Once upon a time, a movie mogul imagined it was time for another adaptation of Snow White. In a fairytale world, this would mean a beautiful production with excellent performances.
In reality, what we got was a poison apple: Beautiful on the outside and deadly dull beneath the surface.
The story, which is a mishmash of several fairy tales, follows Snow White (Lily Collins: Abduction), a princess who is confined to her castle bedroom by her cruel stepmom (Julia Roberts: Larry Crowne) after the disappearance of her dad.
Snow is a sweet, if sheltered, girl who has no idea that evil step-mommy is running up piles of debt and taxing the kingdom into ruin. When her servants finally convince her to step outside the palace walls, Snow is shocked by the poverty of her people.
She’s also pretty surprised to run into a nearly naked man hanging upside-down. This flesh-and-blood piñata is Alcott (Armie Hammer: J. Edgar), a spoiled but well-meaning prince looking for adventure. He found it when a band of seven giants — actually dwarves on spring-loaded stilts — robbed him of his cash and dignity.
Snow cuts him down and steals his heart, only to learn that royal love isn’t always easy. Especially when evil queens are involved.
The queen needs a rich husband to pay her debts. Think of it as the medieval version of an economic bailout. The fact that marrying a handsome young man supports her vanity is icing on the cake.
Of course to get the prince’s full attention, Queenie must eliminate the dark-haired distraction. So she orders the death of her not-so-beloved stepdaughter and sets out to drug the prince into loving her.
Snow escapes certain death and joins with the dwarf bandits to fight the queen. A few enchanted plot contrivances later, we get our happily ever after: Snow gets her prince and the viewer gets to leave.
The biggest problem with this movie is that director Tarsem Singh (Immortals) doesn’t seem to care about storytelling. His script is barely there, with dull dialog and listless pacing. It’s a shame, since Singh has managed to craft one of the more visually stunning films I’ve seen this year.
Each frame is a painting. Locations are interesting, bold and deep. There isn’t a dull spot in any frame of Singh’s work, unless you’re looking at the actors. The opening narration features an elegant puppet sequence that sets up the story beautifully. If only Singh had chosen to stay with inanimate objects, he could have created a masterpiece of fantasy.
But alas, we have to talk about the actors. Roberts is clearly the star of the show, with her vampy performance featuring over-the-top facial expressions and an accent that comes and goes on a whim. That would be fine, but I don’t believe we’re supposed to be rooting for the evil queen in a Snow White movie.
Mugging for the camera, making silly expressions and getting bopped on the head quite a lot, Armie Hammer puts in an excellent audition to be the next Brendan Fraser. Still, he’s got a strong jaw and a natural charisma that make him tolerable.
The seven dwarves sparkle with unique personalities and the only funny lines in the movie. Is it creepy that one keeps hitting on the barely legal princess? Sure, but at least his motives are clear, unlike our lead.
Collins’ Snow is a sweet girl who relies on placid smiles and serene beauty but has no spark of inner fire. The bad script contributes to her pale character, but Collins does not elevate her material.
This fairy tale has a rather melancholy ending, as it only entertains those too young to understand how bad the writing is. If you like exaggerated facial expressions, silly writing and bright colors, this is the flick for you. If you can convince the theater to mute the soundtrack, you’ll see one of the prettiest movies of the year — in blessed silence.