Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Hackiest of Them All?

Tarsem

Tarsem

by HakSnider33
MIRROR MIRROR, the fourth feature film directed by acclaimed former music video director Tarsem Singh, will be released theatrically on March 30th.  The film, which is a retelling of the classic fable of Snow White, will star Julia Roberts, Armie Hammer (THE SOCIAL NETWORK) and Nathan Lane.

Despite a rather modest filmography (THE CELL, THE FALL, IMMORTALS), Tarsem has been labeled by many as a “visionary” filmmaker, so highly regarded that he is known on a first name basis by the film community. Is he deserving of such acclaim or does his spotty track record as a feature filmmaker contradict his considerable reputation?

Although Tarsem’s last feature film, IMMORTALS, slightly outperformed modest box office projections, the film was widely derided by critics as nothing more than a ripoff of Zack Snyder’s 300.  Hence, you could say that Tarsem is under some pressure to deliver big with his second consecutive big budget Hollywood film.  Will Tarsem continue to be held in high esteem as a director after the release of MIRROR MIRROR?  Can Tarsem finally live up to his prematurely granted visionary status, or will his upcoming film turn out to be a shitty Snow White movie proving that Tarsem is nothing more than Relativity Media’s equivalent of hack director Zack Snyder?

A highly accomplished director of television commercials and music videos, Tarsem won an MTV Video Music Award in 1991 for directing the video for REM’s “Losing My Religion”. The highly stylized video, heavily inspired by Baroque art and Indian religious imagery, firmly established Tarsem as a filmmaker with the talent to eventually transcend the MTV video genre and transition smoothly into the world of feature filmmaking.

In his feature filmmaking debut, THE CELL, Tarsem once again demonstrated his dazzling visual flair, along with a strong affinity for close-ups on eyes, but he did not really succeed in directing a coherent or intelligent film. His follow-up film, THE FALL, was a relatively low budget passion project that once again provided Tarsem with the canvas to display his talent for crafting lush visuals, but again he fell short in the storytelling department.


A lot is riding on MIRROR MIRROR. Will Tarsem move towards true visionary status or sink into disreputable hackiness?

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7 comments

  1. Late Night · March 21, 2012

    I give Tarsem a lot of credit for his absolutely stunning visuals, but I couldn’t make it through The Fall, even though I found the storyline intriguing. The pacing literally lulled me to sleep. MIRROR looks like a desperate attempt to one-up “The Princess Bride.” However, I think Tarsem will benefit from Julia Roberts: if the movie flops, most will blame it on her. And there’s enough Roberts fans out there to prevent it from completely flopping.

    • HakSnider33 · March 22, 2012

      That’s a good point – the Julia factor. No matter how poor the trailer looks, Julia Roberts is still a box office draw and if Mirror Mirror fails at the box office, it will be seen as an indictment of Julia’s fading drawing ability and not Tarsem’s over-the-top visuals. Still, if the film ends up turning out poor artistically, Tarsem’s resume will look very hacky.

  2. henryahn · March 23, 2012

    Compared to The Cell, The Fall was a story-telling masterpiece. Thank goodness for low expectations.

    Late Night, I saw The Fall through to the end, and thought the second half picked up considerably as Lee Pace’s desperate depravity started to spin out of control resulting in more eye-popping imagery and that adorable little girl getting more sympathetic as she becomes more victimized. (I saw it a long time ago. Hopefully I’m remembering it correctly.)

    The images he creates in his films are not subtle at all, but they are luscious and extravagant. Sometimes they remind me of a girl wearing too much make up, but sometimes they make me simply stop and stare out of admiration. Do you remember that scene in The Cell when Vincent D’Onofrio is winding up Vince Vaughn’s intestines on that golden wind up spit? Or when the horse is cross-sectioned by the falling panes of glass? I mean who thinks of that stuff??? and who can pull it off in that deranged but beautiful kind of way like that?

    Tarsem Singh (and Zack Snyder to a lesser extent), to me, is an example of a filmmaker who can make a series of stunning images, but neglects the character development, actor direction and story. Since he excels (excels!) at at least that one element, he’ll never be a complete hack to me.

    Also, I’m not saying he’s at the potential hack level of Tarsem, but what do you guys think of a guy like Tim Burton? At least half his films, to me, are all production and costume design with very little substance. Kind of like Tarsem.

    • Late Night · March 23, 2012

      The images he creates in his films are not subtle at all, but they are luscious and extravagant. Sometimes they remind me of a girl wearing too much make up, but sometimes they make me simply stop and stare out of admiration.

      This ^

      I believe you have perfectly described the reason for my attraction to Tarsem’s films. He’s a visual magician, to be sure.

      I will also agree with you that he’s an “incomplete” hack.

      As for Burton, I think he’s a fantastically talented film maker whose interests lay in quirky, hollywood-safe storylines. He’s not one of my favorite’s, though.

  3. HakSnider33 · March 23, 2012

    I like Tim Burton, although I think he’s past his prime as a director. He’s got a great eye for visuals, but unlike Tarsem he has been able to demonstrate solid storytelling ability during in his career. Both Tarsem and Zack Snyder have yet to master the art of weaving their spectacular visuals into a watchable story and their styles seem better suited to big budget TV commercials and music videos than the feature film medium.

    • Late Night · March 24, 2012

      The nature of short form (music videos) and extremely short form (TV ads) motion picture production actually favors the hack frame-of-mind. These guys excel at packing the screen with information, and are able to tell the story in a single frame.

      Long form (features) productions suffer from the combined weight of all of the hack decisions.

  4. Pingback: Park Chan-Wook is an All-Around Talent « VOH

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