Dir. Dave McKean, 2005, UK/US, 101 mins
Cast: Stephanie Leonidas, Gina McKee, Rob Brydon, Jason Barry
Review by Kevin Holmes
Produced by The Jim Henson Company, this is the first feature from comic book artist Dave McKean, based on his idea, with a script by Neil Gaiman. Both hold some esteem in the comic world (and beyond) and have worked together before, most notably on Gaiman’s wondrous Sandman comics with McKean providing the fantastically haunting covers. They both have a distinctive style that seems to complement each others work and the same goes here.
The story pays homage to the traditional children’s coming of age narrative of Alice In Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and this film’s 1980’s mirror-image, Labyrinth. Unlike Labyrinth there’s no David Bowie, which is a shame, and the endearing Henson puppets have been replaced by some stunning CGI. It follows Helena (Leonidas) as she traverses the tricky no-(wo)mans-land that lies between child and womanhood and like all good teenagers she falls out with the olds (God, they just don’t understand), then promptly follows a juggler called Valentine (Barry) into a strange non-Euclidean dualistic world of light and darkness, a world born from her own drawings. The plot isn’t wildly inventive and I did expect more from Gaiman, but the film works as an allegorical tale and will find its young audience who will no doubt lap it right up.
Visually it’s a treat, with McKean’s lucid imagination pouring onto the screen and shimmering like someone’s just knocked over a tin of metallic paint. McKean’s style has always been crying out to be plastered across our screens and here we have it, like visual soup ebbing onto the screen and immersing us into his metallic hinterland, so much so, you can almost taste it. The CGI works well with the lush visuals complemented by an ebullient soundtrack composed by Jazz saxophonist Iain Ballamy. The creatures that inhabit this Yin/Yang of a world are frequently bizarre, typical McKeanean beings, looking like two-dimensional shapes fused together then brought to life, which is kind of what they are, being the living embodiments of Helena’s art. Many have human faces on strange bodies, like the freaky cat-like beings that enjoy chowing down on the odd novel; oh they dig it the most. Also the evil Queen played a la The Wizard of Oz by the same actress as Helena’s mother (McKee) is suitable twisted, spewing dark matter from her mouth like some sort of incarnate white hole. There are some great quirky little touches as well; books in this world have a life of their own, as we see when Helena and Valentine go to the library to help them on their quest and are given a net to catch the birdlike books. The characters are also suitably voiced, Stephen Fry being put to good use (when isn’t he?) for the librarian.
The young Stephanie Leonidas plays Helena with appropriate wide-eyed wonderment, juxtaposing this with a knowing cynicism that keeps the character grounded, but still manages to capture our hearts, if not our minds, but she’ll definitely be one to watch out for.
It will capture the imagination of many younger viewers and it’s injected with humour mainly aimed at these, to lighten the load, an explicit choice on the writer’s part. To their credit, treading over such familiar allegorical territory as this, it could have become quite laboured, but it isn’t and while I feel, considering the talent involved, (McKean’s another one to keep a well-trained eye on) it somehow should have amounted to something greater than it is, it’s still highly enjoyable, a Labyrinth for the New Millennium, minus a pop star. Now when’s Sandman coming out?
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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment have announced the UK Region 2 DVD release of Mirrormask for 5th June 2006 priced at £19.99. Mirrormask is the story of Helena, who works for the familiy circus, and wishes - quite ironically - that she could run away and join real life. But such is not to be the case, as she finds herself on a strange journey into the Dark Lands, a fantastic landscape filled with giants, Monkeybirds and dangerous sphinxes. Helena searches for the MirrorMask, an object of enormous power that is her only hope of escaping the Dark Lands, waking the Queen of Light and returning home.
- 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
- English DD5.1 Surround
- English and Hindi subtitles
- Director and Writer Commentary
- ’Neil Talks…’ – Interview with writer Neil Gaiman
- ’Dave Talks About Film’ – Interview with director Dave McKean
- Beginnings - The Genesis of Mirrormask
- Day 16 - Time Lapse Video of One Entire Day of Production
- Making of the Monkeybird Sequence
- Design and Creation of the Giant Sequence
- Q & A Sessions from the San Diego Comic-Con
- Poster & Cover Art Gallery
- Cast & Crew Interviews