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13 March 2012

Mirror Mirror (Review): "Snow White, Interesting At Last"

The most curious thing about Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s “Mirror Mirror” is that the Evil Queen did not actually ask the iniquitous question: “Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?”  The Evil Queen only uttered the statement “mirror mirror on the wall” as if to mean “open sesame” rather than to deliver a question.  Sure, the film hinted that she once asked the question, but that is not the focal point of the story.   

As always, Indian director Tarsem Singh gave us another visually stunning film with “Mirror Mirror.”  The over-the-top costumes and surreal cartoon colors simply suggest that we are watching something beyond the real, a fairy tale of some kind. However, all these embellishment luckily did not saturate the film’s main point, which is to reinvent the tired story of Snow White without altering it too much to the point that it becomes unrecognizable.  Let’s admit it; the old Snow White story has done much harm to a little girl’s psyche than nasty teasing boys. 

In “Mirror Mirror,” Snow White is actually a young girl that we will not be embarrassed to applaud. This new Snow White is someone we actually may be interested in seeing grow as a woman. Yes, of course, she still possesses the clichés of her character: beautiful, painfully innocent, hair as black as night and skin as white as snow [a description that I have always found a tad bit racist.] 

Like most revisionist fairy tale, our ingénue has been given new gifts: intelligence, self-reliance and martial skills [courtesy of a new batch of politically correct “dwarves.”]  Thankfully, the film did not betray this new Snow White by making her do stupid things that are out of character. I mean, for Grimm’s sake, if you created a smart girl, it is only given that she would be smart enough not to fall for an obvious trick.  You will understand what I mean once you see this film for yourself.

“Mirror Mirror” is also Eiko Ishioka’s last film. 
The revolutionary Japanese costume designer
passed away early this year due to pancreatic cancer
in Tokyo, Japan.  She won numerous awards including an 
Oscar for Best Costume Design for her work in
“Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”  She worked with Singh in
four movies.  [Notable works by Ishioka: clockwise; 
JenniferLopez in "The Cell," Winona Ryder and Gary 
Oldman in "Bram Stoker's Dracula," Lee Pace 
and Catinca Untaru in "The Fall" and Kellan Lutz 
in "Immortals"]

However, the real magic of “Mirror Mirror” is Julia Roberts, deliciously playing the Evil Queen.  Rather than playing her as a downright malevolent witch, Roberts employed near perfect comedic timing to highlight the Queen’s willful self-obsession.  Underneath the funny one-liners, the flamboyant outfits, and the Julia Roberts persona itself, Roberts presented an evil step mother that was more comically pitiful than stereotypically frightening.  In a way, we feel sorry for her because she was blinded by her vanity, yet we loathe her for being manipulative; but her wickedness went so far to the point of being lovable.  We love to hate her but we cannot help but root for her once in a while.  Even at her demise, we somehow feel that she deserves so much more than the life she has lead. Perhaps I am just over-reading or I relate to the Evil Queen. I am after all an [age omitted]-something film critic, so that makes me sort of an Evil Queen myself.

Indeed, “Mirror Mirror” is still Snow White’s story but, for me, it is far more fascinating to plunge deep into the Evil Queen’s pysche, brilliantly imagined as two dome-shaped straw palafitti (1) on still water.

“Mirror Mirror” is now one of my favorite Tarsem Singh films, second only to his 2006 movie, “The Fall.” For now, all I can say is “mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?” Now don’t answer that unless you want to pick yourself up from the floor in million small pieces. Just be nice and guide me to the proper lighting. After all, everyone looks his or her fairest with the right lighting. No need to order your assistant to murder an annoying teenager to die in the woods.  Just wait, time will soon catch up on her [or him.] 

In the end, no matter how alluring we are in our youth, inevitably, we will end up feeling and looking like an ageing wasted monarch.  It is best to learn new skills while you are still young, film criticism perhaps.

Expect two surprising delights at the end of the film

(1) Palafitti (plural of palafitte): also called stilt houses.  In the Neolithic and Bronze Age, they were common in some parts of Europe and remains have been found in the marshes of Slovenia and Attersee lakes in Upper Austria. [Reference: Wikipedia]  Since the original Brothers Grimm's Snow White story (Schneewittchen und die sieben Zwerge) was based on a Germanic folk tale, it is quite interesting that Tarsem Singh used such imagery in a family-friendly movie.  What always intrigues me about Singh is that some of his visuals are not always what they seemed.

Production Design by Tom Foden
Art Direction by Ramsey Avery (supervising art director), Isabelle Guay (supervising art director), Nicolas Lepage, Jean-Pierre Paquet and Réal Proulx. 
Costume Design by Eiko Ishioka

(First published in “The Chair” Blog)

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