Every movie critic loves to bitch at filmmakers that sacrifice substance for form. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to look like the sophisticated connoisseur challenging the artistic relevance of big-budget, effects-driven films? Because for most critics, it’s not interesting being the everyday guy that enjoys the occasional toilet joke and appreciates the spectacle of $1 million set-piece.
At Quality 16 and Rave
Tarsem Singh (“Immortals”) has long been panned by those “interesting” critics for forsaking artistic quality for aesthetic appeal. After all, the director is notorious for spending inordinate amounts of money to iron out the finest details in every set piece he constructs. And though there’s no sense in claiming Singh’s work is in any way groundbreaking or brilliant, it’s wrong to think his films are flat. Rather, each one of Singh’s films has a duality to it that stems from the inability to captivate audience members despite its visual brilliance. “Mirror Mirror,” Singh’s latest film, is no exception.
The film is a retelling of the classic “Snow White and The Seven Dwarves.” Julia Roberts (“Pretty Woman”) stars as the vain, old Evil Queen, while Lily Collins (“The Blind Side”) plays innocent, beautiful Snow White. The seven robbers (dwarves) have a somewhat major role, but their personalities are marginalized to make room for Prince Charming (Armie Hammer, “J. Edgar”).
Singh doesn’t bother messing around with the story. The poison apple, mirror on the wall and pissed-off cougar queen are all still there and exactly the same. And this ends up being the greatest flaw of “Mirror Mirror.” Singh relies on the predictable story to steer audience members toward how visually striking the film is. It doesn’t work. The film is boring and mundane, no matter how glitzy it has been made out to be.
It’s obvious Singh sees movies through the eyes of an artist — every frame is drenched with captivating detail and exudes individual meaning. But he often has difficulty when it comes time to tie that meaning to the plot. And all that shine, despite its undeniable visual and artistic appeal, ends up shoving the movie off topic: Who cares whether stupid Snow White ever marries pretty boy Armie when we have all these amazing set-pieces to drool over?
That’s not to say that beautiful set pieces always detract from the quality of a film. With “Avatar,” James Cameron once again revolutionized how filmgoers envisioned special effects, but the key is he never let all that breathtaking CGI take center stage. He treated it as an accessory, nothing more and nothing less. As it turned out, the special effects breathed life into “Avatar,” elevating an otherwise unoriginal plotline to something truly magical.
Singh makes the crucial error of thinking that film is a completely visual medium. Yeah, watching rolling green fields and cool sword fights can be awesome, but it will never replace a good story. And when all is said and done, that’s what movies are about: telling a decent story.