‘Scuse me while I gush.
This would have to be one of the most anticipated movies of the year for me. I know, I know, you’re all hanging out for King Kong, and have already rushed out to see Harry Potter, but for me Mirrormask was the one to look out for. Neil Gaiman, writer of ‘The Sandman’ graphic novels, teaming up with long time pal and legendary artist Dave McKean, whose work not only adorns every Sandman comic but also many of my Front Line Assembly CDs – I was excited to say the least (try to think of Homer before the chilli cook off – on tiptoes, fingers wiggling). Again and again I saw the release date pushed back… I kept reading good and bad comments on IMDb… and finally today I saw it.
Now, for those of you who don’t know, Labyrinth is my number one film of all time. So you can’t be blamed for doubting me just a little bit when I say that Mirrormask wowed me in a way that no fantasy movie has done for years.
The otherworldly settings are stunning. Incredible. McKean and, what seems to be a very small, crew have created the most wondrous fantasy settings. The special effects are never ‘realistic’, but everything on screen is so ‘fake’ that it doesn’t matter. This is the type of ‘green screen’ movie that we’ve been waiting for, after patiently sitting through the three recent Star Wars movies and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. In this dreamlike, hallucinatory picture we are treated to floating giants, monosyllabic birds, winged cats and insecure books. From the very first frame we are treated to uniquely surreal imagery that could only come from McKean. The melding of two and three dimensional objects is almost a trademark of his, influencing so much art back in the 90s, and here he takes it to a new level. Every single moment has been lavished over; every shot is a piece of art.
I had heard that the script was somewhat lacking, but I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, it’s probably not Neil Gaiman at his most inventive, and maybe it’s slightly watered down, but it’s still brilliantly creative and wickedly hilarious. As with all his work, pantomime, ancient myth, literature, nursery rhymes and pop culture meld together to form something timeless yet contemporary, humorous yet deadly serious. I’m pleased to say that the script is just as detailed as the imagery, and at times I had to make sure I concentrated on the dialogue, so astoundingly distracting were the creations on screen.
The performers (mostly unknown to myself, excepting Stephen Fry) were brilliant. At the centre of the film is the beautiful Helena (Stephanie Leonidas), whose almost imperturbable good spirits are infectious. Her delight in and sometimes downright ridicule of the fantastical world into which she is flung is a great grounding for the narrative, and ensures proceedings never get too silly. Her companion Valentine (Jason Barry) is a perfect foil for her bravado, and his knowledge of his homeland is nicely balanced by his cowardice. Gina McKee manages to deliver very different performances in multiple roles, and in fact the majority of the cast double up, as is the tradition in films such as this.
This probably isn’t for everybody, but I loved every minute. It’s a joy to finally see McKean and Gaiman’s work on the big screen at last, and here’s hoping both make more films.Rating: