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Reviewed by Rick Klaw, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman (story)
Genre:   Fantasy
Released:   September 30, 2005
Review Date:   October 18, 2005
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

Award-winning artist Dave McKean and bestselling author Neil Gaiman are longtime collaborators with numerous graphic novels and children's books under their collective belts. I have enjoyed most of their dual efforts, so I viewed MirrorMask with high expectations.

In typical Gaiman fashion, the film follows a young teen (in this case fifteen-year-old Helena) who does something horrible (cursing her mother to die) and must make amends (rescuing a fantasy realm by finding the fabled MirrorMask). The story is a bit thin and reminiscent of the far superior Spirited Away. The acting is nothing spectacular. The ending feels rushed. But none of this really matters. The real star of MirrorMask is Dave McKean.

For 101 minutes, my reality was warped by the genius of Dave McKean. The visual aspects of this movie were carefully conceived, rendered, and animated. An artistic wonderland through McKean's unique vision, MirrorMask is a stunningly beautiful film.

It is as a director that McKean stumbles. Using camera angles and lighting that are just a little off, the non-“magical” or everyday scenes are on par with a student film. The pacing is little odd with long boring segments. While I love apes as much as the next guy (OK, maybe more), the scene in the fantasy world with the apelike birds was initially exciting but overly long, as was the opening circus bit with a guy in a gorilla suit.

Speaking of circuses, establishing Helena and her family as circus performers were completely unnecessary and had zero impact on the events in the movie. When creating a story inhabited by bizarre creatures and supernatural events, a little normalcy is welcome. It was all strange enough without the circus. The entire film was told from the perspective of Helena except for two distracting short scenes that just conveyed what was already obvious. The movie could easily have been shorter by a half an hour. A co-director to handle the more mundane scenes would have helped.

As a work of art, MirrorMask met and exceeded expectations. As a movie, the typical Gaiman story along with McKean's directorial weaknesses render it just slightly above average, doomed to the second-class cult status of other Henson films such as Labyrinth and Dark Crystal.

RevSF contributing editor Rick Klaw lives by the creed “There is nothing that cannot be made better by the inclusion of an ape.” MirrorMask is the exception that proves the rule.

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