Starring: Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Rachel Stirling, Sam Spruell, Lily Cole, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Toby Jones and Bob Hoskins.
Running Time: 127 Mins Approx.
Seen At: Stockport’s Cineworld Cinemas.
On: Thursday, 14th June, 2012.
As early as April, we had the first of two early-summer cinematic Snow White’s. Julia Roberts’ return to the mainstream, relishing in fun menace in Mirror Mirror. I haven’t seen it yet, but, judging from the trailer, was defiantly the more fun - child-friendly, sugary, frothier and lighthearted, aimed squarely at youngsters compared to this supposedly more ‘epic’ adaptation. I suspect, that the former would have been the one which I personally would have enjoyed far more though.
The intention presumably was to re-imagine the classic Disney fairytale for the teen-angst-fuelled target audiences of today, their fanatically populist choice being the moody, pale-faced vampires of the Twilight phenomenon (surely it’s not just coincidental that the female lead here is the same as the heroine for so-dubbed ‘Twi-hards’ - but is it as cynical a ploy as just being a shrewd case of shoo-in casting to ensure successful box-office takings?
Maybe, but by opting for a decidedly darker tone, the result is mixed to say the least. Far too long, far too slow, and taking an absolute age to go anywhere, it takes on too many ideas for its own good.
Kristen Stewart’s demeanor is as miserable, stilted and inexpressive as ever, and even when she’s supposed to be the flourishing flower, she’s forever dressed in pauper’s rags.
Chris Hemsworth, a great actor, very popular with the mighty success of Thor, is here completely wasted on a vastly underwritten, cardboard-template of a role, and a terrible Scottish accent. Considering the title, you’d have also thought that his Huntsman would be the predominant love interest, but instead, that is Sam Claflin, fairing much better as William, a suitably heroic Prince Charming.
Thank goodness mainly though for Charlize Theron, completely stealing the show, fantastic and superbly evil in the simplest sense as Ravenna, (so named due to her recurring affinity with a motif of magically swirling ravens under her control – rather similar to Oz’s Wicked Witch of The West and her infamous flying monkeys). She’s the classic queen terrified of aging, who scarily enough, temporarily regains youth by sucking it out of her captured victims.
The sword-and-sorcery action set-pieces and climactic battles are visually impressive, as are some innovatively lavish visual effects and ideas, such as a spooling, liquid-gold mirror, and Ravenna’s bath, a literal metaphor for retaining the ‘milk of youth’ – she literally bathes in the lucid, white liquid in a desperate attempt to cling to her younger self. (We first see her in saucy seductress mode, stabbing her unsuspecting men in the heart – quite literally - in a vengeful rage). Her aging make-up is also terrific, as she transforms from spikily elegant, beautifully costumed queen into haggard harridan.
Whist cleverly retaining many staple elements (the mirror, with it’s famous ‘On the Wall’ speech, the poisoned apple, the huntsman’s plot thread), it just diverts too far from the filmic source material - Disney’s groundbreaking, first ever full-length animated feature, from 1937. I always welcome new re-envisionings of much revered classics – but only once or twice does it take memorable sequences and apply them to the new approach. This fails to capitalize on some original’s most startlingly effective moments, such as Lucille La Verne, inimitably voicing both the Wicked Queen (as she was known in fairytale) and horrible Witch, by drinking a lethal potion, putting her terrifying panoramically-photographed transformation into a dizzying spin.
As a consequence, tonally, it’s extremely muddled throughout, switching between languidly slow, overlong and serious, and then suddenly remembering the very young children’s audience, and their partiality towards humour that’s just far too infantile.
The latter is due mainly to the dwarfs, who, despite the starry cast they’re made up of (including wise leader Bob Hoskins), not only don’t put in an appearance until well after the first hour, but, curiously there’s eight of them.
One of the best scenes, at last adds some much-needed colour, as they lead our moping heroine into an evergreen glade, complete with toadstools, cute-faced pixies and fluorescent, camouflaged tortoises. It’s a beautifully designed, quiet sequence.
The most memorable supporting role is that of the Queen’s brother, played with dripping malevolence by Sam Spruell, very much in the similar cannon of The Mask of Zorro’s deceptively-named Captain Love, David Thewlis’s Northern antagonist King Einon in DragonHeart, or even Rocky Horror’s Richard O’Brien’s Pierre Le Pieu, in a fellow fairytale adaptation: Ever After: A Cinderella Story. These are wonderfully slimy supporting characters, irredeemably evil, and every bit as impactful, if not even more so, in the role of sometimes the secondary villain, as Theron is as his dominant, more intellectual sibling.
The film’s most disappointing element is the screenplay, struggling under the weight of its own flat dialogue and seemingly endless exposition.
In the accompanying trailers, as well as gigantic pop-out billboard posters adorning the multiplexes of shopping centres, presumably because filmmakers were all too aware of the recent competition of Mirror Mirror, I feel the marketing campaign made this out to be the far more epic option of the two, on a more ambitious scale. So I wonder why it feels quite small compared with its contemporary blockbusters such as the Narnia films for instance.
Perhaps it’s the choice not to venture into the utilization of 3D, apparently less popular with audiences, who in the main prefer 2D, but to me, a third dimension always adds to a certain immersive quality to the entire cinematic experience. The decision then to not choose 3D for a project that would seem to suit it ideally, is a missed opportunity, often counting against the film, meaning that a swish of a sword, slow-motion drips of blood, or the breaking of the mirror’s shards of glass, could have been made far more tactile for the audience.
The result, unfortunately feels considerably less ‘epic’ than was first intended, at least promotionally. This is partly due to the omission from the theatrical trailer, of Theron’s deeply sinister narration, a much more threatening version of the mirror’s simile-laden poem. Instead of the supposed innocence of the animated original’s: ‘Skin white as snow’ etc, Ravenna’s decidedly darker declaration of jealousy at her rival reads: ‘Lips red as blood…hair black as night…bring me your heart…my dear, dear Snow White’… It’s such an effectively unsettling speech, delivered with all the appropriate relish by Theron, I don’t know why they didn’t use it at all in the actual film.
It’s mildly enjoyable enough, but a wonderful central performance from Theron, don’t change this from being a case of individual scenes being stronger than the muddled whole. Here’s hoping, that if this is a relative success, and distributors Universal Studios do decide to cash-in on an inevitable sequel, as much effort is put into improving this labored screenplay’s pacing, character development and dialogue, as it does into its far more successful take on its cinematic technique; of effects, villainy and visuals.
Rating: * *