Armie Hammer and Lily Collins
Rating: 6/10

A beautifully stylised introductory sequence – Snow White is brought into the world by her loving parents, the King and Queen – played out by computer-generated porcelain dolls, informs us that we’re in fairy tale territory.

The Queen dies, and her husband eventually remarries. Shortly thereafter, the King mysteriously disappears, leaving Snow White’s wicked stepmother as the lone authority figure (both in a familial and political sense) to mistreat poor Snow White, and generally misrule the kingdom.

When we see the Queen’s greed and vanity reduce the kingdom’s subjects to penury via ever-increasing taxes, we can’t help but recognise the everyday political parallels of this allegory (especially in a week in which we’ve learned of the punishing new tariffs that will be levied upon motorists who refuse to buy e-tags).

As the wicked Queen, Julia Roberts is given the opportunity to have a load of over-the-top fun – and she takes full, hand-rubbing glee at the opportunity. The role of Snow White goes to the gorgeous, yet bland, Lily Collins, while the evil stepmother’s right-hand man, Brighton, is played by one of Broadway’s leading comedic lights, Nathan Lane.

 Unfortunately, he isn’t given the opportunity to show off his talent to the full, which is a pity. And if you find yourself recognising the actor portraying Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer), it’s probably because you’ve seen the Facebook movie, The Social Network, in which he played both of the Winklevoss twins.

If I’m told that a film is an updated, more grown-up version of a popular fairy tale, then I really go in expecting more psychological meat: a darker, Freudian reading between the lines. I regret to report that this movie does no such thing.

The way I see it, this reliance upon (admittedly pleasant) computer-generated scenery at the expense of other elements has become a predictable weakness of its director, Tarsem Singh (also known as Tarsem Singh Dhandwar – or just plain “Tarsem”, depending on his mood).

He’s directed three other films: The Cell (a virtual reality saga with Jennifer Lopez), The Fall (a fantastical, visually breathtaking tale partially shot in South Africa) and that recent – and rather dreary – addition to the current flurry of movies based upon Greek mythology, Immortals.

Sadly, The Fall, which I believe to be his best work to date, was never released here, despite its use of local actors and locations.

This retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ story takes the now-expected Hollywood route of political correctness and social revisionism. So, we’re presented with a rather wimpy prince who’s actually rescued by Snow White – more than twice – before the end credits roll.

Snow White, who shows off the scriptwriters’ New Age, non-sexist credentials by heroically participating in fight sequences, is still, ironically, no less insipid. At least the Queen, for all her evil, has some funny lines to utter.

We’re left with a film with lots of surface glitter, that is still reasonably entertaining. It will never, however, stand the test of time like Walt Disney’s classic animated take on the story.

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