DISCLAIMER: I have seen neither Mirror, Mirror nor Snow White and the Huntsman. Mirror, Mirror may turn out to be a delightful romp, a fresh take on an old tale that will leave you laughing! (Unbloodylikely.)
The trailer for Mirror, Mirror sends me into a tizzy of rage. Admittedly, lots of things send me into a tizzy of rage. It’s kind of my thing. But the Snow White and the Huntsman trailer is all I have ever wanted in this world. In fact, they don’t even have to release a movie– I would watch that trailer for three hours straight. Why? Let’s break it down.
First, let’s watch:
Who’s the fairest?
The weirdest thing about Mirror, Mirror is that it looks more like a really ambitious theater production than a movie. This is baffling because, say what you will about Tarsem Singh, the man has a gift for spectacle– overwrought, overworked, occasionally involving hilarious hats– but he knows his movie magic. So what happened here? Why does everything look so flat and wrong? Why does every shot scream “sound stage”?
By contrast, SWATH looks like A MOVIE. Every shot breathes with a sense of space. The icy landscape comes alive with soldiers and sound. Clothes look lived in. Surfaces sparkle or buckle beneath grime.
Clearly, Mirror, Mirror isn’t aiming for the same kind of believability, but whimsical should still feel tangible.
Bring me her heart
Still, the big problem isn’t Mirror, Mirror‘s surface. The problem is its soul.
Fairy tales frequently locate all evil and danger in older women (witches, fairies, wicked stepmothers). Driven by greed, vanity, and malice, they murder their rivals, steal infants, and if they’re feeling particularly peckish, they eat children. (I’m not going to go deep here, but I think it’s worth keeping in mind that of the thousands of people put to death for practicing witchcraft in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries, the majority were women of a certain age– widows, spinsters, wives who had failed to give their husbands children.)
When we think about fairy tales, we should consider what these patterns might imply. And, from a storytelling perspective, if you’re going to make a two-hour movie based on such a tale, then you will be forced to ask, why would a woman resort to murder just to remain the fairest of them all?
According to Mirror, Mirror, it’s because the Evil Queen is vain, and vicious, and up to her ears in debt. In short, she’s the embodiment of every nasty fairy tale trope about women. But it’s much worse, because this Queen is also pathetic. Isn’t it ridiculous how women obsess over their looks? Isn’t it hilarious to see an older woman cram herself into a corset and try to bed a younger man? And what do you want to bet the Queen racked up those debts acquiring new gowns and redecorating the palace? How droll! At least the witches of the Brothers Grimm (and for that matter Disney) got to be genuinely scary and powerful. (This poor Queen is also hopelessly dated. Her one-liners sound like cast-offs from a particularly tired episode of Sex & the City.)
When it comes to the question of the Queen’s motives, SWATH is trying something entirely new. Based on the trailer, it looks like the writers have created a magical conceit that ties beauty directly to military might. This is just such a cool narrative trick. It takes what is essentially a passive power (the power of being beheld, coveted, envied, desired, the power that draws the eyes and protection of a prince) and makes it an active power (the power to wage war and command armies).
Like I said, I could be wrong. Mirror, Mirror could turn out to be a hoot. SWATH could come off as a humorless, ponderous mess. But based on the trailers, my gut says Mirror, Mirror is peddling old poison, and I’m not going to bite.