Back in the late 1980s, Hollywood couldn’t get enough of those body-switching comedies, in which boys and men changed places. Ten years later, we had a rash of end-of-the-world flicks, in which tidal waves obliterated New York in “Deep Impact” and unlikely astronauts Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck had to avert a cataclysmic collision between our precious planet and a gigantic space rock in “Armageddon.” A few years after that, it was the battle of the Martian movies, with the big-budget “Mission to Mars” going up against the equally costly “Red Planet”: Unfortunately, both films left audiences seeing red, which resulted in gallons of red ink on the balance sheets.
What is all the rage this year? Believe it or not, Snow White. She’s already making weekly appearances on ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” in the form of Ginnifer Goodwin; now, she’s about to move to the big screen — in two very different incarnations.
On Friday, Relativity Media unveils director Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s “Mirror Mirror,” in which the delicately lovely Lily Collins learns the perils of being pretty when she crosses paths with the vain and vicious Queen Clementianna (Julia Roberts). On June 1, Snow White returns in director Rupert Sanders’ “Snow White and the Huntsman,” in which “Twilight” star Kristen Stewart battles Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) to save her homeland from devastation.
While they may have the same source material, stylistically “Mirror Mirror” and “Huntsman” couldn’t be further apart, if their preview clips are any indication. “Mirror” appears to be a splashy spoof, with a gleefully snippy Roberts cackling and wisecracking her way through her schemes while the fawn-like Collins makes eyes at a hunky warrior, played by Armie Hammer.
“Huntsman” is far more serious stuff, with Theron portraying the villainess as a youth-obsessed succubus along the lines of H. Rider Haggard’s “She,” draining the lifeforce of captive maidens and flying into violent rages when her magic mirror tells her news she doesn’t want to hear. As for Snow White, she’s not particularly Disneyesque. Stewart’s wardrobe and demeanor are closer to a more rough-and-tumble Joan of Arc, complete with swinging sword and faithful legions of followers.
“Mirror” promises kookiness: Clementianna’s bumbling servant (Nathan Lane) is transformed into a cockroach, while the seven dwarfs engage in puns and wordplay. “Huntsman” suggests creepiness, as Ravenna submerges herself in a murky milk bath (crown and all) while Snow White and her protector (“Thor” and “Avengers” star Chris Hemsworth) are chased by ogres and menaced by black magic.
Whether this is a story that merits being told twice — even in wildly dissimilar ways — remains to be seen. Although “Mirror” seems to be off to a promising start with its largely favorable early reviews, the more ambitious “Huntsman” may have a tougher time. Not only is it positioned against such potential blockbusters as “Men in Black 3” and “Prometheus,” director Ridley Scott’s “Alien” prequel (which, coincidentally, also features Theron), but it must overcome audience antipathy toward dark takes on fairy tales. Keep in mind that Amanda Seyfried’s “Red Riding Hood,” which turned the story into a sort of medieval serial-killer thriller, made less than $38 million at the box office last spring.