Rupert Sanders's Snow White and the Huntsman (SWATH) is a dark take on the fairy tale where the Evil Queen Ravenna has taken over the kingdom and let it fall to the ruins, while keeping the true heir of its throne, Snow White, imprisoned. However, Snow escapes into the Dark Forest and Ravenna has to take the help of a huntsman, Eric, to capture her as she needs her heart to stay immortal and unchanged forever. But captivated by Snow's beauty and strength, Eric decides to help Snow fight Ravenna and regain her throne.
Tarsem Singh's Mirror Mirror (MM) is a happy Disney-loving film about Snow White. The Queen wants to marry the Prince to keep her income flowing, but is threatened by the beauty of her step-daughter Snow and orders her to be killed in the forest. However, the killer isn't able to do so and tells her to run away, which is when she meets a band of seven dwarves. The rest, as we say, is fairy tale history.
I saw both of them only a couple of days apart. Because of the afore-mentioned Hollywood fairy tale craze, I did have a lot of preconceived notions before seeing the films, which worked both for and against these two films.
This post is a bit spoilerific, so you have been warned.
The Snow Whites
I have always believed that Snow White is the stupidest princess/fairy tale heroine of all time, with the exception Goldilocks, maybe. I mean her entire story revolves around how white she is. Also she has the most idiotic name ever. It is commendable to both these movies that they try to make her more than just a half-a-dimension character.
Lily Collins in MM was sweet, but she is incredibly dull and occasionally irritating. They do try the whole "princess saving the prince" thing, and her one fight with the Prince is a lot of fun. But as the Queen says, "her skin has never seen the sun, so of course it's good" and so she has to do nothing there, really. She was one of the weakest links of the movie because she was just so blah.
Kristen Stewart in SWATH however has the fulfilling-destiny storyline going for her. One of the smartest things about this film is that they make "fairest of them all" about her heart and her purity and not her looks since anyone with eyes will know that KStew is not more beautiful than Charlize Theron. The film revolves around her Snow White in such a way that it benefits her role a great deal. But then it sort of fails to achieve the whole underdog-destiny aspect of it because she suddenly becomes this warrior out of nowhere. I had thought throughout most of the film that she would have some sort of naturalist powers or something that will help her defeat the Evil Queen, but that never happens. She never gets a chance to stem out properly, but still KStew does a decent job. Also her Snow does avoid a major cliche at the end, for which she has to applauded. She definitely is the better Snow White.
The Prince and the Huntsman
'Cuz the Prince in SWATH isn't really a prince at all (sorry Sam Claflin!). I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked these two characters.
Chris Hemsworth as Eric, the Hunstman, is Snow's companion and guide in SWATH. He is the person who is used to show Snow's greatness and purity as he discovers it along with us. I really liked Hemsworth as the Huntsman, perhaps even more than his Thor. He gives a lot of heart, humour and well, brawn to such a character which makes him very likeable and human.
However, Armie Hammer as Prince Alcott in MM steals the show completely. He is easily the best part of this film. Already the most inspired casting choice here (yes, even more than Theron as the Evil Queen), Hammer's Alcott shines in every scene he is in. He is such a bimbo, but an honourable and lovable one, which I think all the quintessential Prince Charming-types are. He is uproariously funny, which comes as a bit of a shock because I did not really expect it out of him. It is a delight to watch him be such a fun character, and one cannot help but smile (and swoon) whenever he is in the shot. He wins this round by a landslide.
The Evil Queens
These two were my sole reasons for watching the film. Like Alvy Singer, I tend to fall for the Wicked Queen.
I thought Julia Roberts as the Queen was really humorous. I have read reviews in which people talk about not being able to believe Roberts as someone who is evil because of her persona so far, but that is exactly what makes it all the more funny for me. She is the pretty woman trying to stay pretty or the queen in front of a (shirtless) prince, asking him to love her using a puppy love potion! Genius! I love the moments her iconic smile seeped through or when she's excited about getting married for the fifth time. She wasn't "evil" evil, but she was exactly what I would imagine a a real Wicked Queen to be like.
Now Charlize Theron's Queen Ravenna had pretty much been on the forefront ever since the first teaser came out. She had this wonderful narration in it about how seeing people in pain used to break her heart before and now it gives her pleasure, along with the total glamdoll bitch look that made this a completely scrumptious role. This is also what is the biggest flaw of the movie for me, because we only ever get teasers to such a character and never the whole story. Theron is amazing in her relatively brief role, and there is this sense of tragedy around her that is so captivating and intriguing. But we are never told why she is the way she is. I really wish the film was about her, not because I hate KStew or any of the other popular rants, but because I was genuinely invested in this seriously complex person that is not used or shown properly at all. I mean making a film about the Evil Queen- how is that for a darker tone?
I give them equal points.
Now I wait for Maleficient.
Real Dwarves vs Fake Ones
I nearly jumped out of my seat during SWATH when I saw that Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan and Nick Frost (!!) as the part of the band of dwarves. I had no idea at all that they were there in this film. They had some moments, but this film introduces them as an arbitrary measure because they are such an integral part of the original tale. I barely remember them, which is big thing seeing the talent involved. They were there, that is it.
In MM, the dwarves have their true role, as friends and sort-of protectors of Snow White. Famous dwarf actors like Jordan Prentice, Danny Woodburn and Martin Klebba are part of the band. They are quite funny, and very likeable. The humour did tend to go a bit slapstick with them, which completely missed the mark most of the time, but these seven dwarves are very much an important part of the film. I really liked that. So they win.
Now along with the story, what really sets these two films apart from each other is their very singular looks.
Tarsem Singh has made a name for his vibrant and gorgeous films, and MM is no different. I loved the colours in this film- the rich tones of golds and yellows and reds. The castle was beautiful inside and out. As said in the narration at the beginning of the film, this is a fantastical place where everybody sang and danced all the time, which isn't a realistic thing. So the look had to show that, and it does. Nothing like this exists in the real world, and Tarsem captures this fairy tale quality in the visuals perfectly.
Now what SWATH does is borrow heavily from other films in terms of visuals. The Miyazaki elements were obvious as hell, and the whole film had a LOTR quality about it, finishing with a stereotypical battle scene at the end. So while none of the matter is original on its own, the fact that it is in a Snow White movie is what makes it original. It was a stunning looking film. The only thing I can nitpick about is the excessive overhead wide shots- that started to get old very quickly.
This too is an equal point for both of them.
Now this was the true battle of masters- the late Eiko Ishioka vs Colleen Atwood.
Colleen Atwood is arguably the most famous costume designer around. Her cool, dark and majestic designs are reknowned, and she does a splendid job in SWATH too. Ravenna's clothes are to die for- from the mirror dress to porcupine dress, all of it is just too awesome. However, I felt that her character was the only one who was focused on in this aspect, and everyone else falls short for me.
Eiko Ishioka passed away earlier this year, making MM her last collaboration with Tarsem Singh, as she has worked in all his films. I loved the clothes in this film. I mean they were extravagant as hell, but they were just big and gorgeous and kooky and colourful and fun! It was so gleeful and I felt that the costumes complimented the story very well. Like when Alcott's squire is dressed up like a "pink profiterole" it looks both funny and gives us a sense of the Queen's slightly mean brand of humour. Also I loved Snow's dress at the end that follows the footsteps of the Disney Snow White's attire so closely and yet manages to be unique. Ishioka wins this point for MM.
Since there is bound to be some magic.
MM is an individually ravishing looking film, but when it comes to the special effects, it fails miserably. The big use of effects is when the Queen uses her mirror to kill Snow White with giant voodoo doll puppets or whatever the hell they were. On paper I guess it is a novel idea, but on screen, it just did not translate. It looked like something out of a Scooby Doo episode and not even from the main plot, but something that "those meddling kids" solve at the beginning which no one really talks about. Also the dreaded Beast is super lame.
SWATH has really nice effects in this aspect. From Ravenna's phantom armies that break into little pieces when you strike them, to the magical creatures in the Dark Forest- everything looks topnotch and believable. I really enjoyed the effects in this film, which like the costumes in MM, enhance SWATH and its story. SWATH wins this point.
For me, the third act of both these films are sort of their downfall. I felt that MM dragged on for too long, and that SWATH got over too soon and it felt like important scenes had been skipped. The story of the latter would have been so much more powerful if that unnecessarily necessary battle sequence would have been stretched out. The final confrontation between Ravenna and Snow is really stupidly executed except for a few moments when they can finally speak their minds. The former could have ended sooner, and would have again benefited from a less dragged-out ending, where though all the loose ends do get tied up, but then no one cared about them anyways.
Also for SWATH, the trailers were a huge reason why the film was a bit of a letdown. This makes me think about whether or not it's a good thing to make awesome trailers for relatively average films. Many of the elements from the trailers did not even make it into the movie. Here MM triumphed because it had one measly little trailer, but the film was quite enjoyable.
Conceptually however, I really liked the whole "beauty is your weapon" aspect of SWATH. MM did not really sway from the true roots of the fairy tale, but SWATH does try to do things differently. I do admire their boldness in this aspect, but again it is kind of sad that they are not able to go satisfactorily through with the idea.
Then music-wise, I actually noticed bits of score here and there in SWATH, which I liked. I can't say the same about MM. Also I love the Florence and the Machine song for SWATH- "Breath of Life". MM however chose to do a Bollywood-ified version of "I Believe in Love", sung by Collins at the end, which was for me, the weirdest part of the film. I mean I get it Tarsem- you are Indian and proud. I am too. That doesn't mean you need to put a random Bollywood number in a freaking Snow White movie! Such a dumb ending!!
I must also tell you that MM gets half a point because the Sean Bean character in it doesn't die. I know it's a weird criteria to give points for, but this is just how I roll. The poor man always dies!!
SWATH was a terrible cinematic experience for me because of the level of idiocy among the people sitting around me in the theatre. Still, I was invested enough in the movie to be able to almost block them out. But now, thinking back on it, I think it is not a very memorable film at all. The one thing that could have made it truly memorable was Theron's Ravenna but the filmmakers overlooked that because of, and this is what I believe, the name of the film that required them to focus on the eponymous characters. Ravenna could have been a tragic and even more magnificent villain for the ages, but sadly, it did not happen. There is apparently a sequel in the making- maybe it will be about Ravenna *fingers crossed*.
Contrarily, in retrospect, I find myself liking MM more and more. Yes there were stupid elements in it, especially the Bollywood-esque song, and the Snow White was kind of terrible, but it was really entertaining. It looked dazzling, and it was pretty funny thanks to Armie Hammer, Julia Roberts and the dwarves. It was fluff, but the good kind.
So in the end I find myself, most unexpectedly, leaning towards Mirror Mirror for the Snow White movie I liked better.
THEREFORE, MIRROR MIRROR IS FAIREST OF THE TWO! WOO HOO!!