The Fairest of Them All
Not only are comic book characters finding screen time in the cinemas, but fairy tale ones as well, with films such as Red Riding Hood going through a reinvention of the character, as does Snow White this year with no less than two big budgeted productions, each with its unique take on the character in what would be a face off between Lily Collins and Kristen Stewart in the title roles, one still very much that demure teenager, while the other going by the trailers happen to be more warrior princess instead.
The Snow White I believe most of us know is likely the Walt Disney version, her trademark being that of her songs, dance, and ability to uncannily communicate with birds and other small, cute animals. Tarsem's Snow White does the same too, well almost, albeit influenced in more Bollywood terms with the supporting dancers, their twirls, colours and costumes on display (designed by the late Eiko Ishioka), and she's basically is on a mission to rediscover her kingdom's penchant for celebration all over again given the void after the disappearance of her father the King (Sean Bean). After all, Lily Collins shows she's up to the mark and a bona fide Disney-ish version with the provision of her singing voice (hey, she's Phil Collin's daughter!) in I Believe (In Love) in a sequence that could be liken to be as out of place as Jai Ho in Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire.
But while her Snow White is that demure damsel who's the fairest of them all, she also does show a little bit more character in her ability and grit determination to wield a weapon to wage war against her enemies, namely her stepmother The Evil Queen (Julia Roberts) and her minions, made up of court bootlicker Brighton (Nathan Lane) and other mystical creatures, including her own magic mirror reflection in a stunning CG sequence each time she calls out to her. But don't expect a full on battle ala the other Snow White played by Kristen Stewart, as this one gets trained by her seven thieving dwarves who decide that she joins them in their mission if she wants to continue seeking refuge in their humble abode, and passes with having looks, brains and brawn, with plenty of heart going out to her people when she learns of the truth of the suffering in the villages.
Visionary director Tarsem Singh is well know for the imagery of his films, full of the fantastical, strange, but always fascinating view of the created world. While his previous film Immortals may have suffered by the lack of a strong plot and action that made it look like a poor cousin to 300, he's back in his element with Mirror Mirror, providing the audience a visual treat while treading on a story structure that is familiar with most, which more or less follows the line of the evil Queen being jealous of Snow White's beauty and gets rid of her, only to have the planned assassination attempt botched with the killer taking pity, her venturing into the woods and meeting up with the seven dwarves, with the Queen poisoning her with an apple, and to be rescued by Prince Charming, or in this case, a certain Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) from Valencia.
But be warned that this version too may not go down well with some, especially since the story by Melisa Wallack reworks most of the major details on how the Prince meets up with Snow White, playing a major role here rather than appearing as a cameo at the end, and giving each of the seven dwarves completely different personalities, with names like Napoleon (Jordan Prentice), Half Pint (Mark Povinelli), Grub (Joe Gnoffo), Wolf (Sebastian Saraceno), Grimm (Danny Woodburn), Butcher (Martin Klebba) and Chuckles (Ronald Lee Clark), who are almost Robin-Hood like in a subplot about not being loved, and discriminated against. But thankfully some of their personalities come across with good natured humour.
Much has been said of Julia Robert's role as the sarcastic Queen whose heart is filled with plenty of black humour, and her character is quite man-crazy, finding it necessary to quickly hook up a rich prince/king in order to continue with her lavish lifestyle at the expense of the kingdom's coffers, raising taxes to fund her whims and fancies. Probably the first Snow White story to have both the Queen and Snow White tussle for the love of the Prince, all I can say is Armie Hammer, who did a great job as the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network and as J. Edgar's right hand man, continues to impress in his roles - in this one having a shirtless running joke - that I am anticipating his turn as The Lone Ranger come next year. Lily Collins will have you believe she IS Snow White, and carries what is expectant of the fairest of them all pretty well, and doesn't make you wonder why so many become mesmerized by her beauty. But flower vase she is not, as she has two missions to fulfill, one to bring back laughter to her kingdom, and to track down the whereabouts of her father.
Mirror Mirror has plenty of tongue in cheek jokes, and slapstick scenario at times, that puts it close to being an outright comedy, yet not quite. Instead it's as close to what a fairy tale will look like on the big screen with the plenty of beautiful sets and scenarios crafted for the characters to operate in that made it quite dream like, and Tarsem being at his element in crafting a visually impressive outing that draws first blood in rival Snow White films. The I Believe (In Love) segment has already earned brownie points from me, so let's see what the other Snow White film can come up with something unique. Recommended!