Director : Dave McKean
Screenplay : Neil Gaiman (story by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Stephanie Leonidas (Helena / Anti-Helena), Jason Barry (Valentine), Rob Brydon (Morris Campbell / Prime Minister), Gina McKee (Joanne Campbell / Queen of Light / Queen of Shadows), Dora Bryan (Aunt Nan), Stephen Fry (Librarian), Andy Hamilton (Small Hairy), Simon Harvey (Sphinx), Lenny Henry (Cops 1-4), Robert Llewellyn (Gryphon)
There is a dazzling display of imagination in virtually every frame of the weird fantasy adventure MirrorMask, but what it really needs is someone to draw it all together. The last of the opening credits notes that it was “designed and directed by” by Dave McKean, and it doesn’t take more than about five minutes of the film to realize that significantly more time and thought was put into the design than the direction. There is not a moment that MirrorMask disappoints the eye, but it never grabs a hold of your heart or really even your attention. It’s a like a 100-minute video installation piece that leaves you thinking about graphic intertextuality, the limits of surrealism, the nature of the uncanny, and little else.
The film’s skeletal narrative frame was concocted by McKean and Sandman creator Neil Gaiman, who wrote the screenplay. It begins with an amusing reversal of the old childhood threat about running away to join the circus by giving us a teenage heroine named Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) who has grown weary of performing in the Cirque de Soliel-like atmosphere of an actual circus run by her parents (Rob Brydon and Gina McKee). Helena would like to just sit in her room and draw, rather than juggle under the big top. During an argument Helena wishes her mother dead, after which her mother falls prey to a mysterious illness and Helena stumbles inexplicably into a bizarro parallel universe in which she is tasked with finding a magical charm (the mask of the title) that will awaken a queen (her mother) and save everyone from an encroaching darkness that crawls and consumes like Venom from the Spider-Man comics.
There is an interesting twist in that Helena’s doppelganger is an evil princess who has stepped over into the “real world” and taken over her life there, thus the mission is not only to save the queen/mother, but also, in some sense, herself. There is a vexing question of sexual maturation lurking beneath the film’s fantastical surface, evidenced most strongly in Helena’s grossed-out reaction to a couple kissing on a bus versus her princess doppelganger’s diving right into a bedroom make-out session that Helena studiously protests from afar. With her PJ’s and bunny slippers, Helena is a lily-white portrait of pre-sexual goodness, and it is not incidental that, when she is transformed into the dark princess at one point (a process enabled by a series of Brothers Quay-like marionettes who sing a creepy-cool version of “Close to You” while they work), the emphasis is on the application of make-up and nail polish, transforming her immediately from child to vixen.
Yet, the real problem with MirrorMask is that the story itself is not particularly compelling. McKean and Gaiman show little sense of narrative momentum, and Helena’s journey through the dreamscape netherworld feels disjointed and at times silly, especially when backed by the film’s off-kilter jazz score. She is accompanied by a masked juggler named Valentine (Jason Barry), and while they develop an amusing odd-couple camaraderie, it is not enough to disguise the thinness of their enterprise. Each narrative turn (the discovery of a key, a run-in with a group of bird-gorilla creatures, a riddle contest with human-faced sphinxes) feels contrived, rather than organic. Nothing really flows except the imagery, which is a CGI-created mix of styles that at various points invokes stop-motion animation, traditional hand-drawn animation, and three-dimensional computer imagery, with the primary link being that it all looks like it was shot through a filter of Vaseline. It certainly tickles your retinas, but also leaves you wishing there was more to it.
|Subtitles||English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Korean, Chinese (Traditional), Chinese (Simplified), Thai, Indonesia|
|Distributor||Sony Pictures Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||November 18, 2008|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|MirrorMask’s presentation in high-definition 1080p is overall excellent, although the intended look of the film tends to mute its presentation. Because so much of the film is hazy and gauzy, it never looks as sharp and detailed as you might expect it to look, although it should be noted that it is this kind of image that tends to produce a lot of noise and artifacts in inferior transfers, and there is none of that to be found here. Colors are bold and eye-popping, especially the neon primary tones of the opening minutes, which then stand in stark contrast to the grayness of the apartment building and then the sepia tones of the fantasy world. Blacks are strong with good shadow detail. The Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 surround soundtrack is extremely active, with good use of the surround speakers to draw you into the world (notice the sonic detail when the eyeball spider walks “over” you).|
|All of the supplements on this Blu-Ray disc are the same as those found on the 2006 DVD. There is an enthusiastic and informative audio commentary by director Dave McKean and writer Neil Gaiman, as well as nine featurettes that run about 52 minutes total. First up are interviews with Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, followed by “Beginnings: The Genesis of MirrorMask,” which includes interviews with executive producers Michael Polis and Lisa Henson. “Day 16” is an amusing time-lapse presentation of the entire 16th day of production, while “Flight of the Monkeybirds” and “Giants of Development” explore the special effects used to create those two sequences. Finally, there is a “Questions and Answers” featurette that was recorded from the San Diego Comic-Con.|
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Sony Pictures Home Entertainment