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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
MirrorMask (2005)

Helena: If I tell you something weird, will you think I'm crazy?
Valentine: Yes. I expect so.

- Stephanie Leonidas, Jason Barry

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: February 13, 2006

Stars: Stephanie Leonidas, Jason Barry, Rob Brydon, Gina McKee
Other Stars: Stephen Fry, Robert Llewellyn
Director: Dave McKean

MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic elements and scary images
Run Time: 01h:40m:50s
Release Date: February 14, 2006
UPC: 043396025059
Genre: fantasy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A B+AB A

DVD Review

MirrorMask is a film made for the video market. With a small budget and a limited theatrical rollout, the film was expected to garner its audience on DVD and future formats, where it will benefit from the extended exposure and word of mouth. It was also intended by the Henson Company as this generation's Labyrinth, made for families and older kids. That earlier film, directed by Jim Henson, involved a quest centered around rescuing a family member accidentally wronged by the main character. The setup is the same in MirrorMask, though the similarities end there.

Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) is the daughter of parents who run a small circus that Helena performs in but is growing tired of. She wants to live "real life," and in an argument with her mother Joanne (Gina McKee), sulkily wishes her mother dead. When Joanne collapses shortly afterwards during a performance and is admitted to the hospital, Helena naturally feels immense guilt over her words. On the night of her mother's surgery, Helena goes to sleep and wakens in a fantasy world reflecting her own, in which she must find a charm to waken the White Queen (McKee again). She must face down numerous obstacles, accompanied by Valentine (Jason Barry), a masked clown who provides assistance of a sort.

The project is the brainchild of writer Neil Gaiman and artist Dave McKean; the pair have worked on several comic book projects, and this film marks McKean's feature film debut, after some previous short films work. Gaiman's script is witty and clever, and McKean's distinctive visual aesthetic is striking to behold. Helena's dream world is largely CG, and McKean fills it with a plethora of remarkable sights and creatures.

The actors come off well, forced as they are to act against imaginary settings, and Leonidas should go on to make quite a name for herself, based on her assured performance here. She hits all the right notes in portraying a girl enduring the throes of growing up and figuring out who she is and what she wants. McKee gets to play three roles and endures some heavy costuming as the Dark Queen, and she's good as always. Barry gets to clown around as Valentine, and makes the most of his voice, since his mask leaves him with one expression for much of the film.

I imagine this will find a devoted audience over time, given the sharp script and beautiful design work. Iain Bellamy's score comes off as perhaps the weakest element of the film; though I liked it for the most part, it has a few dud cues here and there, the main credits theme being foremost among them. Given the dearth of interesting fanatsy films out there, it's good to see one like this come along. Smaller children should really be kept away, however, as some of the imagery and creatures are pretty creepy.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Given the largely digital nature of a good chunk of the film, this should look good, and it does. The dreamworld scenes are often a bit dark, but that looks like how they were intended to be.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Portuguese, Thaiyes


Audio Transfer Review: A bit of a letdown, given the lush visuals, as the soundtrack is decent but never especially impresses, being more oriented to the front channels. For English, a Dolby 5.1 track is on hand, as are Portuguese and Thai 5.1 tracks, and a French 2.0 track.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Labyrinth, Zathura, Jumanji Deluxe Edition, Stargate Sg-1, Stargate Atlantis
1 Documentaries
7 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. poster and cover gallery
Extras Review: A very nice collection of material here, sure to please the Gaiman/McKean fans out there. First is a commentary featuring the pair. Given that they've been working together for about 20 years or so, they have an excellent rapport and their commentary is a genial, free-ranging affair covering the feature and various tales of the making and writing of the film. They're quite willing to point out things they felt could have been better, and what worked. If you're a fan, you'll enjoy this.

A series of featurettes under the general heading of The Making of MirrorMask cover a range of topics, selectable individually or in their entirety. First is Neil Talks (05m:53s), in which Gaiman discusses his previous work with McKean, with samples of the art onscreen. McKean appears next in Dave Talks About Film (05m:43s), which sees the director discuss his previous short films, influences, and the look of MirrorMask. Beginnings (04m:09s) sees the producers discuss their reasoning behind pursuing the project. Cast and Crew includes interviews with most everyone in the cast talking about their interest in the film and the challenges in making it. Day 16 (02m:17s) is a fascinating look at a day's filming on the production, using only onscreen text ("Number of different camera formats: 6"), with a split screen showing on-set footage coupled with the actual finished film, even including the scene and script pages for each. A nice way to convey the hectic schedule and work involved. Flight of the Monkeybirds details the making of that sequence through a mix of script read-throughs, CG-modelling, bluescreen filming footage, and finished footage. Giants Development (02m:03s) presents conceptual art, models and storyboards to show how the designs of the pair of giants evolved. And, finally, Questions and Answers (20m:24s) features Gaiman and McKean at comic conventions where the film was hyped, answering queries from audience members. It's an engaging piece, since the two men are always interesting to listen to.

There is a gallery of poster and cover art detailing the evolution of the one-sheet, and includes the trio of related books and the soundtrack art. And, lastly and least interestingly, a passel of trailers for other Sony product are on hand.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

A fun, involving fantasy, MirrorMask is suitable for older kids and everyone else who enjoys something a bit different. If you liked Labyrinth as a kid, see what the Henson Company is doing these days in the digital domain. The DVD is loaded with special features and looks great as well.

 


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