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MirrorMask

Reviewed by Michael Woodard

Helena is a teenage girl who lives an ordinary life. Of course, if you asked her, she would tell you her life is anything but ‘ordinary.’ Perhaps that may have something to do with the fact that her parents run a circus and for as long as she can remember, she’s wanted out. To her, life is anything but ordinary. But when she wakes up to find herself in a bizarre fantasy world racing to save the White Queen from an eternal slumber, she begins to realize that perhaps her life was not so extraordinary after all. In order to restore the balance and save the White Queen (not to mention get back to her own life!), Helena must find the MirrorMask. Meanwhile, The Black Queen is out to grab Helena to replace the Black Princess, who even now is living Helena’s life and doing a fair good job of ruining it in the process.

I’ve been a fan of Neil Gaiman since the mid-90’s, and enjoyed everything he’s done. From the Sandman comics to his bestselling and Hugo winning novel American Gods, I’ve kept up with a fair percentage of Gaiman’s work, and I’ve loved all of it. I am less familiar with Dave McKean’s art, though I do vaguely remember his work from the Black Orchid comic series, where he also collaborated with Gaiman. The two obviously enjoy working with each other, and McKean’s odd and gritty visuals work well with Gaiman’s stories. McKean has also done a lot of album art, including works for Tori Amos, Counting Crows, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Stabbing Westward, Buckethead and a whole range of other bands, some recognizable names, others not so much. He’s also illustrated a number of book covers for writers like Jonathan Carroll and Iain Sinclair.

MirrorMask was a very interesting, very well thought out movie, with amazing visual flair and a great storyline, conceptualized by McKean and fleshed out to script by Gaiman. McKean directed the movie; his first feature length film, and I have to say that on the small budget and short filming schedule, he did a very nice job. It is difficult to imagine that such an effects driven film could have been made on a shoestring budget, because it certainly never looks or feels that way. I can’t possibly overemphasize just how good this film looks.

There are some drawbacks to the film; it is not all fantastic. Often times, especially in the beginning, the pacing seems to drag. McKean is also an obvious fan of jazz, and the whole soundtrack is one long jazz number that simply doesn’t seem to quite fit with the feel of the film. It might not help that I am most definitely not a fan of jazz music, especially if it sounds like something you would hear playing in a pretentious indy coffee house that charges $8 for a latte or on A&E’s 397th airing of Cirque de Soleil. I could have been happy and dealt with the jazz if it simply seemed to fit better with the feel of the film. It is amazing how much you notice what music can add to a film when it is not adding it to a film. I actually just read that McKean is a jazz pianist, so there’s the explanation for that. (-shrug-)

All in all, this movie was good. The acting on all counts was flawless, and the story, general direction, effects and especially visuals, were very good as well. A bit more editing for pace and a less annoying soundtrack, and this film would have been great. It didn’t quite make it to great, but hey, for two guys that had never done a movie before working on a thin budget, it’s damn good. It’s worth watching, the story, visuals and acting alone more than make up for any (perceived on my part) drawbacks.

I’d say go rent it or buy it and see what you think. Who knows, maybe you will even like the jazz soundtrack.

 

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Director
Dave McKean

Screenplay
Neil Gaiman

Released
September 30, 2005 (U.S.)

Cast
Stephanie Leonidas
Jason Barry
Rob Brydon
Gina McKee
Stephen Fry
Robert Llewellyn

Full Credits at IMDb

Available on DVD and Blu-Ray