Genre Spotlight (Secret Santa): MirrorMask

I’m torn on MirrorMask, my DAMRB Secret Santa gift this year. I can see how people can like it, even adore it (including, I’m assuming, my fellow reviewer who bestowed it upon me), but I can also see it as a clumsy, second-rate children’s tale.

Despite heaps of Hugo and Stoker awards and near divinity-like pantheons to his genius, apart from the covers of his Sandman graphic novels and a recent Simpsons cameo, Neil Gaiman has eluded my sphere. Suffice it to say I was pleased when the fickle finger of fate (and the postman) landed MM in my lap, where Gaiman (co-writer) and frequent art collaborator Dave McKean (co-writer and director) join together to breathe life into an angsty girl’s drawings. And one final surprise was thrown my way when the Jim Henson Co. logo flashed onto the screen; an added present just in time for the holidays. How could the marriage of two such whimsical and innovative minds go wrong?

.....I'm a little creeped out here.......

The film opens on a circus, full of vibrant colors and painted-up performers; jugglers and mimes, acrobats and magicians. Immediately I was struck by the “wash” of the film. It appeared to be slathered in a thick layer of Vaseline; muddled as if walking through a light fog – everything viewed through the soft focus of a Barbara Walters interview. The effect is disorienting and needless; it set the tone akin to a movie of the week and a very sparse budget. Not how one wants to start off.

Our heroine, Helena (Stephanie Leonidas), is a juggler in said circus, pining for the days when she can run away and join real life. Her mother soon falls ill which throws Helena into turmoil and catapults her on a trans-dimensional journey to recover the MirrorMask . As far as I can tell the mask allows Helena to return to her normal life, nothing more. The mask doesn’t cure her mother or provide Helena with a valuable lesson; it is merely a means to an end.

Through every step of the journey Helena meticulously calls out what is supposed to be done next but no reason or repercussion is given for when she succeeds or fails. Though there are callbacks to her hospitalized mother and a raging twin-Helena wreaking havoc in her bedroom, there are no direct correlations between what occurs in fantasy land and consequences in real life. While set up as a symbolized telling of a girl’s relationship to her mother, the two hardly share any screen time or dialog. I can see where the story is going but it never gets there.

The gaunt plot serves only to move the characters into the next CGI background; to show off the arty zaniness of it all. It’s more a moving art exhibition than movie. And that wouldn’t be so terrible if the CGI on display were actually interesting. At times it feels like a certain Dire Straits music video, yet MM was made twenty years later. The imaginary beasts and sets are redundant and interchangeable; I can’t help but compare this to Pan’s Labyrinth and come away sorely disappointed. The aforementioned haze permeates the fantasy world, tinting everything a drab sepia color, dampening the exuberance of it all.

Perhaps there was a time when I would have fallen for this film. Perhaps when I was younger; perhaps when movies didn’t have to make sense; or perhaps when CGI was still in its infancy. Whenever that time was, if it ever existed, it has passed. I’d like to say that my first foray into Gaiman-land was a treat, but I’d only be lying to myself. As much as I wanted MirrorMask to be an undiscovered gem, one that needed a little cleaning and some buffing to become a masterpiece, it wasn’t to be.


Posted on December 16, 2011, in Genre Spotlight, Secret Santa and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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