TROUBLE CITY

Dueling Snow Whites (Trailers)

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In case you haven't already noticed, fairy tale adaptations are hot right now. I'm tempted to say that this began with the Shrek franchise, but I think that the current trend actually started with the Twilight franchise and got worse with the fluke success of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland abomination. After all, Beastly was clearly made with the tween girl demographic in mind, and Red Riding Hood went to the trouble of casting Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke. The influence has even spread to the small screen, as the recent NBC series, "Grimm," decided to co-opt Twilight's setting in the Pacific Northwest (though I understand that "Grimm" makes much better use of my fair hometown). Still, I think that for a clear example of the current fairy tale fad and how Twilight-mania is affecting the current state of cinema, one needs only to look at 2012. Next year's slate offers two -- count 'em, two -- competing film adaptations of Snow White. This has been a very high-profile pissing match for quite some time now, as Universal Studios and Relativity Media have been scrambling to top each other in terms of casting, budgets, and release dates, all the while claiming that their project is totally different and yet indisputably better than the other one. Meanwhile, film journalists and movie lovers have had to keep track of two separate Snow Whites, two separate Evil Queens, two separate Princes, and two separate sets of dwarves.

The clusterfuck reached a new phase just a few days ago, when Universal debuted the first trailer for Snow White & the Huntsman, conveniently releasing it just before the new Twilight movie this Friday. In completely unrelated news, Kristen Stewart is playing Snow White.

This film was helmed by Rupert Sanders, here making his debut after some work in commercials. The script has three writers: The Good (Hossein Amini, previously responsible for fucking Drive!), The Bad (Evan Spiliotopoulos, whose resume is crammed with awful Disney DTV sequels), and The Completely Unknown (Evan Daugherty, whose previous work is comprised of fuck-all).

In addition to the aforementioned Kristin Stewart, this movie stars Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth, as the eponymous Huntsman, alongside Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen. Sam Clafin joins the cast as the Prince, after getting panned as Will Turner's replacement in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Best of all, the dwarves include such talents as Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, and even latter-day geek icon Nick Frost.

Anyway, here's the trailer.

Response to this trailer has been quite pleasant overall, though I'm being a little more guarded in my reactions.

I consider it a huge red flag that Kristen Stewart is barely in this trailer, especially since the Twilight films have called her acting ability into question. Furthermore, considering that this movie is trying so hard to court the Twihards, why didn't this trailer push Stewart's presence harder? Additionally, the film's other title character doesn't fare much better. He gets a few badass shots, granted, but more than one line would have been nice. No, it seems that this trailer decided to play it safe. Instead of featuring the two up-and-coming actors, it decided to put the well-established star a front and center.

The movie proudly claims to be from the producers of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, and that in itself is enough to send me running in the opposite direction. Indeed, just like its predecessor, this movie looks like it's trying way too hard to be edgy, using crappy CGI to convey dark imagery and putting in a war story where it doesn't belong. Sorry, but seeing Snow White in armor doesn't work any better than seeing Alice in armor did.

But then, of course, this movie is only one half of the equation. There's still Mirror Mirror to deal with.

Relativity's picture comes to us by way of Tarsem Singh, who established himself as a visionary director capable of making a staggering film with a godawful script by means of last week's Immortals. One of the writers (Melissa Wallack) is completely unknown, and the other (Jason Keller) has only one notable movie to his name: A critically panned Gerard Butler vehicle called Machine Gun Preacher that debuted a few months ago and grossed just over $500,000 domestic.

This movie's Snow White is played by Lily Collins (daughter of Phil), an up-and-comer who previously appeared as Sandra Bullock's daughter in The Blind Side. More recently, she was the MacGuffin of Priest, and Taylor Lautner's love interest in Abduction (so there's this movie's Twilight connection). Also starring are Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen (!), Nathan Lane as her manservant, Sean Bean as the King (!!!), and Armie Hammer as the Prince. This time, the dwarves have been cast by actual little people, including such prominent midget actors as Martin Klebba and Danny Woodburn.

And wouldn't you know it, the trailer for this film just hit today.

...Sweet Mary, mother of goose.

After seeing The Fall and Immortals, I thought that I had Tarsem Singh figured out. Both movies had their failings, to be sure, but they still told fantasy stories in a heightened and intelligent way that paid respect to the genre. I knew that Singh's vision of Snow White would be lighter and more whimsical than that of Universal, but I trusted him to at least keep the menace of the Evil Queen.

Yes, I actually thought that after so many years in the business, Julia Roberts would actually try something outside her comfort zone and play a legitimately threatening villain. Likewise, I was hoping that Nathan Lane would parlay his not-inconsiderable talents toward a subtler kind of comedy. But no, it turns out that both of them are still resolutely sticking to their respective wheelhouses, turning their villainous characters into unfunny annoyances. What an idiot I am for wasting some perfectly good optimism, huh?!

Then there's the matter of Armie Hammer. First, he gets a ton of Oscar buzz for delivering two of the greatest performances in The Social Network (and that's saying a lot). After that, he takes a role for Academy favorite Clint Eastwood, acting opposite Leo DiCaprio at the (second) height of his career. But then J. Edgar premieres to a lukewarm critical reception and a disappointing box office. And less than a week later -- adding insult to injury -- the world sees him imitate a dog in love. I feel genuinely sorry for the guy. I know that he's better than this and he deserves better.

On the positive side, at least Lily Cole gets some exposure in this trailer. It's still not nearly enough, I grant you, but at least she gets some serviceable line deliveries and some decent swordplay as well. Additionally, her transition from princess to badass seems a lot more visibly gradual in this film, and that counts for a lot. Making Snow White a deceptively sweet fencing expert appeals to me much more than one who explicitly masquerades as Joan of Arc.

Taking a step back, it's plain to see that both of these trailers are terrible. Both of them focus way too prominently on the Queen, for starters. They advertise the established stars of Charlize Theron and Julia Roberts instead of shining light on Snow White's journey, which should be the main story of both movies. Additionally, both of these trailers try way too hard at wooing their target audiences; the Alice in Wonderland/Twilight crows for Huntsman and the elementary school set for Mirror. However, I will grant Huntsman one advantage: At least it didn't have the annoying and cliched voice-overs used by Singh's movie. In fact, it seems odd that between these two trailers, the one that lets the visuals do all the talking was also the one that wasn't directed by the man who's come to overnight fame for his visual flair.

Judging from strictly these trailers, this looks like a feud in which nobody wins. The studios might win, but not the filmmakers, not the actors, and certainly not the filmgoers. Both of these movies look awful in totally different ways, and both films are being shepherded by people whose pedigrees could charitably be called questionable. Yes, for how much I've been talking about Tarsem Singh, it's worth remembering that he's only directed three movies up until now, and one of them was an undeniable stinker.

Fortunately, I have the option of consoling myself with the knowledge that these trailers were horribly put together and may not be representative of their respective films. This means that I need to know more, though this shouldn't be a problem. After all, Universal and Relativity both have several months to drown each other out with advertisements and promos for their respective films.

Mirror Mirror will debut first, coming to theaters on March 16th. Snow White & the Huntsman will come shortly after, with an early summer release of June 1st.