Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Mirrormask the Movie

I missed the limited release of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's Mirrormask movie at the cinema, so I've had to wait for the DVD release. I read and reviewed the MirrorMask book back in February, and was interested to see how the book would look on the screen. The story is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland; Mirrormask is a fantasy tale of an intelligent young girl on a journey through a magical world. It's also a visually pleasing film which updates the fairy-tale quest into a coming-of-age story that is imbued with dark beauty. Written by Neil Gaiman and directed by his collaborator and illustrator, Dave McKean, the film contains a mixture of live action and surrealistic animation. There are some weirdly-skewed perspectives, foggy patches, and mismatched textures which appear grandly decayed. Stephanie Leonidas plays Helena, a young girl who juggles in her father's circus, but longs for a normal life. She spends her free time drawing elaborately detailed, fantastical black-and-white pictures which cover every surface of her room. One night, after an argument with her mother (played by Gina McKee) during which Helena lets fly some rather painful pronouncements, her mother falls ill with an unspecified ailment. As the family waits for news and the circus struggles financially, Helena blames herself for her mother's illness. The night before her mother's surgery, Helena finds herself mysteriously transported to a world which bears a strong resemblance to her own drawings, and is populated by strange creatures who follow an even stranger logic. Helena and her travelling companion, a fellow juggler named Valentine (played by Jason Barry), embark on a quest to find a mysterious charm which will awaken the White Queen of the city (also played by McKee), from her deep sleep, thus defeating the forces of darkness and allowing Helena to return home.

The film's outstanding visual imagery is complemented by witty dialogue and some genuinely creepy moments: the words "Don't let them see you're afraid" when spoken of the Sphinxes owned by Mrs Bagwell, are quite chilling, as is the rather grim version of the old Bacharach and David song "(They Long To Be) Close To You" that is performed as Helena is being dressed by some clockwork jack-in-the-boxes. Leonidas' performance is likeable, charming, and fresh - and is all the more amazing considering much of it was delivered against a green screen, with her special-effect co-stars being edited in later. Interestingly, as with the movie of Holes, I found myself wanting to re-read the book again.

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