MirrorMask (2005)
By: Trist Jones on April 25, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Sony (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, Italian DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1. English, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese Subtitles. 96 minutes
The Movie
Director: Dave McKean
Starring: Jason Barry, Rob Brydon, Stephanie Leonidas, Gina McKee
Screenplay: Neil Gaiman
Music: Iain Ballamy
Tagline: Enter A World Where Dreams Are Real
Country: USA
Damn you Word-of-Mouth! Damn you! Why is it that as soon as someone mentions Jim Henson and fantasy in the same sentence, the immediate thought that comes to most people's minds is Labyrinth? For me it's The Dark Crystal, so I'm sort of spared a little in that respect, but, being among the first of the Y Generation, Labyrinth is still an integral part of my childhood and cinematic coming of age! For a film to be in the same league as Labyrinth, as so many said MirrorMask would be, it has to be pretty damn good in my books. Alright, so Labyrinth isn't exactly a cinematic masterpiece, but it manages to encapsulate that element of wonder that so many fantasy films in the 80's had, and every time I watch it, I get that same feeling I did when I watched it as a kid. As I was saying, it's a huge call, and one MirrorMask doesn't quite answer.

Now don't get me wrong, MirrorMask is a good film. It's been very wrongly touted as something it simply isn't, and in my opinion won't be. Even for the kids of today, MirrorMask will not have anywhere near the impact Labyrinth did. For a kid, it's far too dark and potentially alienating, so I doubt kids below the age of 8 are going to connect the way we could with the characters in Labyrinth, and kids from 9 onwards are likely to find it all a little boring in spite of it's excellent visuals.

MirrorMask presents the viewer with the story of Helena, a teenager brought up in a circus family, living that romanticised childhood fantasy, only Helena can't stand it, and wants to run away to join the 'real world'. Helena's mother comes down with a serious illness and winds up in hospital right after a fight between the two and Helena is racked with guilt. After waking up one night and finding a group of bizarre minstrels playing outside her apartment block, Helena finds herself taken into a strange new world bearing striking similarities to her own drawings. Though when she entered this world, she switched places with The Dark Princess. In order to restore balance to this strange world and return to her own, Helena must find the MirrorMask.

Directed by artist Dave McKean in his feature film debut, and co-written by long time collaborator Neil Gaiman, MirrorMask is a solid effort, and artistically brilliant. Everything has been brought to life perfectly. Initially I was dubious of the heavy amounts of CGI used to bring the fantasy elements to life, but after seeing the film in its entirety, the whole world set up is completely believable. It's certainly not as organic as The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth, but I don't think that was the intention here. The characters, both live and CGI interact seamlessly in spite of how obvious the CGI work is, but they all manage to fit into McKean's visual styling, which seems to be the actual intention.

Visually the film is absolutely brilliant. The sphinxes superbly blend live action footage and the simplistic creature designs, creating what are creepily the highlights in terms of characters. The other creatures and characters all look fantastic as well, they just don't feature anywhere near as prominently (several times I found myself wishing incredibly minor characters had larger roles, just so I could watch them more). For an adult viewer, the film's dark visuals provide an intense and evocative atmosphere, but for younger audiences it may be a little too heavy. Even with such a simplistic story, the visuals and Alice In Wonderland progression logic is likely to confuse children, and The Dark Queen along with the sphinxes are likely to incite night terrors (they really are very creepy).

The story itself may prove too simplistic and (in an odd way) predictable for older audiences. A lot of reviews tout it as being The Wizard of Oz for today's children, something I would disagree with. The "illogical logic" of it all comes far closer to Alice In Wonderland than any of the Oz stories. The biggest problem I had with the whole thing was that it felt as though it was building to something big, but when the ending came and went, I found myself pretty disappointed by such a lacklustre finish. Sure, something like this is meant to end happily ever after, but the climax wasn't exactly the satisfying event you were dealt in the Dark Crystal or Labyrinth.

The other problem I had with the film was the musical score. The circus music became really irritating and didn't seem to go anywhere. A large amount of the score felt like meandering sounds that, while sometimes suiting the visuals, didn't really build moments or events the way they deserved and often sounded like a four or five piece orchestra and man with a decent synth machine.
There's not a single problem with the visuals, aside from the artistic problems some may have with the colours (many of which being too similar to be distinguishable). With such a large portion of the film being digitally based, you'd be hard pressed to find anything wrong with the print. The film is also presented in the original 1.85:1 format and is 16x9 enhanced.
Once again, given DVD standards these days, MirrorMask doesn't fall behind. All the givens are here, DD 5.1 surround in English, Spanish and Italian, you also get an audio commentary by Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman, which is nothing spectacular, but still well worth a listen.
Extra Features
Aside from the commentary, there are eight smaller featurettes dealing with different aspects of the making of MirrorMask. They're all relatively short, most of them being nothing more than brief, sit-down interviews with Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean and the rest of key cast and crew. The most interesting extras being Questions and Answers at the 2004 San Diego Comic Convention, where Gaiman and McKean answer questions from fans about the film, the effects breakdowns of Flight of the Monkeybirds and Giants Development, and Day 16 which features a timelapse presentation of an entire day (the sixteenth obviously) on set. You also get a poster and cover gallery for Sony's other films they figure are meant for the same audiences (The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Zathura, Jumanji and Stargate), which are really thinly veiled ads.
The Verdict
It's a strange one, MirrorMask. Artistically brilliant, though flawed in terms of storytelling, it's one that will have a difficult time finding its audience outside of Gaiman's and McKean's fanbase. Though I can see its intentions of being a film for children, it really strikes me as being too much for a younger audience. They'll either be bored or confused. Adults on the other hand may have drastically differing opinions on the piece, but I must stress that those expecting a return to the good old days of Jim Henson are going to be very disappointed.
Movie Score
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