Monday, November 12, 2012

Battle of the Snow Whites

I wonder what brought on the two competing Snow White movies in 2012? We just watched both.

First, we saw Mirror Mirror, directed by Tarsem Singh. He is our hero, because of The Fall, and we stayed in love even after Immortals. We expect beautiful visions from him, but not necessarily great films. Snow White in this film is played by Lily Collins (daughter of Phil?!?), looking most Audrey Hepburn. But the story is really about Queen Evil Stepmother, Julia Roberts, as she tells us herself. She has let the king die in the forest hunting the Beast, and starves the kingdom to pay for her ridiculous parties, all the while being sweetly evil to Snow. And she does it all with only vizier Nathan Lane to help.

Meanwhile, Prince Armie Hammer and companion are beset by dwarf bandits on stilts, robbed, stripped and  sent on to the castle. The queen finds this naked prince most charming. He finds her enchanting after she enchants him with a puppy love spell. Hammer does a fine slapstick turn here, sniffing, licking and jumping up on the furniture.

Meanwhile, Snow goes out to the forest and befriends the dwarves, who are maybe the second best thing in the movie, after the evil queen. They are a fine crew of individual and ensemble actors, including Jordan Prentice of In Bruges.

If the presence of Nathan Lane (3rd best thing?) didn't alert you, this is basically a silly kid's comedy - almost Disneyesque in its treatment of the spunky yet down to earth yet romantic princess. I don't think the script pulled this off overall, but we enjoyed it.

Snow White and the Huntsman is a bit different. It has a darker feeling; even though it is still a fairytale fantasy, it is not for children (at least not the theoretically innocent children of 20th century America). Here, Snow White is Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame, and Evil Stepmother is played by Charlize Theron. Snow has a childhood friend, played by Sam Claflin, but her big romance is Chris "Thor" Hemsworth as the Huntsman. The dwarves here are played by tall actors like Bob Hoskins and Nick Frost, shrunk by special effects.

None of these casting decisions seem good to me, except maybe Hemsworth. Theron plays the queen either flat or shrieky, Stewart is likewise quite wooden. And so forth. But the movie is surprisingly beautiful. When Snow is lost in the Forest, she is surrounded by images of poison and decay, mold and mushrooms. Yet deeper in, there is a sacred grove called Sanctuary, with a Thousand-Antlered Stag, right out of Princess Mononoke. It's quite mesmerizing and lovely.

On the whole, Snow White and the Huntsman is probably the better movie - better production, effects and art direction at least. I didn't like the acting/casting as much, and the script was didn't quite work. The script for Mirror Mirror didn't really work either, but it failed at being a comedy romp, while Snow White and the Huntsman failed at being dark, mythic adventure.

But even though Snow White and the Huntsman is a better movie, I still think I prefer Mirror Mirror, for Julia Roberts, for Nathan Lane, and for Tarsem Singh.

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