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Friday, 30 September 2011

MIRRORMASK (2005)

A script by Neil Gaiman. Production by the Jim Henson Company. Designs and direction from Dave McKean. Mirrormask is a thing of rare beauty, a treasure, precious and lovely. It's also criminally unappreciated by the masses, and bombed on its original release.

This is sort of understandable, really, such is the magnitude of invention on display throughout it. It's easy to see why the moviegoing public didn't take to it during its limited theatrical run, but it's also plain to see how and why the film has developed such a strong cult following over the last few years.

I was introduced to the film when a pack of promo material was delivered to the comic shop I used to work in. It contained posters, postcards, film cells and the like, and I was instantly captivated. As soon as the film was released, I took it in and was swept away by its sublime and fantastical escapism.


Mirrormask is an extremely rewarding film with multiple viewings, but on first impressions there may be a little too much going on to take it all in. It tells the story of Helena, a teenage girl who lives with a circus troupe and dreams of escaping her life of performance. Following the hospitalization of her mother, she finds herself trapped in a dream world in which she must set about a quest to find the mythical MirrorMask in order to save a dream version of mum (and in turn the kingdom itself).

She is helped along the way by the mysterious rogue Valentine, a juggler with the gift of the gab, and an assortment of otherworldly creatures amidst a landscape the likes of which had never been seen on screen before.


It is dreamlike rather than epic, unsettling rather than thrilling, and completely unforgettable. Another point is that at times, the film is remarkably frightening. Many people raise issue with the script, as it does carry a great deal of resemble to Labyrinth and suchlike, but I find it beautiful.

Starring Stephanie Leonidas as Helena alongside people such as Gina McKee, Rob Brydon and Stephen Fry, the film is a unique look into the minds of both Gaiman and McKean, and carries all of the hallmarks of their individual talents with a computer-generated land of miracles and horrors.

The CGI holds up well even now, and I would say that the fact the world is so stylized and the story involves such deep and strange dreams has stopped it dating much. The film has its devout fans and its harsh critics, but for some of us it worms its ay into our minds and doesn't let us ever stop loving it. The world of Mirrormask is a collage of bizarre images and scenes interspersed with progressive jazz rather than epic orchestrations, which works together in a surreal and sublime fashion.


Actually, it may be the score that goes some way to making Mirrormask feel even more avant-garde than it really is, which in turn may have turned some viewers off of it. The influence of the Henson company is rather apparent throughout the film's length, but this is never a bad thing. Seldom has there been a company whose name alone assures you that quality and imagination will be flashed before your eyes, and wherever Mirrormask may disappoint some viewers, it is sure to thrill them in others.

The use of multiple roles for cast members (i.e. real world/dream world counterparts) is very well handled, and a big shout-out must go to Gina McKee for her gorgeous portrayal of both Helena's mum and the terrifying evil Queen of the dream realm. This is a film that will not be to everyone's tastes, but for those with a sense of wonder and an appreciation of the work of the people involved in creating it, it is a beautiful experience that only gets better with age. A disaster to some, but a masterpiece to others. I'm proud to be in the latter camp.

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