Saturday, August 20, 2005


This skirts dangerously close to violating the "No comics" rule, but it's not actually a comic, so I'll let it slide.

Mirrormask, Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman's film, got its UK premiere yesterday. As you'd expect, the audience was about a fifty/fifty split between the usual Film Festival audience, and the Gaiman/McKean fans. At least, I'm figuring that's what accounts for the unusually high attendance of fat balding men in shorts, and goth waifs. Post-showing Q&As at the Film Festival tend to be heavily respectful anyway, but this one was positively obsequious at times. Look, sure, it's a great film, but we've already applauded it. You don't need to take up three minute of the Q&A simply to make a speech about how much you loved it, and then not ask a question.

For some reason Mirrormask also attracts an unusually large number of people who think "up to half an hour late" is a perfectly reasonable time to arrive for a film premiere.

As you'd probably expect from Gaiman and McKean, it's an all-ages fantasy fable with tons of animation. 15-year-old Helena wants to run away from the circus and start a normal life, but ends up being drawn into an alternate world based on her own drawings. That leads into the good old-fashioned quest story, where she has to find the magical Mirrormask in order to save the world from her evil twin. There's a rather nice subtext about kids tearing down their parents' worlds in order to make their own. Basically, if you know Gaiman and McKean's work, you'll have a very clear idea of what to expect from something like this, and you'll be right.

The film's limitations look to be budgetary more than anything else. The film is overwhelmingly CGI, with only a handful of physical actors in the dreamworld, and the budget is frankly modest for such an exercise. Considering the resources, it looks spectacular - in fact, much of the time it looks great by any standard - but there are still occasional lapses into "two actors wander around a static backdrop." There's also a bit of a credibility leap in accepting the world as based on Helena's drawings when it's so obviously the work of Dave McKean.

But at the same time, it's McKean's unique style that makes the film distinctive. Oh, and Stephanie Leonides, playing Helena, is great - as she'd need to be, given that she's on screen for pretty much the entire film. Fans will adore it. It's getting a limited release in America in September, and it seems they're still deciding what to do with it in the UK. According to McKean, it was commissioned in an attempt to duplicate the success of The Dark Crystal, which is to say that they don't expect it to take much at the box office, but they're hoping it'll do well in the long run.

Apparently, Dave's next film is going to be another version of Signal to Noise.

It comes as a slight disappointment to learn that Dave McKean is a perfectly normal man, and not, as I'd quietly hoped, an ever-shifting collage of geometric shapes and textures in broadly human form. He also likes jazz. If you'd ever assumed that the soundtrack to his pictures might not be jazz, then you are wrong, and should change your interpretation at once.