Skin as white as snow, unibrow as black as night, and lips red from the blood of the original.
Hollywood really can not resist beating its own lack of originality to death. In this year alone, audiences will enjoy two horrible remakes of Snow White. The first of these is Mirror Mirror, a kids film directed by Tarsem Singh. The latter is a darker re-adaptation being released this summer and stars Kristin Stewart. Of the two, this one is probably going to be the better film, unfortunately that’s not saying much.
Lily Collins doesn’t actually do too badly as Snow White. Even considering the near unibrow, her performance probably could be considered Oscar worthy in comparison with Kristin Stewart’s upcoming shot at the character in two months.
This film must have been an exercise in awkwardness for Armie Hammer, who in The Social Network and J. Edgar proved to be a talented actor. Here he puts all of his acting ability to the test and challenges even the dog from Up! by providing a masterful portrayal of a puppy when he is put under a spell by the Queen.
The Queen is probably the worst part of this movie. At the end of the original Brothers Grimm tale, the evil Queen is forced to wear heated iron shoes and dance until she is dead. Unfortunately, that kind of scene would require acting ability far beyond that of Julia Roberts, who couldn’t even play herself and make it in any way compelling (See also: Ocean’s 12). Her performance is melodramatic, awkward, genuinely the worst part of this movie, and exactly what one should expect from Julia Roberts.
The seven dwarves are humourous and well-characterized, easily beng the best part of the film. Brighton (Nathan Lane), the court’s steward, has an interesting degree of depth struggling between his obligations to the Queen and his moral duties, but a lot of what makes those scenes interesting is a requirement of the plot, rather than an actual artistic move.
Whoever designed the film’s costumes needs to be taken into a dark forest, abandoned, and never spoken of again. The film itself makes fun of the over-the-top outfits complete with corsets and cumbersome dresses as though the film revels in the discomfort of its actors. Even when Snow White escapes and joins the dwarves, she wears a completely impractical outfit. One does not simply leave one’s shoulders bare in the middle of winter!
The film’s subplots are dropped like apples. The Prince sends his companion off at the start of the film to go get reinforcements to protect the forest and he is never heard from again—probably the White Walkers got him, or he was killed because in the few scenes he is in seems to actually have a grasp of what was going on. Congratulations to Robert Emms for playing the only truly smart character in this bastardized remake, you were smart enough to get out of this movie before it really got started.
A significant part of the film is also spent dwelling on how the village used to be a place of dancing, productivity, and happiness before the Queen started taxing the villagers into poverty with not-so-subtle political under currents to boot. However, these themes don’t amount to much. At the end of the day, it still requires Snow White, a character coming from wealth and power to restore order. By the third act, any story involving these villagers is essentially forgotten.
Where the film is unapologetically blunt is in its attempt to create a feminist version of Snow White. Singh handles the themes with absolutely no subtlety. When one of the dwarves asks upon Snow White’s disappearance, “She’s not in the kitchen?” feminist readings are clumsily brought into the film.
For Mirror Mirror, intellect and wit are presented as more far-sighted than temporary beauty. Snow becomes a capable young woman who asserts herself against the Queen and being a damsel in distress. One supposes that this reading of the character could bring a good message to kids, but it really feels opportunistic rather than heartfelt.
The fact remains that putting female characters into traditionally male roles and constructing male characters as silly and dimwitted does not make a film in any way a statement of gender equality. For all people might accuse the original Disney versions of tales like Snow White as being sexist, that knife cuts into both genders: you can’t be sexist against women without also being sexist against men. There is nothing fundamentally new or different here than there is in those Disney movies.
The film is only about 100 minutes, but it feels much longer. Too many scenes linger on, a fight between Snow White and the Prince lasts for nearly 10 minutes of back and forth awkward pseudo-romantic banter, and every scene with the Queen is awkward and unbearable. How Tarsem Singh went from directing the incredible 2006 film The Fall to doing Immortals and Mirror Mirror boggles the mind.
Mirror Mirror may be passable entertainment for a family looking to kill time and whose children are too young for The Hunger Games, but ultimately, children should grow up on the artistic merit of great originals rather than being fed with the poisonous fruit of cash grab remakes and throwaway modern values.