Director Tarsem Singh has an unquestionable sense of style. As stated in my Blu-ray review of Immortals, the man has an eye for visuals. His movies look incredible, they are dazzling works of art. They are also, all too regularly, distinctly lacking when it comes to story and plot and just about everything outside of the look. There is, however, always the sense about Singh that if he can manage, just once, to put it all together and create a movie not just with his sense of style but also with a great story that it would be a classic that would stand the test of time. 2012′s Mirror, Mirror is not that movie, but it is certainly closer than Singh’s previous effort.
Mirror, Mirror is Singh’s take on the famed Snow White tale and features Lily Collins as Snow White and Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen. Played for laughs, the film is full of great moments and neat ideas. The shortcoming is that these great moments and neat ideas don’t end up coming together into one cohesive piece, rather they just remain these separate great moments.
The single most interesting thing about the film is the interaction between the Queen and her magic mirror. Rather than simply talking to her mirror, she steps through it and into some sort of secret, magic, world. The image in the mirror, the one that she speaks to, is actually a reflection of her, but one which can work magic. It is this fascinating idea, this amazing notion about the relationship between the Queen and the mirror. It also goes no further than the setup. Singh simply throws it out there—the Queen goes into this funky world to talk to an image of herself, but with flawless skin—and then does nothing whatsoever with it. It is an idea which desperately calls for exploration, for discussion, for something deeper, but he doesn’t bother.
That then is really the way many of Singh’s films, including Mirror, Mirror play out. It all feels as though it’s a little schizophrenic, bounding from interesting setup to interesting setup with exploration and payoffs few and far between. One can almost imagine meetings about the film with a whole lot of enthusiastic shouting “Yes, I love that idea, we’ll include it… yes, I love that idea, we’ll include it… yes, I love that idea, we’ll include it!” But never did anyone then go back and wonder how all the ideas were going to connect and tie together and go anywhere.
Another example of this is the establishing of the seven dwarfs as outlaws who use telescopic, accordion-like stilts to seem like giants and thereby more easily rob people. There seem to be far greater opportunities for them to make use of these devices than they do. Beyond that though, the film establishes that they have a hole in their roof, but later when they find themselves locked in, they don’t bother to consider it (nor do they ever consider how foolish it is for thieves to allow anyone such an easy means of entrance to their hideout). The dwarves fail to act with urgency when needed, with Singh preferring to use them as yet more comic relief. They are funny and they are enjoyable when on screen, they just don’t happen to really act as one would think they ought.
And then there’s Snow White and her prince (Armie Hammer). Part of the idea of the film is that Snow is not a passive character, that she is the agent of change and growth within her own life rather than simply falling prey to the Queen and being saved by the handsome Prince. As far as that goes, it works, but to turn Snow from a hapless princess to a worthy adversary to the Queen, the film resorts to this training-via-dwarf montage. Again, it’s a nice enough moment in the film, but the prowess which Snow displays after the training session seems more than a little impossible. As with the rest of the film, it’s a great idea with no follow through.
Mirror, Mirror succeeds because it is fun enough, enjoyable enough, and pretty enough, but it should have been great. It has all these brilliant puzzle pieces but there are a whole bunch of pieces that have gone missing. It is a better effort, a far better effort, than Immortals, but it isn’t quite there yet. All of the frenetic jumping around and great ideas get in the way of the story and get in the way of the characters and the acting. Hammer’s prince could have a real story to him, Nathan Lane’s servant has a story but it’s never told, and we’ve already discussed the shortcoming with the dwarfs, Queen, and Snow White. The makings for an excellent movie are here, but it isn’t given the room it needs to gel.