March 30, 2012




MIRROR MIRROR:  Not Even For Free – 7 Years Bad Luck



When it was announced that 2012 would bring two big-budget movie versions of the Snow White story, not to mention TV’s Once Upon A Time, in which Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a central character (and that’s not counting Grimm, another fairy tale series that–so far–doesn’t feature Snow White), those with a memory for Hollywood history started hauling out the comparisons.  Volcano movies!  Comets heading for Earth!  Truman Capote bios!

The conventional wisdom was that the first competing project to reach theatres would be the boxoffice winner, but that assumed that the movies really would be in competition.  As soon as photos from the Snow White projects were released, though, it was obvious that MIRROR MIRROR and summer’s upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman were going to be as utterly different as 2 movies could be that share the same general storyline.  Huntsmen, to all appearances, will be a violent (PG-13), large-scale adventure, as much Lord of the Rings as fairy tale, with the heroine as a warrior princess (which is similar to the way Goodwin’s Snow White is depicted in the Fairyland sequences of Once Upon A Time).  Mirror Mirror, clearly, was going to be… something else.

The notion behind Mirror Mirror was probably inspired by the huge success of Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland:  the whole film, both interiors and exteriors, was shot on deliberately artificial sets, with elaborately impossible costumes and an air of outsized stylization around the whole enterprise.  However, Alice (which was a bigger hit than it deserved to be, due to the combination of Burton, Johnny Depp and being lucky enough to appear soon after Avatar turned 3D back into an event), had only a whiff of camp; Mirror is silly and anachronistic from beginning to end.

For a movie this stylistically odd to work dramatically, it has to be either heartfelt or witty–Mirror Mirror is neither.  The script by Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller is aimed at small, unintelligent children, going through the motions of telling the familiar tale without any interesting twists or genuine humor.  Snow White (Lily Collins) learns how to fight with a sword, but she’s a simpering little girl even when she’s dueling, while the Queen (Julia Roberts) worries about her wrinkles like Carol Burnett in an old TV sketch.  (With Nathan Lane as her court chamberlain Brighton playing her Harvey Korman sidekick.)  The dwarves are bumbling thieves, instantly reformed by Snow White, and Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) is photographed shirtless so often that it seems the filmmakers are enjoying the spectacle as much as the Queen does.  Nothing in the movie is stirring in the way of a true fairy tale, or excitingly subversive, or even mildly insightful.


Director Tarsem Singh Dhandwar shows, as he did in The Cell, The Fall and Immortals, that he’s not very good with actors or with action sequences (or pacing), but he has an eye for arresting visuals.  If you buy in to the movie’s self-consciously unreal style, some of the sets (production design by Tom Foden) are quite beautiful, and the late Eiko Ishioka contributed several gorgeously wild gowns for Roberts and Collins to wear.

The actors have to fend for themselves.  This kind of theatrically arch comedy isn’t a comfortable fit for Roberts, and she performs like one of those serious actors who occasionally host Saturday Night Live, putting a whole lot of effort into looking like she’s having a great time.  Nathan Lane, on the other hand, should be in his element, but he only gets to play straight man to Roberts.  Collins’ performance never develops any rhythm, and the best that can be said about her is that she seems pleasant enough.  (Roberts and Collins suffer particularly by comparison with Once Upon A Time, where Lana Parilla and Goodwin play much more entertaining and well-developed versions of the same roles.)  Hammer, though, manages to be–yes–fairly charming as the Prince.

In this pop culture era, suffused with mythologized tales both classic and newly-created, there’s room for all sorts of variations:  not every adventure that centers around a spunky young heroine has to be The Hunger Games.  But if a new version is to make an impression in such a crowded genre, some imagination and proficiency are required.  Mirror Mirror should have taken a good hard look at itself before deciding it was ready to join that storybook.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."