Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Review - A Snow White double feature

A pair of Costume Design nominees which bowed earlier in the year forced me to go back and play a bit of catch-up.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, which is the most superfluous Snow White recreation of them all? Trick question. Turns out it's both of them. With fairy tale revisionism dominating studio slates recently – either because audiences are really clamouring for it or because it's cheaper than paying licensing fees for anything written in the last hundred years – 2012 ended up yielding not one, but two new takes on the girl with skin as white as snow and hair as black as night. Occupying opposite ends of the tonal spectrum, Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman make a peculiar, if not a high quality, double feature.
Mirror Mirror is the incarnation that tries to preserve the lightheartedness we often associate with fairy tales. Lily Collins plays the raven-haired beauty who joins up with a septet of pint-sized bandits after her vampish diva of a step mother (Julia Roberts) had ordered her be taken to the woods and slain. From thence on, they both compete for the love of a dashing but comically inept prince (Armie Hammer).

With the idiosyncratic Tarsem Singh at the helm, this alteration of the fable is as blissfully dopey as the dwarf of the same name from the classic Disney version. And much like that adorably mute dwarf, the film seems to beg us for our love. Be it in the forced comedic beats or the overkill stylistic affectations for which Tarsem has made a name for himself, it all seems so terribly put on.

Not that there aren't some hits among the misses. The delirious sets and costumes certainly catch the eye with their avian motifs and popping colours. And the clever casting of Roberts and Hammer affords some decent chuckles here and there, but they're quickly forgotten amidst the gags that fall flat.
Snow White and the Huntsman, on the other hand, is a variation with a lot more sand and a lot less fun. Kristen Stewart stars as the titular beauty whose porcelain face seems impervious to the ubiquitous grime that stains her clothes as she flees her wicked stepmother (Charlize Theron) through sewers, quagmires, and hallucinogenic woods.

Intent on consuming the girl's heart to forever sustain her beauty and evil powers, the queen commissions an ax-wielding huntsman played by Chris Hemsworth (should have given him a hammer instead) to track down and retrieve the runaway. Naturally, romance persuades a change in his motivations, and soon he agrees to help escort Snow White to her father's old allies, so she can amass an army to take back her kingdom.

At least, we can only assume that romance is at play, because the spark certainly isn't felt from what we see on screen. The limp dialogue and deadpan performances – other than Theron's over-compensatory shriek fest – make for many a face-palming moment.

The film seems more focused on misdirecting us from its narrative shortcomings with its razzle dazzle anyway. Rookie helmer Rupert Sanders proves his competence at wielding a large studio budget to conjure sensational design elements and effects, but demonstrates little effectiveness at drawing compelling work from his actors. Not that the screenplay gave him much to work with, mind you.

** out of ****


  1. I liked Mirror Mirror slightly more than you, but I agree that Kristen Stewart has the facial expression talent of Darth Vader.