By Drew Turney
Two films about the same thing from competing studios coming out at the same time is as traditional in Hollywood as executives in rehab.
The list is long – ”Armageddon” and ”Deep Impact”, ”Capote” and ”Infamous”, ”The Illusionist” and ”The Prestige”, ”Mission to Mars” and ”Red Planet”.
The cynical might think it’s because Hollywood is so short of original stories some producer hears about the undersea alien/volcano/fighter pilot movie greenlit down the street and sees dollar signs. But if you read deeply enough into the subtextual structure of films (or believe the hype from the marketing), many of the movies in these apparent dual releases are quite different from each other if you look deep enough. ”Deep Impact” was about splintered families where ”Armageddon” was about blowing shit up, for example.
In the same way, the forthcoming ”Snow White and the Huntsman” looks like it’s about war, where ”Mirror Mirror” is a comic parable about the currency of celebrity culture and the inevitable decline (in every sense of the word) it suffers because of age.
Tarsem Signh Dhandwar’s story (until The Immortals his output had grown grimmer with every new word he added to his name) is more about the Queen (Julia Roberts) rather than Snow White (Lily Collins, far more effusive and confident here than in the abysmal Abduction). She married Princess Snow’s loving father and – when he disappeared in the forbidding woods that surround the kingdom – started indulging her selfishness, living the high life while the peasantry starve.
But a new threat is coming from within as Snow blossoms into a lovely, happy and caring young woman and threatens to be – as the queen’s all-seeing mirror promises – the fairest one of all.
The queen can’t keep Snow locked up forever, and when she decides to sneak away to see the countryside, she discovers how much poverty and hardship the queen has wreaked, levying ever-rising taxes to pay for lavish parties. She also meets the dashing Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) in the woods. On his way to visit the queen to discuss a trade and military alliance, he and his valet have been set upon by seven dwarves who make their living as bandits and have strung the pair up in a tree. After Snow White frees them, both her and Alcott find themselves unable to forget each other.
The problem is the queen also has her eye on Alcott and intends to marry him to assure the financial future of the kingdom before the money runs out. Suddenly Snow White is a romantic rival on top of everything else, and the queen feels there’s no alternative but to have her killed.
But after taking pity on her, the queen’s bumbling right hand man Brighton (Nathan Lane) takes her into the woods and lets her go instead. She meets and falls in with the dwarves, recruiting them into her determination to depose the queen and bring prosperity and happiness back to the kingdom.
If you’ve seen the trailer you know ”Mirror Mirror” is broad comedy, new territory for Dhandwar (as opposed to the many unintentional laughs in The Immortals). As Roberts told a gathering of reporters on the LA press tour ‘their woodsman is the guy who played Thor, ours in Nathan Lane’.
It’s full of Roberts issuing cynical missives about aging and being overthrown by the next young ingénue that could come from a million conversations about the fate in store for Hollywood leading women. Of the two Snow White films this year this will probably be the more suitable for children.
Collins is cute but doesn’t have much to do except follow the pretty young heroine playbook, and Hammer makes the most of pillorying his square-jawed good looks and often looks appropriately ridiculous in the process. But the show belongs to Roberts, having such a good time not only playing the villain but delivering almost all the best lines she’s a treat to watch.
It does a pretty good job of shaking up the characterisations from the traditional Snow White story, and the comedy does the rest. If you only see one Snow White film this year it’s going to be a harder choice than it seems at first glance.