I’ve been a fan of the collaborative efforts of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean since I’d first picked up a tattered graphic novel titled “Violent Cases” back in the halcyon days of the comics boom of the early nineties. This darkly nostalgic tale was written with a gorgeously lyrical prose that belied its comic book origins, and illustrated in an almost photo-realistic fashion. It’s safe to say that this work blew my mind, and I instantly began scouring the bins for anything and everything Gaiman and McKean. I ingested a steady diet of “Sandman”, “Death”, “Books of Magic”, and whatever else I could lay my hands on, and, to this day, my shelves are lined with volumes of Gaiman’s writing wrapped in McKean’s distinctively dark artwork. While I cherish them all, I have always found myself particularly drawn to the truly collaborative works, like “Mr. Punch”, and the odd issue of Sandman in which McKean provided not only the cover art, but the drawings within. With MirrorMask, McKean’s feature directorial debut, he once again provides the canvas for Gaiman’s words, and the result is one of the most visually stunning (and just plain bizarre) fantasy films I’ve ever seen.
Helena (Leonidas) is a performer in her parent’s circus. When she’s not juggling in the ring or manning the ticket booth, she can usually be found in her caravan, drawing fantastic things and fantastic places as a means of escape from what she views as a humdrum existence. Now in her teens, she’s reached the age where rebellion is as much a conscious decision as it is instinct, and she no longer wants any part of the circus life. Her mother (McKee) bears the brunt of Helena’s anger, as her father (Brydon) is far too busy keeping the circus afloat to do much of anything else. However, when her mother collapses after a heated argument, Helena blames herself, and the guilt follows her into her dreams. Helena awakens in a world that mirrors the drawings on her walls, but is slowly being devoured by darkness. Helena is, at first, mistaken for the daughter of the Queen of Shadow; a young princess who is suspected of throwing this world into chaos by stealing a magical item from the Queen of Light. The balance of shadow and light must be restored or this world will cease to exist, and the only way to do this is to return the magical charm to its rightful owner. However, no one’s really sure what the charm even looks like, let alone where the Princess of Shadow is, so, with the assistance of a fast-talking juggler named Valentine (Barry), Helena begins her quest to restore balance to this world, as well as her own.
MirrorMask is a very strange, beautifully crafted piece of cinema that, while marketed as a family film, is more Murnau than Mickey Mouse. Fans of Dave McKean’s will be in heaven as literally every frame of this film looks like a living, breathing piece of his artwork. While this isn’t Gaiman’s strongest story, it’s still a great bit of fun, and, when combined with the surreal aesthetics, makes for one of the most twisted fairy tales this side of the original Grimm’s. While I did find it to run a bit longer than necessary, I don’t imagine I’d feel the same way were I under the influence of anything other than Diet Coke and nicotine, and something tells me that MirrorMask will find a huge following amongst the stoner set once word gets around.
Sony whisks us away into Helena's world with a fantastic 1080p MPEG-4 AVC transfer that perfectly captures McKean's dreamlike world. Image quality is sharp and defined, with exceptional detail and vibrancy (most noticeable when the film shifts back and forth between the fantasy world and the rather "drab" and washed out England). Blur is an effect that McKean uses quite heavily in his print art, and it's used here as well, resulting in an occasionally soft image that is obviously intentional and should in no way be misconstrued as a shortcoming of this excellent transfer.
The Dolby True-HD 5.1 audio track is equally superb, with wonderfully expressive and immersive surround effects (listen to the scuttling "spider" creatures, and tell me it doesn't give you the heebie-jeebies!), robust bass, and crystal clear dialogue.
Sony presents Mirrormask with a smorgasbord of special features carried over from the DVD, including a very funny and entertaining commentary from its creators, extensive interviews, several making-of featurettes, and a hilarious Q&A session with Gaiman and McKean culled from various promotional appearances. While presented in standard definition, these bonuses are still very welcome features,, and fans of the duo will want to seek this one out this Blu-ray for the Q&A alone, as it’s quite entertaining.
While I would be hard-pressed to recommend MirrorMask as family entertainment (unless, of course, you’re the Manson family), as, despite its PG rating, the film is quite dark and truly bizarre. Then again, so are a lot of kids, these days, so take from that what you will. For those familiar with the works of Gaimen and McKean, however, this is a must-buy, as the Blu-ray presentation is simply fantastic, with reference quality imagery abound, and a wonderfully expressive and dynamic soundtrack. I encourage Gaiman and McKean fans to pick this one up post-haste, as it is truly like one of their graphic novels come to gloriously vivid life.