Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
An Easter parade of moviegoers kicked Panic Room off in style to $30.2 million, a new record for the holiday weekend.
Ice Age remained frozen in second place with a still steaming $18.6 million. The Rookie opened on third base with a solid $15.8 million line drive.
Rounding out the top five were Blade 2, finishing fourth with a less sharp $13.2 million, and Clockstoppers, ticking slowly with a $10.1 million fifth place launch.
For the third consecutive weekend, key films--those grossing $500,000 or more--enjoyed summer size ticket sales. The Easter weekend's $126.3 million total was 37 percent ahead of $92 million for the comparable weekend last year. It also was up 48 percent from Easter 2001 (Apr. 13-15) when key films grossed $85.3 million.
THE TOP TEN
Columbia's opening of its R rated thriller Panic Room opened atop the chart to a record setting ESTIMATED $30.2 million at 3,053 theaters ($9,892 per theater).
Panic's average per theater was the highest for any film playing this weekend.
Directed by David Fincher, it stars Jodie Foster.
"It's the biggest Easter opening ever, beating Matrix, which isn't a bad one to beat," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "Matrix opened Apr. 2, 1999--Easter Weekend was Apr. 2-4 and it actually opened on Wednesday, Mar. 31. It did $27.8 million for the three-day portion [of the holiday weekend]. It went on to gross $171.4 million. I'd say that's a little ambitious, but it's obviously a great start when you're talking about the biggest Easter opening ever and beating a film of that high profile.
"It's also Jodie Foster's biggest [opening], beating Contact, which was July 11-13, 1997 at $20.6 million. Again, you're talking about somebody with a great portfolio of films, including Maverick and Silence of the Lambs, all $100 million-plus movies. So it's nice that this is her biggest opening."
Focusing on who went to see Panic, Blake noted, "What we got was a good mix of younger and older adults. I think it really appeared, as it is, to be a 'full meal movie' as opposed to something specifically for kids or something specifically for science fiction fans or some of the more segmented [audience] movies that have done very well but have been appealing to less of a broadly adult audience. I think we're really the first broadly adult film in a while that has had equal appeal to young adults as well as older adults and very equal between male and female.
"Our audience was largely 25 and older and was almost equally split between men and women. It clearly was a 'full meal movie' that several adult audiences would enjoy. It's a $48 million negative, so that puts us in a real nice position [to see profits and] especially for a picture of this quality."
20th Century Fox's PG rated animated feature Ice Age held on to second place and was still sizzling in its third week with an ESTIMATED $18.58 million (-38%) at 3,333 theaters (-12 theaters; $5,575 per theater). Its cume is approximately $117.3 million, heading for $150-175 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Chris Wedge, it features the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary.
"People love it," Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said Sunday morning, addressing the film's success. "It has just caught the public's fancy."
Reflecting on the strong March marketplace, Snyder pointed out, "It's the movies. It keeps expanding every time another quality picture's put in the marketplace."
Buena Vista/Disney's G rated family appeal baseball drama The Rookie opened in third place to a rousing ESTIMATED $15.8 million at 2,511 theaters ($6,283 per theater).
Directed by John Lee Hancock, it stars Dennis Quaid.
"I'm so pleased," Buena Vista Distribution president Chuck Viane said Sunday morning. "The filmmakers and Dennis Quaid have been so committed and have worked so hard on this movie. As you can see by the CinemaScores and [the grosses], the picture has played great. The word of mouth is terrific."
Focusing on the strong opening, Viane noted, "We've gotten Dennis the highest opening Dennis has ever had. And I don't think there's been a baseball movie that's ever done this kind of business."
Baseball doesn't typically hit a home run at the box office, Viane observed, but, "This one sure looks like we're going to get an inside the park one. It looks to me like we're going to have legs beyond belief. The CinemaScore numbers in all three [age] categories gave an A for the guys and for females it was A+ under-21, 21-34 was an A and 35-and-up was an A+. Those are very, very terrific responses from the public."
Buena Vista held 1,151 well-attended sneak previews of Rookie the weekend of Mar. 15-17. "I really believe that the impetus to having this kind of opening was to get the very positive word of mouth out there [through the sneaks]," Viane said.
"The picture scored one point higher with the public on opening weekend [than at the sneaks[, which means their anticipation was relatively high and we delivered on it. But, again, I don't think we'd get there without Dennis Quaid doing all that hard work [promoting the film]. To have a movie star so committed to going out and doing all the events is just terrific."
Asked what accounts for the strength the box office has shown the past three weekends, all of which have been in the $125-135 million range, Viane said, "I honestly think there's just a whole lot of really good movies out there right now. It is [a product driven business] and, obviously, the success of this particular time should spur the summer because everybody's seeing all those terrific new trailers for the summer product."
New Line Cinema's R rated vampire thriller Blade 2 slid three pegs to fourth place in its second week with a less thrilling ESTIMATED $13.18 million (-59%) at 2,707 theaters (theater count unchanged; $4,867 per theater). Its cume is approximately $54.9 million, heading for $75 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro, it stars Wesley Snipes.
Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies' PG rated time travel adventure Clockstoppers kicked off in fifth place to a slow paced ESTIMATED $10.1 million at 2,540 theaters ($3,976 per theater).
Directed by Jonathan Frakes, it stars Jesse Bradford, Paula Garces, French Stewart, Michael Biehn and Robin Thomas.
"It's on the low side of where I thought it would be, frankly," Paramount distribution president Wayne Lewellen said Sunday morning. "I think Rookie did more business than we anticipated. Our picture is playing a little younger than we had anticipated. But this genre of film normally will play to a higher multiple because it stays in the marketplace a lot longer. It does matinee business and weekend business [that] sort of extends the life of the film, if you will."
Asked why business this March is so good, Lewellen replied, "I assume that it's just the product that's coming into the marketplace. Certainly, pictures like Ice Age that has broad family appeal has really pumped up (business). I think Rookie is of that same kind of genre. I think the quality of the product in the end probably is always the key to [strong ticket sales].
"But it could be that the country's in a mood to go to the movies or a combination of the two. Usually, that's what it is. There's no one dramatic thing that says this is why they're coming to the movies. You don't have a Titanic, if you will, driving the whole market."
Universal's 20th anniversary reissue of its PG rated sci-fi fantasy drama E.T. dropped three notches to sixth place with a slow ESTIMATED $6.13 million (-57%) at 3,007 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,040 per theater). Its reissue cume is approximately $24.3 million.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, it stars Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas.
Warner Bros.' R rated black comedy Death to Smoochy opened uneventfully in seventh place to an ESTIMATED $4.29 million at 2,164 theaters ($1,980 per theater).
Directed by Danny DeVito, it stars Robin Williams, Edward Norton and Catherine Keener.
Universal, DreamWorks and Imagine Entertainment's PG-13 rated drama A Beautiful Mind--which won four Oscars, including Best Picture--rose one peg in its 15th week to eighth place with a still beautiful ESTIMATED $4.04 million (-1%) at 1,560 theaters (+105 theaters; $2,590 per theater). Its cume is approximately $161.0 million.
Directed by Ron Howard, the Brian Grazer production stars Russell Crowe, Ed Harris and Jennifer Connelly.
Paramount and Icon Productions' R rated Vietnam war drama We Were Soldiers, which was sixth last weekend, tied for ninth place in its fifth week with a calm ESTIMATED $3.53 million (-38%) at 2,046 theaters (-813 theaters; $1,723 per theater). Its cume is approximately $67.4 million, heading for $75 million in domestic theaters.
Written and directed by Randall Wallace, it stars Mel Gibson.
Warner Bros.' PG-13 rated action comedy Showtime from Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment dropped five rungs to tie for ninth place in its third week with a dull ESTIMATED $3.51 million (-57%) at 2,321 theaters (-596 theaters; $1,510 per theater). Its cume is approximately $33.3 million.
Directed by Tom Dey, it stars Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy and Rene Russo.
This weekend also saw the arrival via MGM of United Artists' R rated drama No Such Thing to a quiet ESTIMATED $0.029 million at 9 theaters in six markets ($3,196 per theater).
Written and directed by Hal Hartley, it stars Sarah Polley, Robert John Burke, Helen Mirren and Julie Christie.
Artisan Entertainment held sneak previews Saturday night of its R rated youth appeal comedy National Lampoon's Van Wilder.
Directed by Walt Becker, it stars Ryan Reynolds and Tara Reid.
No details were available from Artisan. Van Wilder opens wide this Friday (Apr. 5).
On the expansion front this weekend Lions Gate Films' R rated drama Monster's Ball went wider in its 14th week following Halle Berry's Best Actress Oscar victory with an OK ESTIMATED $2.03 million at 676 theaters (+133 theaters; $2,995 per theater). Its cume is approximately $22.9 million.
Directed by Marc Forster, it stars Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Heath Ledger and Peter Boyle.
USA Films' R rated romantic comedy Monsoon Wedding added theaters in its sixth week with a still spicy ESTIMATED $0.78 million (+4%) at 140 theaters (+12 theaters; $5,560 per theater). Its cume is approximately $4.3 million.
Directed by Mira Nair, it was produced by Nair and Caroline Baron.
Fox Searchlight Pictures' R rated romantic comedy Kissing Jessica Stein expanded in its third week to a still arousing ESTIMATED $0.71 million (+39%) at 131 theaters (+65 theaters; $5,420 per theater). Its cume is approximately $2.0 million.
Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, it stars Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen.
"We're very pleased," Fox Searchlight distribution president Stephen Gilula said Sunday morning. "We expanded into many more regional markets this week with a lot of good results. We're pleased with how it's playing. It's variable. It obviously is better in some [markets] than others. We're expanding again next week to more than 300 theaters. We're looking forward to a good long and smooth run."
In the greater New York area, Gilula added, "the film is very, very strong. That's where it was made. The suburban runs in New York are quite strong. We expanded last Friday into the greater metropolitan area around New York City in a lot of suburban areas around New York in northern New Jersey and southern Connecticut with very good results."
Key films--those grossing more than $500,000--took in approximately $126.25 million, up about 37.14 percent from last year when they totaled $92.06 million. Last year Easter weekend was Apr. 13-15 when key films took in $85.3 million, putting this Easter 48.01% ahead of last year.
Key films this weekend were down a modest 2.26 percent from the previous weekend of this year's total of $129.17 million.
Last year, Dimension Films' opening week of Spy Kids was first with $26.55 million at 3,104 theaters ($8,552 per theater); and 20th Century Fox's opening week of Someone Like You was second with $10.01 million at 2,345 theaters ($4,269 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $36.5 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $48.8 million.