Trailer v. Trailer: A Sorta Fairy Tale

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.

20 Comments

Filed under The Violet Hour

20 responses to “Trailer v. Trailer: A Sorta Fairy Tale

  1. The Mirror, Mirror movie looks like something I’d see on the Disney or ABC Family channels — one of their endless Cinderella retellings full of stereotypes and songs. Can’t honestly believe it’s a major motion picture release.

  2. Are you watching Once Upon a Time?

  3. A fantastic post, Ms. Leigh.

    I still want to see both. I love a good romp. And I also love dark tales. It will be interesting to watch how both play out.

    Though I will say, the SCARFACE reference at the end of the Mirror, Mirror trailer really leaves me concerned about the writing.

  4. Yeah, the SCARFACE reference makes me feel like they’re in some kind of time warp. Even Disney has pulled back on those kinds of pop culture references.

    Kari, I watched the pilot and an episode with Cinderella and didn’t care for either. But if you tell me I need to invest some more time, I’ll do it. I actually rather enjoyed the episode of Grimm that I caught.

  5. tim

    Ahhhhhhhhh Snow White looks kickass.

  6. Wonderful post, Leigh!

    From the trailers alone, SWATH definitely looks like it’s going to be the more realistic, dark, and overall exciting movie. I agree too, about how it looks more natural and alive than the MM setting.

    MM reminds me of Ella Enchanted (great book, but I thought the movie was a huge disappointment) with how it’s trying to be funny and cute but comes across as annoyingly over-the-top. I’ll definitely check out SWATH, but MM will have to receive some fabulous reviews to convince me to see it.

  7. That tone is SO hard to strike. I didn’t *hate* ELLA ENCHANTED (but I also watched it on the elliptical so… grain of salt.)

    Off the top of my head, THE PRINCESS BRIDE is the only fairy tale type film that managed to achieve that silly/whimsical tone with real success. (And which also holds up beautifully despite iffy visuals.) I think that’s because, though it is very much aware of itself, it is utterly without cynicism. It is sincere, romantic, and because it’s also very smart, it doesn’t rely on the kind of sarcasm that can turn nasty so fast. Goldman’s book reads the same way (dreadful prologue aside).

    • Oh, THE PRINCESS BRIDE! Such a wonderful movie. I agree, the elements of it were executed very well. One of those rare movies that is utterly charming, even with flaws. I still need to read the book, but I’m glad to hear that it has the same feel as the movie🙂

      Hopefully, MIRROR MIRROR will manage to achieve a least a bit of the charm TPB has and surprise us all.

      • I like your optimism😀

        You should definitely read TPB! Just promise me you’ll SKIP THE PROLOGUE. (Please. Seriously. It has NOTHING to do with the book and you can read it after you’re done if you must.)

    • Given your opinions on tone, have you ever seen Enchanted? (different movie than Ella Enchanted) I thought that did a great job with the silly/whimsical that was actually self-aware and yet still disarmingly sincere.

      As for the original topic of SWATH I’m curious if you’ve now seen the movie and what your opinion of it is… I thought the trailer looked fantastic for all the reasons you state above, but the movie sorely suffered for casting Kristin Stewart. Perhaps she would be better playing Pinocchio? (I’ve never seen a more wooden *movie star* and can’t believe she still gets major roles.) The last scene where the director lingers on her face for what seems like 5 minutes and we’re obviously supposed to be experiencing her overwhelming emotions as she’s put on the throne… yet we simply stare at an empty face… was truly agonizing to watch. (And personally, I don’t understand how one could ever claim that Stewart is “fairer” than Charlize Theron — when that’s the whole basis of conflict for the movie, it’s just too unbelievable as Stewart is simply ordinary looking.)

      Sad waste of what looked like great effort and opportunity by casting a popular actress rather than a good one. But unfortunately that seems to be the way Hollywood works more often than not.

  8. Sarah

    “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?”

    smart questions like this, mz lady, are the heart of your writing awesomes.
    re: princess bride: “i’m not a witch, I’m your wife!” an interesting take on this motif, yes, to give the old person magic to a married couple?

  9. Ooh, Sarah! Such a great observation. Do Miracle Max and Valerie have parallels or precursors in folklore? Are magic makers inherently loners?

    In my reading, the men of fairy tales are usually the cursed or blessed, not the ones doling out the curses or blessings. The few male magicians I’ve encountered in Russian folklore have been eeeevil sorcerers or wizards.

  10. Noa

    That Princess Bride prologue *is* dreadful. But then…BAM! The book is amazing. I just reread last year when I needed a comfort book.

  11. Sarah

    okay, okay, i have such an INTENSE relationship to that prologue, which for years I believed completely, believed the whole shtick, and then, slowly, was like: i think this is a….fiction?? (I will also tell you, Leigh, that I only really felt okay about that credulousness on my part when jjk told me that he’d also believed it.) I read that prologue so many times trying to figure out how to make it into someone written by someone I’d like, someone I could fit with the movie in my heard, something that had the moral vision I was looking for. Of course it never does.

    I will say that the prologue is extremely uncomfortable and akward but also a really important of the book’s whole narrative effect, because *the book* is such an uncomfortable critique of happiness and belief. The prologue totally needs to be stripped away if you want the book to offer the comfort that the film delivers so whole-heartedly.

  12. JF on a bike

    i want a good delightful romp . . . with you! best writer ever

  13. Tut tut, JF. Though I’ll hardly argue with your assessment.

    Sarah, I haven’t read the prologue since I first read the book as a kid, so I can’t argue for or against its narrative value.

    Here’s what I remember about it: A desperate older screenwriter ogling a young girl in a bikini. I seem to remember that her name was Sandy and that his desire for her was some kind of factor in his drive to find a story.

    I actually knew it was fiction at the time (or assumed that it was), but I was still put off and grossed out. As an adult, maybe I’d get the humor or at least the stance. I don’t know if I want to venture back to find out.

  14. Amaris

    Of course, part of the reason the SWATH trailer looks so good (and I agree, it looks like exactly the kind of movie I would spend money to see) is because we never hear Snow White speak. *fears the KStew stutter*

  15. Poor KStew! Y’know, I don’t hate her the way others seem to. But there’s no question Charlize pwned that trailer.

  16. Pingback: Tales from the Book 2 Bunker |

  17. Katherine Skye

    I will definitely be seeing Snow White and the Huntsman.

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