Mirrormask was reviewed in the February 15th Daily Variety by Scott Foundas.
A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Destination Films presentation of a Jim Henson production. Produced by Simon Moorhead. Executive producers, Lisa Henson, Michael Polis, Martin G. Baker. Directed by David McKean. Screenplay, Neil Gaiman; story, Gaiman, McKean.
Valentine – Jason Barry
Morris Campbell/Prime Minister – Rob Brydon
Helena/Anti-Helena – Stephanie Leonidas
Joanne/Queen of Light/Queen of Shadows – Gina McKee
Filmed largely against a blue screen and worked over by some 17 credited animators and effects artists, the Jim Henson Co.’s “Mirrormask”emerges as an overproduced novelty pic that looks and feels more like a company promo reel than an engaging piece of storytelling. An elaborate kids fantasy that reps the feature directing debut of acclaimed graphic designer David McKean, pic is loaded with references to Lewis Carroll and L. Frank Baum, but far too often relies on its technology as a substitute for imagination. Without the built-in audience of a “Harry Potter” or “Lemony Snicket,” pic seems destined for the most fleeting of theatrical careers before passing on to vid/DVD afterlife.
Scripted by cult comic-book author Neil Gaiman (the “Sandman” series), “Mirrormask” inverts the childhood fantasy of running off to join the circus.Having spent her entire life living among circus performers, 15-year-old Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) wishes aloud for a life more ordinary, but quickly regrets having done so when her mother (Gina McKee) mysteriously collapses.
Blaming her selfish desires for her mother’s illness, a distraught Helena journeys into the Dark Lands, a drably colored parallel reality where fish swim in mid-air, books become airborne skateboards and everyone wears a mask .
In a distinctly “Oz”-like gambit, the Dark Lands are also populated with a host of familiar faces that create parallels to Helena’s world — from the comatose Queen of Light (McKee again) to the sage-like Prime Minister (Rob Brydon, who also plays Helena’s father) to Helena’s own menacing alter-ego, who has evidently swapped places with Helena out of her own desire to escape her familiar surroundings.
After being mistaken for the anti-Helena by the anti-Helena’s possessive mother, the Queen of Shadows (also McKee), the real Helena teams up with a juggler named Valentine (Jason Barry, whose CG head resembles a box of french fries), Helena then finds herself in a race against time to recover a powerful charm capable of revivifying the Queen of Light and restoring order to the universe.
“Mirrormask” is the type of film that gets hailed as “visionary” because it doesn’t quite look like any other movie. But while that’s true up to a point, its labor-intensive computer-generated (or enhanced) imagery creates a sense of disconnection between the actors and their environment, as well as between audience and film.
Though it recalls, in its broad outlines, such modern children’s fantasies as “The Neverending Story” and (particularly) the Henson Co.’s own “Labyrinth” and “The Dark Crystal,” pic lacks those films’ enveloping atmosphere and sense that it would be possible to reach out and touch what’s onscreen. Instead, “Mirrormask” feels chilly and distant, like watching a high-style videogame being played by someone else.
McKean achieves no modulation whatsoever between the his real and fantasy universes, swirling his camera about violently even when a more tempered set-up might better fit the occasion and setting the film to an omnipresent jazz fusion score (by Ian Ballamy) that quickly wears out its welcome. Oddly enough for a pic whose visual elements are the sell, images on print screened were often murky and soft, suggesting a poor transfer from digital post-production elements.
Camera (Soho Images color), Antony Shearn; editor, Nicolas Gaster; music, Ian Ballamy; production designer, McKean; supervising art director, Zoe Trodden; costume designer, Robert Lever; sound (Dolby Digital), Ian Sands; sound designers, Hugh Johnson, Barnaby Smith; supervising sound editors, Larry Sider, Joakim Sundstrom; CGI supervisor and producer, Max McMullin; digital animation and effects, Hourglass Studios; assistant director, Joe Lea; casting, Louis Hammond. Reviewed at Aidikoff Screening Room, Beverly Hills, January 17, 2005. (In Sundance Film Festival — Premieres). Running time: 96 MIN.
Here’s an additional review from AICN.
And as always, Rotten Tomatoes is collecting reviews from both print and electronic sources.
And here’s C.A. Bridges not name dropping
From the February 18th Rocky Mountain News
By Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Dagmara Matuszak; signed and limited to 1000 copies (Hill House Publishers, $90).
In its first two decades, Hill House published only three titles: the signed/limited versions of Peter Straub’s Ghost Story; Raymond Feist’s Faerie Tale; and Al Sarrantonio’s landmark anthology, 999.
However, a couple of years ago the small press began producing fine editions of the works of some of today’s most important genre authors, including Ray Bradbury, Neal Stephenson, Stephen Donaldson and Neil Gaiman.
Generally, Hill House titles are similar, but much nicer and significantly more expensive than their mass market counterparts. For instance, the Hill House adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s The Cat’s Pajamas features silk binding and a silk slipcase and includes five stories not in the Knopf original. In addition to a presentation similar to the Bradbury, the Hill House version of Neil Gaiman’s award-winning American Gods includes 12,000 words excised from the trade edition.
Now, for the first time, Hill House has published a book that’s not available anywhere else, Neil Gaiman’s Melinda.
Beautifully presented with Dagmara Matuszak’s breathtaking 48 black-and-white and eight-color plates, Gaiman tells the foreboding story of Melinda, an orphan child in a dark, mechanized future.
“She’s seven, but she’s seen it all,” writes Gaiman. “She’s lived in heating pipes and vents and run with dogs, and battled wolves. She’s learned it takes a lot of sense to build yourself a nest above; down on the ground it’s cat eat dog, she’ll forage there for food or love.”
Gaiman’s words and Matuzak’s illustrations seamlessly put readers into Melinda’s life where they can almost feel the cold and share the hunger of the lonely but resilient child. The only way Melinda can overcome the world’s sense of desolation and despair is to escape into fantasy, fueled by robot versions of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Little Red Riding Hood.
While $90 may seem a hefty price for this short work, two factors make the book worth it: the exceptional production values, and the fact that Gaiman fans won’t find it anywhere else.
Melinda can be ordered from booksellers or directly from Hill House Publishers, 491 Illington Road, Ossining, NY 10562, and online at http://hillhousepublishers.com.
– Mark Graham
From the March April Horn Book:
Children’s Literature New England’s nineteenth annual institute, The Fairy Tale Belongs to t
he Poor, will b
e held at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on August 713, 2005. Speakers include Elizabeth Bicknell, Susan Cooper, Sarah Ellis, Neil Gaiman, Betsy Hearne, Donna Jo Napoli, Elizabeth Partridge, Jacqueline Woodson, and Paul Zelinsky. For more information see www.CLNE.org or call or e-mail registrar Martha Walke (802-765-4935; email@example.com).