‘MirrorMask’, 2005, d. Dave McKean

Watched ‘MirrorMask’ yesterday. I sort of loved it.

It’s absurdly and sincerely bizarre. The images are strange, beautiful, arresting. And they are images- I wouldn’t call them shots- they’re glowing shifting flickering things, like the crackle of old jazz spilling from a gramophone. McKean uses slow dreamy fade-outs, jewel colours, wonderful sets. His painty fingerprints are all over it. Some of it is very stylised- elegant, poetic. Some of it is loose and soft and dreamy. It’s flashy and subtle, decadent and sparse. By turns it’s almost erotic.

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It’s evocative. It’s gorgeous. And now I’m going to stop before the adjective police kick down my door.

This was created by the minds behind ‘The Sandman’. You can tell. I love both guys’ work. My composition A for my music GCSE was called ‘The Wolves In The Walls’ (my composition B was called ‘Lucrezia Borgia’, naturally.) If I had to choose an all-time favourite book, it’d be a hard tie between ‘Neverwhere’ and ‘Titus Groan’. I’m super excited for ‘American Gods’. When someone like McKean collaborates with writers I love, it makes me very happy; this was up my alley.

It’s not a perfect film by any means. According to Rotten Tomatoes it’s not even a good film. The plot is ridiculous, although this isn’t necessarily an issue. But it’s also very vague. So is the way it unfolds. Conflicts are not always given sufficient room to develop and breathe, or are resolved too quickly. There’s a lot of influence from ‘Labyrinth’, and I clocked several visual references. There’s even a Hoggle-like character. There’s elements of ‘Alice In Wonderland’, and these really work. The movie was filmed in Brighton instead of London, as originally planned; an excellent choice. Some of the buildings look like broken teeth.

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Stephanie Leonidas is a smart and rather childlike Helena, like a ghost in her white pyjamas. She’s a true Gaiman heroine- reminds me a bit of both Coraline and Door- and I found Leonidas charming. Rob Brydon is compassionate and lovely as the father and less convincing as the Prime Minister of the fantasy land; it feels a bit like he’s winking at the audience to tell you it’s only a game. Oh, and Stephen Fry has a gorgeous little role as, uh-

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-that.

The characters are reasonably well-drawn; there’s some very, very Gaimany humour. The script matters, but I wonder, in this case, just how much. Some of the images are intoxicating all by themselves- far more powerful than any other element of the film. What if MirrorMask were a silent film? There’s a whimsical sort of soundtrack, mostly just one instrument playing. That was because they couldn’t afford an orchestra, but i think that suits the film; there’s a loneliness there. Despite the fact that Helena makes friends along the way, she seems like the only sane person in a world gone mad. She’s an Alice.

There’s some beautiful stuff going on here, I think. Ostensibly this is a fantasy movie with a pretty typical quest + magic object + plucky heroine story. It’s also the story of a family, and this is very touching by turns. But it’s also a film about dreams. There’s a lovely sequence- a lovely wistful sequence- where Helena and Valentine wander through a pale landscape. ‘We often confuse what we wish for with what is,’ says Valentine. ‘These are the dreamlands on the borders. It’s all wishes, hopes, and memories. It’s all so familiar.’

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I don’t think MirrorMask is trying to ‘say’ anything about dreams. Maybe it’s trying to be one. If so, it succeeds marvellously. But really the film’s purpose is to be luminously vividly wildly beautiful. And it’s pretty awesome at that too. Much of it is just beauty for it’s own sake. It won’t work for everyone, but it worked for me.

So, screencaps. Bask in ’em. You can thank me later.

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4 thoughts on “‘MirrorMask’, 2005, d. Dave McKean

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