SPECIAL DOUBLE-BILL EDITION!
Every now and again, Hollywood treats us to some double-trouble: two films produced and released within months of each other with common subject matter. It's what I like to call the Pullman-Paxton effect. You've got your Tombstone and Wyatt Earp, Volcano and Dante's Peak, Armageddon and Deep Impact, EdTV and The Truman Show, even, to a lesser extent, Reindeer Games and Bounce. (Both seemed to be about Ben Affleck acting like an asshole.) In 2012 we will once again be compelled to compare the content and merit of two films, both fairy tale retellings: Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. In this situation, it doesn't take a Harris Yulin from Ghostbusters 2 to judge which is the superior movie.
Starting with the directors. Mirror is helmed by Tarsem Singh, whose previous credits include The Cell and Immortals. Here's a guy who's not afraid to ask the question, "But does it look awesome enough?" SWATH, meanwhile, is directed by Rupert Sanders, who has no previous major credits. That's okay. Costner hit it out of the park his first go, so I'll not be one to hate on frosh. While Singh is content to smear his elaborate production with lame dialogue, dumb jokes, and self-congratulatory references, Rupert S. delivers actual excitement, a sweetass fantasy world, and a successful take on an old story. Too bad he went and cast Thor.
Then we have our respective Snow Whites. Traditionally the character doesn't do much of anything except get lost in the woods and poisoned a time or two. Both new versions attempt to make her a stronger character. The one in Huntsman, played by Kristen Stewart, is brave and intelligent, a princess who becomes a warrior-queen. It's often annoying when a movie puts a babe in armor and gives her a sword, as if to say, "See? Ladies can do this too. We're down with the feminists." It's throwing women a bone while their role in the movie is still to look pretty and end up with the hero. (Think Kiera Knightley in Pirates or King Arthur.) But with Kristen Stewart I buy it -- I missed her in the Twilight shitfest but thought she was excellent in Panic Room. Mirror, Mirror, on the other hand, gives us a child Snow White, a young, innocent princess with an attitude who, yes, picks up a sword in the end and decides to show that wicked queen she won't be pushed around! It's a better character than Disney's helium-voiced, gullible ditz, but still. Don't put weapons in her hand if she's too nice to use them.
The most crucial character in the story, of course, is the Evil Queen. Both movies have cast iconic actresses to portray the villainess. Huntsman's Charlize Theron is a vain, ruthless psychopath who sucks the life out of young maidens to preserve her youth and beauty. She hunts Snow White without mercy with the intent to eat her heart and live forever. Scary stuff guys. Charlie Th. is an outstanding actress whose looks belie her range and talent, and as the Evil Queen she is an effective, formidable badguy. Mirror has gone with Julia Roberts as a far more mundane, casually nasty, humorous Evil Queen. She's bitchy but not scary, and the tone of danger remains pretty low when her evilest deed is slapping Nathan Lane upside the ass and belittling the maids while she fusses with a girdle. I know the movie's supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but even The Princess Bride had the eels and electroshock torture.
Snow White and the Huntsman takes the fundamentals of the folk tale and makes it a story for adults in this post-LOTR brand of fantasy genre we've got on our hands. It's no Pan's Labyrinth as far as inventive filmmaking goes, but it's dark, and on action, drama, and art direction, it delivers. It's also got a punishing supporting cast, featuring Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, and Bobby Hoskins. Mirror, Mirror, though, is no more than an endeavor to cash in on a brand name while offering no new perspective on an already-told story. It's a tedious, hollow film full of limp punchlines and a dumb, modernized tone, devoid of any noteworthy imagination. (With the exception of Sean Bean as the King. His scenes are riveting.)
Too many comparisons might not be worthwhile, but if there are two types of people in this world, like they say, then a choice must be made: are you Pullman people or Paxton people? It's no coincidence that Paxton bumbled his way through Tombstone, while Pullman held it down true in the superior Wyatt Earp. Like the Bills themselves, there is a clear winner here, and victory is decisive. Snow White and the Huntsman pulls a Pullman: solid, committed, and awesome. Mirror, Mirror is definitely the Paxton here, particularly Paxton in Aliens: hamming it up, acting a hot shot, and chewing gum while shouting, "Where are these aliens comin' from, man!" It's just an annoying way to be.
I'm a Pullmanman. Are you?
Mirror, Mirror: D+
Snow White and the Huntsman: A-
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