Opinion. Mirrors: For Reflection and Hindsight
There is no easy way of setting this up, so let’s get down to brass tacks. As with previous duelling releases of yesteryear including the spat between asteroid-smashers Deep Impact and Armageddon (1998) or magician dramas The Prestige and The Illusionist (2006), we have two Snow White adaptations: Universal’s Snow White and the Huntsman and Relativity Media’s Mirror, Mirror. Given past bouts this isn’t immediately unusual, but then you don’t need a microscope to see the difference. Unlike previous competing pictures, the separation between each project has rarely been so polarising. One is apparently a dark, violent action adventure and the other a blossom-coated comedy tugging at the apron threads of The Princess Bride. On the basis of each trailer, not much to get excited about. But that’s assuming you’re viewing them in the context of individual films, which given the press coverage comparing the two suggests, you’re not.
Indeed, when the trailer for ‘SWATH’ (the acronym that Snow and The Huntsman’s trailer barks at you in relation to all its #twitter) debuted last week it was greeted with tepid acceptance, we all knew it was there. We came, we saw it, we shrugged. Unimpressed still, today we got our first trailer for Mirror, Mirror from Immortals director Tarsem Singh. Rather than presenting the daring visual allure of the Tarsem we have come to expect, we get a bland pastel-daubed endurance test of Julia Roberts and poor Nathan Lane reduced to terrible one liners and Armie Hammer suffering from an overdose of puppy love (“You can rub my tummy!”). Naturally hindsight will make fools of all of us, as we pranced back over to the trailer for SWATH (the marketing machine in full bore here) and declared it a godsend. Here, retrospect will enliven one and destroy the other and all before either movie has reached the screen. Obviously this is all measuring hype, and hype can be fuelled or derailed by a little as a Superbowl spot, a one-sheet or a Showest reel. But hey, discourse is the cornerstone of anticipation.
In anticipation of either barbed candyfloss or muddy gothic, let’s consider exactly what either one will really do to justify their aesthetics and tone. What value does darkness have over light? Certainly Mirror, Mirror has thus far justified its candy with more sweetness, effectively cancelling out itself. SWATH has plenty of surreal (that Hollywood brand of surreal that is) living mirrors, milk baths and colossi (indeed, colossi!) clamouring for your attention. But we have yet to see a point to any of this, in fact how are any of these apparently ambitious images have any thematic worth? There surely can’t be only one Guillermo del Toro in the world can there? The problem fundamentally though isn’t in the bark on a monster, but in the use of darkness itself. It is more satisfying to see shadows, but after a while you are just staring at a black space. Darkness is no measure of depth, but it’s ironic how it has replaced sweetness as comfort food.
In these contemporary post-post-modern times, both Snow Whites wield swords and hold their own against dopey princes and lumbering lumberjacks. They have to, not that we’re against that sort of thing but it has become a trope employed against its own empowering will. A girl power gimmick cynically reeled out because Shrek made it impossible to make a straight fairytale anymore, no regard to the value, just the image is important. It’s a shame, and all while failing to realise what made Belle in Beauty and the Beast work as a character: she was a character first and foremost. Pay attention to the word, not the sword.
As films, the jury is out. As hype goes, the verdict is already unanimous unless Tarsem is hiding one sucker punch of a trump card up his immaculately decorated sleeves. In the meantime, Disney’s Snow White is a good place to start your homework; crucially that film balances darkness and light. The result is classic cinema, emphasis through contrast, making the scares scarier and the laughs louder. As far as Mirror, Mirrror and SWATH go, the hundred yard dash in opposite directions starts now. Let the mediocrity begin.
Snow White and the Huntsman is released on June 1st 2012.
Mirror, Mirror is released on March 16th 2012.