We had two completely different cinematic takes on the Snow White fairy tale this past year, both had their pluses and minuses, but both of them ultimately were not very good. Each approached the material from a different perspective and delivered equally different experiences. “Snow White & the Huntsman” gave us a gritty and more realistic vision of the familiar story while “Mirror Mirror” gave us a more whimsical and fanciful version. Both fail to fully realize their visions (and potential) however which begs the question, which one is the fairest of them all? Your mileage with either will vary dramatically, however director Tarsem Singh’s “Mirror Mirror” has the advantage by actually having the foresight to cast the adorable Lily Collins in the lead role.
Tarsem is a visual artist, his films are nothing short of stunning to look at. However, his films have always suffered when it came to an actual story. Films such as “The Cell” and “The Fall” are without equal when it comes to their elaborate production design, but the same can’t be said for how they function as a story based experience. Those same faults carry over to his latest film as well unfortunately. “Mirror Mirror” is a visually dazzling feature with gorgeous costumes, sets and plenty of aesthetically pleasing imagery. However, its lack of focus and a somewhat confused narrative, despite following all the familiar beats of the Snow White fairy tale, still feels disjointed and tonally all over the place.
There are tonal inconsistencies everywhere you look in the film that are exemplified by some bizarre performance choices. Julia Roberts, a more than capable actress, seems like a good fit as the evil Queen, but the odd choice of trying to make her a more comical presence clashes drastically with the idea that we are supposed to be intimidated by her. When she does eventually show her evil side, it comes off as forced more than anything else. Armie Hammer as the heroic Prince is also effected by this strange behavior to make him valiant but also a complete buffoon. The only actors that show any sort of consistency in their roles from beginning to end are the seven dwarves, Nathan Lane, Mare Winningham and of course the lovely Lily Collins as Snow White.
After seeing Collins in the same role that Kristen Stewart completely wrecked last summer, it’s even more unconscionable how Stewart ever landed the part. Collins is the epitome of what most would associate with Snow White, she is sweet, fragile, a tad bit naive and also extremely good natured but she also handles the more modern traits bestowed upon her with ease such as self reliance and a bit of a rebellious streak, two things Stewart’s Snow White strived to be but never attained. The problem with all of this though is how the three main characters, Snow White, the Prince and the Queen all seem to be in three distinctly different movies. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of their individual performances, they just don’t fuse into a cohesive whole leaving the entire film in this awkward funk that never feels quite right.
Tarsem has once again produced a beautiful film to look upon but one that lacks any real substance to it. Filled with an assortment of acting talent that appear as though they didn’t know what kind of movie they were making, one can’t help but feel disappointed by the wasted potential. The only person to come out of this debacle completely unscathed is Lily Collins, she nails it (as well as the Bollywood inspired musical number she performs at the end of the film that was quite frankly the best scene in the film). She is the one shining beacon in “Mirror Mirror” that makes all its inconsistencies and tonal issues somewhat tolerable. As for which Snow White movie is the fairest of them all? Even with all its problems, “Mirror Mirror” still offers a much more enjoyable experience than “Snow White & The Huntsman”, thanks in part to the lavish production design and an actor in the lead role who actually fits the part. If you really need to see a Snow White movie then this is the one to see.