Neil Gaiman’s Mirrormask is just the sort of mixed bag I expected. While parts are mesmerizing and the performance of Stephanie Leonidas is a joy in itself, the plot fails to make room for credibility when it’s desperately needed. The holes left behind from this weak story cause the film to masquerade as art while carefully avoiding admission to what it really is – a product of sloppy writing. Gaiman is a talented scribe, but with Mirrormask, he’s dangerously close to believing his own hype. Judging fro… the work, it’s as if he’s looking back at his own accomplishments and thinking his minions of fans will like whatever he first puts down on paper; and for the most part, I think his hunch will prove correct. But that doesn’t mean it’s good just because his followers refuse to see the fault. It’s not that his words and sentences aren’t impressive. They are. No one can fault the man’s abilities with the mechanics of the language, but on issues of plotting, it’s as though he came up with three-quarters of a good story and refused to develop it to completion. Of course, the excuse for such disjointedness is that he’s attempting to create a dreamlike quality with the work. He does succeed, but he gives up too much ground when it comes to credibility.
Still, Mirrormask is not a bad film. The imagination, which goes into every aspect of the feature, is wild and vividly rendered. The effects are spectacular and proof an eye candy piece can be made for less than $5 million. The one-eyeball spiders, the black mass of destruction, the vicious four-legged riddle-loving creatures with human faces – all these characters are rendered beautifully, and do a great job of appealing to older children on the cusp of junior high or high school. And I admire the way Gaiman doesn’t underestimate his audience’s intelligence. At its core, the film has a positive and useful message for kids, and it’s able to relate it without talking down to them. Last but not least, Leonidas will hypnotize you with her grace and beauty. She emits a sexuality that will disturb older viewers until they discover she’s really in her early twenties. But that speaks even more of her talent. Here she is, playing a convincing adolescent, while still oozing sensuality. She’s a talented young actress, who will leave you with some bizarre feelings. To borrow a line from Steve Carrell’s sexually charged boss in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, she will haunt your dreams.
The anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen presentation comes very close to perfection. The choice of colors give the film a more depressing feel than it should have, but they are flawlessly reproduced on this transfer. Everything has an almost sepia tint. It’s a very dark-looking picture, though the film’s soul turns a complete one-eighty. I detected no signs of dirt or grain – just a clean, fresh picture throughout.
The 5.1 track is as astounding as the video presentation, with a heavy emphasis on bass levels. The initial encounter with the black mass of destruction and the one-eyed spiders is exemplary of the disc’s house-shaking abilities. Dialogue levels also fare strongly, but the subtleties of background noise are accentuated with an incomparable flare. I thoroughly enjoyed both aspects of the technical presentation, but the sound quality is the real story here.
Mirrormask boasts a vast array of bonus materials, as varied and detailed as the dream landscape of the film itself. In addition to the writer-director audio commentary, there are also individual interviews with Director Dave McKean and Writer Neil Gaiman, as well as some with cast and crew. Beginnings: The Genesis of Mirrormask offers a fascinating look into the development of story and feature. Viewers get to follow one entire day of production with the special Day 16, a time-lapse featurette. Flight of the Monkeybirds and Giants Development pay appropriate homage to the gifted craftsmen behind the film’s stunning look. And a poster and cover art gallery rounds out the package with some nice shots worthy of framing.
Again, Mirrormask is a mixed bag that’s a hair away from being superior work. What is here offers fascinating imagery and wonderful acting (namely from Leonidas). With a breathtaking A/V presentation and a loaded plate of extras, it’s a sure-fire purchase for Gaiman fans. More gifted children will also be able to get lost in the story and message. Not great, but you could do a lot worse.
Special Features List
- Director and Writer Commentary
- Neil Talks…: Interview with Writer Neil Gaiman
- Dave Talks About The Film: Interview with Director Dave McKean
- Beginnings: The Genesis of Mirrormask
- Cast & Crew Interviews
- Day 16: Time Lapse Video of One Entire Day of Production
- Flight Of The Monkeybirds: Making the Monkeybird Sequence
- Giants Development: Design and Creation of the Giant Sequence
- Poster and Cover Art Gallery