With a myriad of fantasy films making their way to screens as of late, mainly from director Guillermo del Toro, it seems fitting that one of the greatest graphic novel writers be brought into the fray. Although Neil Gaiman is no stranger to films, what with his writing and producer credit on the recent film Stardust, one of his earliest forays into the film medium was the adaptation of MirrorMask, a film that was released in 2005 with little buzz. Although it eventually saw a DVD release in 2006, it wasn’t until recently that the film saw the light of the next generation format of Blu-ray.
The White Queen sleeps and will not wake. Black shadows have fallen across her kingdom. The balance between Dark and Light is broken and only the MIRRORMASK can restore it. So Helena, a stranger in a strange land, embarks on an epic quest to find the missing charm before darkness envelops the Dreamworld forever. Written by award-winning fantasy writer Neil Gaiman, MirrorMask is a phantasmagorical treat for the eyes and mind, a wondrous blend of live action and CG animation, where strange, magical creatures dwell in a fantasy world of unbridled imagination and scope, as told through the spectacular, cutting-edge visuals of designer/director Dave McKean.
For a long while, Pan’s Labyrinth remained at the top of my list as one of the most fantastical looking films of the past decade. Director del Toro amped it up again with Hellboy II, but all this time I was completely unaware that such a film as MirrorMask existed. The films name sounded familiar when the Blu-ray version landed in my lap, but I’d never taken time to research it. Based upon my enjoyment of Gaiman’s Stardust adaptation, however, I was more than inclined to check this one out.
Within a short time of clicking this one on, I was instantly bewildered by the world that was presented before me. The film will no doubt remind you of Alice in Wonderland and the visuals and story progress in much the same way with more than a few similarities thrown in along the way. On top of the dream world with the fantasy creatures that are made up of a mixture of live-action, CGI and hand drawings, our main character even fits the role of Alice a bit, although her story is more about her learning about her place in the world.
It’s certainly one of the most unique and fantasy driven stories I’ve ever seen and there are few words to describe watching it. Although the story is very basic in terms of its construction, with nary a surprise or unforeseen plotline resulting from it, the journey is what makes the overall experience so enjoyable to watch. Sure, we’ve seen fantasy films of this nature in animation before, but I’ve never seen one constructed in such a way with live action that married the two together in a way this one does.
I suppose it should come as no surprise that with Jim Henson’s involvement in the picture it would be amazing with the creatures on screen (especially considering Sony has packaged this film along with the classic Labyrinth and Dark Crystal), but everything about this film really looked astounding. If nothing else, it’s worth taking a look at for that reason alone.
Of course no film is perfect and MirrorMask is no exception. The pacing is sometimes excruciatingly slow, to the point where you wish they would have lopped out whole pieces just to move it along. Also awkward is the score for the film, which is exceedingly jazz-infused for reasons I cannot fully comprehend. At times it seems the film would have been better served with a more haunting score, but instead it seems almost needlessly upbeat at times.
Those gripes aside, MirrorMask may not be the second coming of fantasy films, but it’s visually stimulating enough to warrant a look. If you’re a fan of the genre this one comes Recommended, but like Labyrinth and Alice in Wonderland be prepared for some exceptionally bizarre pieces here and there. I’m continually surprised by how disturbing these films made for the PG age group can get and MirrorMask is certainly a fun time, but it may disturb the little ones a bit. I know the visuals certainly played with my head now, I can only imagine what I would’ve thought as a kid.
As mentioned previously, this film has been around for a few years, but this marks the first time it’s seen a high-definition release. The set itself comes in a standard Blu-ray Elite case with simple and easy to navigate menus and a healthy array of extras to boot. But don’t be fooled by the films seemingly low budget or underwhelming packaging—if it’s a visual delight you want, this film will deliver it to you with ease.
It should come as no surprise that this AVC encoded 1.85:1 video transfer makes your jaw drop. After all, it’s the visuals of the film that are the driving force behind it and a high-definition transfer is what made my viewing of it so enjoyable. With my TV fully used by the aspect ratio and the detail of the transfer coming through with every frame, there isn’t a single moment that MirrorMask doesn’t shine. From its inky blacks to the sharp color pallets that accompany each unique element of the film, the film has all the necessary grain in all the right places, although viewers might be a bit off put by its “dreamy” visual state at first, as it can come off as a smeared transfer at first. Once you adjust to the films visual style, however, you begin to really appreciate the transfer.
Pretty much every form of surround is used when it comes to the mix on this film—a bountiful array of sound effects flitter about the surrounds and it seems as if the film is constantly fulfilling some kind of pent up desire to surround you with every sound effect possible. This isn’t a bad thing—it just becomes a bit overwhelming to hear spiders and rocks move about the room on a regular basis. There’s also the subwoofer, which is also found to be frequently outputting copious amounts of bass that shake and rattle the room as elements on screen tumble and toss about. TrueHD tracks are also available in French and Portuguese, as are DD5.1 tracks in Spanish and Thai. Subtitles include English (traditional & SDH), French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, Chinese (simplified & traditional), Indonesian, Dutch, and Korean.
The extras presented here have all been ported over from its DVD brother, although none are in HD. The first extra is a conversational piece titled “Neil Talks… An Interview with Neil Gaiman” (5:50), which is rather self explanatory, while the next extra “Dave Talks About Film – An Interview With Director Dave McKean” (5:21) is another piece that is self explanatory. ”Beginning – The Genesis Of MirrorMask” (4:08) tackles the early days of MirrorMask’s productions and how they were able to get Jim Henson to collaborate with them, while “Cast and Crew” interviews an array of those involved with the film. There is a rather large number of individuals talking here, but since the extra is under eight minutes in length, don’t expect a whole lot of detail to come out of any one person for this extra.
Moving on we have ”Day 16” (1:57) a time-lapsed montage of the entire shoot day. ”Flight of the Monkeybirds” (4:10) and ”Giants Development” (1:59) both focus on how the specific scenes were constructed, while the ”Q&A” (20:24) brings us footage from the 2004 San Diego Comic Con with Gaiman and McKean. Our final extra is the Commentary, once again with Gaiman and McKean who repeat some of the information we heard in the previous extras of the disc, but this time with, obviously, a lot more room to discuss their time on the film. Overall the extras here may be a bit short in length, but they’re some of the most genuinely entertaining bits I’ve seen on a release in a long time.
In the end this Blu-ray is without a doubt the best the A/V transfer for this film will ever look. With a film that has most of its enjoyment stem from its visuals, MirrorMask comes Recommended.
MirrorMask is now available on Blu-ray.