Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
Once upon a time there was a film called Mirror, Mirror that didn't get the credit it was due and after spending a criminally short period of time in theatres, was dismissed as a mere visual bauble, lacking "enough depth or originality to set it apart from the countless other adaptations of the tale," according to RottenTomatoes.com.
As Julia Roberts would say in the film, lightly daubing her mouth with an ornate lace napkin, "agree to disagree."
Though there was a number of patriotic films I could've chosen to review, I decided on the Fourth of July to blow $20 on the recently released DVD of Twentieth Century Fox's Mirror, Mirror, the Bollywood reimagining of a German fairy tale that sadly did not get the publicity or the attention it deserved. I believe this film, directed by Tarsem Singh, was a victim of poor marketing and cultural divides.What we essentially have here is an incredibly well-cast and lushly displayed Bollywood film, and being a fan of that genre, of course I adored it. For those of you not in the know, Bollywood (formally referred to as Hindi Cinema) is a genre of Indian film that incorporates energetic dance sequences, over-the-top costumes and self-referential humor with whimsical plots that generally revolve around love stories.
If I needed any more support for my case, just take a gander at the ending sequence (No spoilers here, unless you've grown up under a rock and don't realize that Snow White and the Prince live happily ever after....if that's the case, well, OOOPS!) and then take a look at a dance sequence from Saawariya, a Bollywood film released in 2007:
So yeah, you get the idea. But the truth is, Bollywood doesn't tend to go over terribly well in this country, and it's a damn shame, because it's a whole lot of fun. And without having that background, I imagine several moviegoers saw Mirror, Mirror and found it a singularly perplexing giddy experience wrapped up in a sumptuous orange bow. But at least they had plenty of jaw-droppingly beautiful costumes and sets to gawk at.
The other thing that I find incredibly appealing personally about Mirror, Mirror is I strongly dislike Julia Roberts. She tends to be cast as the sweet "girl next door" when I always saw evil and treachery lurking beneath that mile-wide smile. As the Evil Queen, I feel she was finally given the role she was born to play - a cruel, self-possessed downright witchy woman. And there's a certain amount of self-reflected irony in Roberts taking on the role, as she herself isn't quite as "fair" as she used to be as the actress creeps toward middle age.
In fact, I can't think of a single person who wasn't suited to their roles.The delicately lovely Lily Collins does a fine turn at Snow White, creating the difficult balance between sweet and innocent and also profoundly human - and it's the humanness that makes her so darn likeable. She gets irritated and says inappropriate things, and doesn't let the Evil Queen boss her around, all of which makes her a step above the standard oh-so-goody-two-shoes flawless fairytale princess. The dwarves are wise-cracking thieves played by incredibly talented little people, which definitely is a tip of the hat to that particular community of actors since in the age of CGI it would've been easy to just "create" them, and their chemistry with Snow is endearing as it is genuine. Nathan Lane (aging quite gracefully, by the way) rounds out the palace ensemble as Brighton, the simpering, scraping manservant to the Queen who finds himself quite literally playing the cockroach he is in a sequence that would make Franz Kafka proud.
And, of course, the Prince. Could there have been a better choice, really, than Armie Hammer? He's blonde, blue-eyed, and so darn hapless in the presence of two great female leads you just want to give him a big old hug. What else can he do but just do what he does best - be charming? And yet, somehow he succeeds through his interactions with Snow White as being more than just a stock fairytale character, and even gamely does a great job at imitating a puppy when the Queen botches one of her own spells.
But under all the fluff and visual splendor, the film has a dark edge that is highly appealing to me, and is rather appropriate given that the tale itself is quite macabre. While there's no glass display coffins to be had, the Queen's rotten apple core of a magical abode has very Poe-like elements and the opening animation sequence featuring young Snow White, the King, and the Evil Queen as fine-featured porcelain dolls is incredibly original. What I'd give to see an entire film done in that style!
Probably what sold me the most on the film is what they do with the King, Snow White's father. He's a story element that has rarely been explored in recent interpretations of the tale.His character in Mirror, Mirror is given a rather unique spin, and I think if you take the time to give it a watch, you'll very much agree with me.
The DVD is sadly lacking in the extras department. The documentary is interesting and will give viewers more of the mindset in filmmaking from the Indian cultural experience (Armie Hammer quite rightly calls Tarsem Singh's directing style "unceasingly effervescent") and a cute puppy feature for the kiddies, but not much else to write home about. However, it does let you skip past the previews for other films at the beginning and being able to pause certain scenes and take in all the rich detail is a definite plus.
Mirror, Mirror may not be the fairest one of all - but it's a whole lot of fun and a great opportunity to step into another doorway of cultural moviedom.
DVD packaging and extras: