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I'm another of those who saw this at Sundance, and all the things I
enjoy about Gaiman and McKean's graphic novels were on display: the
quiet humor, the intelligence, the delightful weirdness, the astounding
visual vocabulary. Except that in this case, the words are spoken by
good actors, and all those visuals get up off their feet and move.
It's hard to describe the impact of watching a McKean painting move and talk. There might be those who quibble about the movie looking too animated, but of course that's exactly the point: to create a world and make it dance. The end result, visually at least, is like nothing you've ever seen before, and absolutely worth seeing for that reason alone.
Some of the people I talked to after the screening also loved the visuals but felt the story was a bit dull, that they had seen it all before. Well, it's true that the story does wear its influences on its sleeve--a little "Alice in Wonderland" here, a little "Time Bandits" there, a lot of "Wizard of Oz" over here, not to mention a resemblance to Gaiman's own "Coraline." But I'm just as familiar with those stories as anyone else, and the resemblances never interrupted my enjoyment of "MirrorrMask"--after all, it's what you do with a story that determines its success. And from moment to moment, there was enough innovation and cleverness, enough delight and wonder, to make the movie a positive delight.
I can imagine kids sitting in the audience with their eyes agog; and I can imagine their parents sitting next to them, just as agog for a whole different set of reasons. "MirrorMask" may or may not be too wild to be a full-out commercial success; but I predict it's going to have a long, long shelf life. I know I'll be buying the DVD as soon as it's available, so that I can show it to people and say "Wait till you see this."
This is my first review, so pardon me for any clumsiness in its
composition. As such I am nervously avoiding any discussion of the
plot, lest I spoil anything.
This is a continuation of the tradition of fantastical films about the adolescent transition of young women. Other films in this vein are "Alice in Wonderland", "Paperhouse",and "Labrynth." The film was produced by Henson Studios, and is presented like their other features, but rather than puppets and elaborate sets, animation replaces those elements.
Visually I found it stunning. I am familiar with McKean's work, and I found this to be amongst his best. It was distinctly McKean's style. The use of color was phenomenal, as well as surreal composition. I was enthralled seeing his creations in literal motion, rather than the usual implied motion. I personally thought there were a number of visual references to other great films, but I'll leave that to your opinion. I thought the direction clearly demonstrated his grasp of composition.
The writing was true to Gaiman's tradition of off-beat fairy tales. The pacing was dreamlike, flowing between slow moments of beauty and exposition to frenetic moments of fierce action. Humor, dark and otherwise, punctuated the film. The dialogue was very strong.
I was also very fond of the use of sound. One scene is a frightening and beautiful music video, that can be lifted out of the film completely and carry itself. It fits better in the film, but doesn't need to.
The film fits extremely well with all of the previous Henson Productions. I suggest having seen "Dark Crystal", "Labrynth", and "Jim Henson's The Storyteller" before viewing this. The piece fits very well with these.
The audience that showed up for the Sundance premiere of this gem was
quite diverse. Some came for Neil Gaiman, some for Dave McKean and the
rest for the Jim Henson legacy. Based on my informal polls conducted in
waiting list lines around Salt Lake City, everyone got what they
The visuals -- as you would expect from a move involving Henson's company -- are simply stunning. Most of the movie is blue-screen, which is quite unbelievable for a movie made for a mere $4 million. The human actors blend into the gorgeous painting-like backgrounds (google McKean's art and you will understand that this is quite a feat), and do an outstanding job of interacting with the digital characters.
Only 17 people -- all freshly graduated students -- worked on the animation, but the result looks like 170 professionals did. It should be noted however that Dave McKean spent 18 months in post-production, pretty much 24/7.
The weakest part of the movie is the story. Dave and Neil came up with the outline over 3 days, and worked out the details as they filmed. The end result is a run-of-the-mill Alice in Wonderland rip-off, with some elements from Labyrinth and other familiar children's tales.
I have to give extra credit to Stephanie Leonidas, who does a great job bringing Helena, a girl who ends up lost in the world of her Dali-meets-Picasso-meets-McKean drawings, to life.
I hope this movie will get picked up for theater distribution, because it deserves to be seen on the big-screen. In any case, McKean fans will be happy to hear that a Mirrormask picture book is in the works that will contain the 1700 drawings produced for the movie...
If you get a chance, go see this movie. It should be fun for children of all ages. If it comes to theaters, I will go see it again, and will give it an A again :)
This is a visually mesmerizing film that takes movie fantasy into new
territory. Think Alice in Wonderland meets Wizard of Oz performed by
Cirque de Soleil. MirrorMask takes a comic-book approach to Good vs.
Evil, with 15-year-old Helena as the protagonist who must find the
MirrorMask and save the Light Kingdom.
But the story isn't nearly as important as the fantastic creatures and hallucinatory imagery that parade non-stop through Helena's fantastic journey. Director and writer (and frequent collaborators) Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman leap into the movie business with extraordinary confidence and derring-do. They are both legendary successes and have a devoted fan base from comic books (the Sandman series, for one), novels, short stories, posters, CD art, and much more.
It quickly becomes clear that MirrorMask is the creation of talented and imaginative artists completely unfettered by the bounds of traditional film-making. As a result, it is a bold departure from anything you have ever seen on the screen before. The story is simple enough and the visuals so wondrous that most children should find the movie enjoyable (unless they've become action-oriented adrenaline addicts). Yet the writing is sufficiently deep to satisfy the most thoughtful of adults.
I spoke to both McKean and Gaiman at one of the Sundance screenings and found them both polite, thoughtful and interesting. I told them that MirrorMask was the kind of movie I wanted to see again immediately. It is lovely enough to warrant a second look. And there's enough meat on the bones to go back and catch what you might have missed. The last movie I felt that way about was Memento, one of my all-time favorites.
MirrorMask is like the crack baby of Labyrinth and Alice in
Wonderland--but this baby is more stylized, modern, and incredibly
I am a huge fan of both Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman's work. I consider myself lucky, because I was able to meet Neil at the Salt Lake Public Library a couple of years ago, and I was treated to a sneak preview of MirrorMask at the San Diego Comic Convention in 2004. And amazingly enough, I got to see the film at the Sundance Film Festival on January 29th-- and Neil and Dave were there again. So, I've felt attached to this project for a while.
This is a film that children and adults will adore. The humor is great, and the characters are immediately enjoyable and identifiable. Helena, the main character, possesses the kind of wide-eyed wonderment and tenacious attitude that all viewers will find believably endearing. The other characters range from strangely beautiful and frightening, as in the Black Queen, to comical and seemingly ordinary, as in the sardonic juggler, Valentine. The background characters are beautifully rendered and reflect McKean's style perfectly. The costume design is particularly outstandingdetails are not overlooked. One could view the film a dozen times and still see new surprises.
Like Labyrinth, the film follows Helena through a journey of self-discovery, where she ultimately begins to understand the importance of her herself and her familyand of the ultimate power of hope. As a child, I was captivated by Labyrinth's Sarah character, and I think younger generations will latch onto Helena just as quickly. Helena is more believable though, than Sarahand her role is a positive one. She is a strong, intelligent, and inquisitive girl, just on the verge of womanhood.
The entire film floored meI feel so lucky to have seen it. If any of you have a chance to see it, do so immediately. Hopefully, the film will be released to theaters around the country this would be an especially wise move, as I'm sure it will become a classic fantasy film for all ages.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
So many people loved this movie, yet there are a few of us IMDb
reviewers who found Mirrormask excruciatingly uncomfortable to watch
and arse-clenchingly boring. I fall into the latter of these two camps,
and I will try to explain what it was that made my toenails curl so
Firstly, to set the record straight - I like Neil Gaiman's books. I sometimes find his knowing, sarcastic, 'wry asides' humour a little geeky, and I actually prefer his work when he is playing it straight and leaving the jokes alone - but, even with his occasional lapses into crap 'dad' gags, I find his creativity and imagination to be something a bit special.
Interestingly, one of Gaiman's strongest works is Coraline, a Gothic fairy story for kids that is very low on jokes and high on tension and creepiness. His latest novel (Anansi Boys) overdoes the funnies, and tends to read at times like Terry Pratchett does the Sisters of Mercy (not the nuns but the band). Mirrormask inhabits similar territory to Coraline, and when I saw the stunning visuals in the trailer, I got a bit excited that somebody had managed to transfer Gaiman's spectacular vision and imagination to the screen.
In praise of the film, some sequences do look stunning. However, the visual effects are occasionally ruined by CGI animation that looks like a Media Studies student project. Backgrounds and scenery are often incredible, but some of the character animation looks clumsy, amateur and cheap. In an early dream sequence, the spider is animated beautifully, but the book-eating cat-beast looks poorly rendered and very 'computer generated'. Compared with the standard of animation found in productions such as 'The Corpse Bride', Mirrormask occasionally looks very amateur indeed. However, in Mirrormask's defence, the budget was tiny for such a grand vision, and a few creaks in the effects can be understood and forgiven.
What cannot be forgiven is the stilted, stagy, cringeworthy and pretentious dialogue. The actors struggle desperately with the dialogue - and there is so much of it that they are constantly hampered and stumbling over it. Conversation is rendered completely unnatural, the jokes fall flat time and time again, and the turgid speeches appear to be the writer's only method of plot exposition. Combined with the fact that the actors are working against a blue screen (which always adds an element of 'Phantom Menace') - this renders the film almost unwatchable. In such an unreal setting the actors need to work twice as hard to be believed, and in the main they fail terribly. The girl who plays the lead role puts in a valiant struggle against the impossible stage-school dialogue, and occasionally shows real promise, but it is never enough. The god-awful cod-'Oirish' of the Valentine character (with whom she is forced to spend an inordinate amount of screen time) puts paid to any chance of this young actress rising above the material. It appears to be Valentine's job to explain the plot to younger viewers, and to add a bit of light relief. Personally, I wouldn't want him anywhere near my 15 year old daughter.
What else is wrong with this film? Answer....Rob Brydon. What's annoying (for us Brits, anyway) is we know Rob Brydon can act! We've seen him hold the screen for half-an-hour on his own (doing those 'Marion & Geoff' monologues), and in the first 'real world' bit of the film he is fine. However, stick him in front of a blue screen and he loses all sense of character and turns into the worst am-dram-ham I've seen in years. A real shame.
What else is wrong? Answer... the wanky slap-bassing, sub-Courtney Pine saxing and unlistenable, too-high-in-the-mix soundtrack that never shuts up. God, the music is incessant, loud, distracting, irrelevant and, if that isn't enough, has wanky slap bass wanking all over it. It makes the dialogue very hard to hear, but that could be a blessing in disguise.
What else is wrong with it? Answer.... The whistling mime artist. In modern society there should be no place for mime, apart from certain secret places in France. Every moment the camera lingers on the gurning, whistling, moss-juggling, yogurt-weaving idiot, I understand why the Edinburgh locals get a bit anxious and fractious when Festival time comes round again.
My final criticism is that the film is pretty dull. Surrealism often is dull it either requires its audience to slip into a dreamlike, Zen, accepting state, or for the audience be constantly wowed by bigger and grander surprises. A story with a bit of pace involving characters that we could believe in and care about would have gone a long way to giving this film the emotional centre that it sadly lacked, whilst stopping the eyelids from drooping.
Finally, apologies to all those who found depth, meaning and wonder in this film. You have managed to suspend your disbelief, you have seen past the creaky CGI, ignored the crappy dialogue and the abysmal performances that resulted, and understood the maker's grand, imaginative vision. I wanted to, but I couldn't see past the real-world failings that dragged it down.
I hope Neil Gaiman gets it right next time, if he gets (or even wants) the opportunity.
The medium of film is--like the medium of writing or other celebrated
media--practically limitless in potential for fantastic creations.
However, the fantasy (NOT SCI FI) genre is severely underrepresented in
it. For every Lord of the Rings, we have ten attempts at The Matrix.
But what better alchemical mix to straight-up fantasy can we have than Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean, and the Henson Company? One thing Henson could do with his puppets that many others never really aspired to do was create fantasy the likes that weren't really done again, and his legacy lives on, using the enriching and creative mind of Gaiman, the celebrated British fantasy writer and comic book artist whose vivid imagination was so perfectly translated into film using practically every chemical for fantasy possible: CGI, animation, painting, set design, split-screen, superimposition, saturated colors, I even think there were moments of stop-motion animation.
The story is about a fifteen-year-old girl named Helena who works for a circus. Her creative and artistic mind keeps her busy from day to day until her mother falls ill and has to go to the hospital. Blaming it on herself for a row she had with her mother, Helena "escapes" into dreamland... or does she? I think what's really refreshing about this film is that, despite what a lot of people say about it, it's NOT that much like Alice and Wonderland. I can't help but think that, despite the fact that this film uses a lot of tropes common to the fantasy genre, it's distinct and original, something to be admired and appreciated. I don't think anything in this film really came off as that clichéd, even though it did come across as familiar. It might even be possible to say that anybody who has a real problem with it is just taking it too seriously, but that argument always goes in the wrong direction so forget about it.
One of the things I think that's important about a film like this is that it's not really a kids movie. Children could watch it, easily, and be fine with it, but it's not directed just to them. It isn't really directed at a target audience in the genre sense. It is simply fantasy for fantasy's sake, going where a lot of filmmakers seem desperate to avoid because "It's just not real enough." That's why, despite the fact that this movie has pretty obvious CGI, it doesn't matter as much as the obvious CGI in The Hulk: it's so fantastic, it helps that it doesn't seem real.
Too bad it just won't get the marketing or the attention it deserves, probably ever. That's why if it's ever considered a classic at all, it'll be a cult classic. Such seems the destination of many things that dare to be what they want and not what others want them to be.
Title: Mirrormask (2005)
Director: Dave McKean
Cast: Stephanie Leonidas, Gina McKee, Rob Brydon, Jason Barry, Dora Bryan
Review: Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman have partnered up in the past to write some visually astounding children's books. McKean would take care of the artwork and Gaiman would take care of the story. This time around they have joined forces to create a film that very closely resembles their previous colaborations. Only this time around, the images move and actors say the words in this way helping to bring McKeans art and Gaimans words to vibrant life.
The story in Mirrormask is about a young girl called Helena. Her parents run a circus and she has been brought up in the circus environment, but lately shes been feeling like shes not really cut up for circus life. Helena and her mother have a fight about her not wanting to be in the circus anymore and she wishes her mother would die. On that same day, her mother falls ill and ends up in the hospital and Helenas conscience begins to bother her, after all, she did wish her mother was dead. And now she is close to dying. So once Helena falls as sleep thinking about all these things she enters her imaginary dreamworld where everything has a representation of what she knows from real life.
This is a very visual film. McKean fills the screen with his lush imagery. If you've seen McKeans artwork and know how beautiful it is, then you know how incredible it is to see his pictures come to life on this film. This movie is eye candy, and for those of you out there who love art and love films that give their utter most importance to their visual aspect, then you will love this movie. McKean fills the screen with really outlandish, strange, weird and dreamlike situations. Nothing is what you would expect.
Some people might feel that this type of movie is all style and art and no substance simply because its such a visual film. But I sincerely think that this is not the case with Mirrormask. With a writer like Neil Gaiman in charge, well, you can almost tell that the movie is going to have some deep psychological themes going on for it. And it does. Every character, every situation, every word spoken in Helenas dream world means something in Helenas real life. So be on the look out for those comparisons.
The movie has some truly astounding sequences that left me breathless and my jaw was dropping. First there was the giants orbiting sequence with these huge stone giants floating in the air and then there's this sequence in which Helena gets transformed into a dark princess that is simply amazing. They really did a good job of mixing music with visuals in that sequence. You'll just have to wait and see it to understand how beautiful it is.
This movie wears its influences on its sleaves and has no problems in showing that. There's many similarities between this movie and Labyrinth, Legend and most of all The Never Ending Story. Its the only thing I didn't love about this movie. It felt like they remade The Never Ending Story with elements from Labyrinth and Legend. Take all those movies, shake em together, add a little bit of psychological depth and incredible visuals and you've got Mirrormask. So if there's anything bad to say, its that in its narrative, its similar to a few other films. But on a visual level, its a whole other thing, so that sort of balances its self out.
I liked the fact that Helena wasn't a dumb little girl. She was very head strong and very smart. She wasn't a dumb little girl stumbling across a strange landscape. She was quick and witty and she realizes the situation in which she is in quickly and I liked that about her character which was very well played by Stephanie Leonides.
So in conclusion, this film will blow you away with both its visuals and its story. Its a mixed bag of other films you've seen before story wise, but on a visual level the film will be like nothing you've ever seen before.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman's MirrorMask is the quintessential Alice in Wonderland story. The world that these two immensely gifted artists and storytellers have created is the very definition of mind-blowing, offering up one of the most astonishing and original fantasy realms since Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's The City of Lost Children over a decade ago. The amazing dreamscapes of Helena is truly Dave McKean's art brought to life, and is just through and through a perfect fit for Neil Gaiman's highly imaginative and at times quirky style of writing. The character inhabiting this strange tale, both the flesh and blood ones as well as those digitally rendered, are every bit as memorable as their surroundings. Stephanie Leonidas is quite simply a revelation as Helena, giving her a childlike innocence that, together with the emotionally rough seas of a teenager, makes for a very fascinating and real-felt performance. And you wouldn't for a second believe her to be anything but a troubled teen, despite her actual twenty-two years of age. Gina McKee delivers an equally impressive performance as Helena's mother, Joanne, and as the Dark Queen she has such a stunning presence about her that not even the most wicked of witches or evil of step-mothers could overshadow her for even the fraction of a second. Dave McKean's feature film directorial debut is a masterpiece, short and simple, and the feast that he serves up with MirrorMask is one that I most definitely will never tire of...
I went into this film with high expectations and it didn't disappoint!
Dave McKean is a genius! He has created a film which is an unparalleled amalgam of live action, puppetry, classical and computer generated animation. This is the kind of movie that makes me want to be a filmmaker. McKean is constantly aware of the camera and how best to use it to draw the audience into the world he and Neil Gaiman have created.
The story is a fascinating examination of the self and issues of duality through the lens of the carnivalesque. The film references the mythologies of various cultures to create one of its own. There are some clear links back to Lewis Carroll and Alice's Adventures In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and it shares the dark, twisted sense of humour seen in earlier Henson Company films like Labyrinth and Dark Crystal.
The whole film is captivating and visually gorgeous. Within each frame there is so much to see, that, I would guess, even upon dozens of viewings, you'd be seeing new things. The visuals alone would have been enough to make this film nearly perfect but coupled with the frenetic and wacky music it's made even more amazing.
Kudos to McKean and Gaiman for creating a masterpiece that will stand the test of filmic history.
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