Away with the fairies - and the dwarfs

Fri, Mar 30, 2012, 01:00

Directed by Tarsem Singh. Starring Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, Sean Bean, Nathan Lane, Michael Lerner, Robert Emms, Mark Povinelli PG cert, general release, 106 min

Tarsem Singh, director of cult nightmare The Fall, mines the same seam of acid-tinged surrealism he exploited for last year’s Immortals. Characters constantly disappear into magical caves and stride about on stilts made of bouncy concertinas. The fabulous costumes wouldn’t seem out of place at a Flock of Seagulls convention.

Still, it’s hard to shake the notion that Mirror Mirror is just a throat- clearing exercise for the upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman. Remember those two versions of Robin Hood from 1991? Well, this feels eerily like the Patrick Bergin incarnation. Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart need only turn up to win the battle of the magic mirrors.

At this point, one would normally say something like “you already know the story”. But, unless you’ve just emerged from an opium den, you almost certainly don’t. Lily Collins (daughter of Phil) plays the lovely, ashen-faced Snow White. A more than usually terrifying Julia Roberts, abrasive as a sandblaster, essays the wicked queen who envies the younger woman’s charm and easy manner.

When a handsome prince (Armie Hammer) arrives in the enchanted kingdom, the queen orders her henchman (for once, Nathan Lane risks playing camp) to take Snow White into the woods and feed her to a hairy monster. He sets her free and she falls in with seven little people.

The dwarfs are actually rather good fun. Nodding towards Time Bandits, they appear as a posse of hard-living, uncompromising miscreants. But poor Ms Collins lacks charisma, and Roberts achieves the wrong sort of repellence. Rather than seeming like a mythic enchantress, she comes across like a frustrated trophy wife who’s just been given last year’s Louis Vuitton suitcase.

More damagingly, the magical back-story makes absolutely no sense. Why does Julia keep flitting back to a wicker-covered island on a vacant lake? What is the mirror’s hidden agenda? Why are we suddenly submerged in sub-gothic fairy tales?

Oh yeah. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland has a great deal to answer for.