MirrorMask US Theatrical Release: January 25, 2005 (Sundance); September 30, 2005 (Sony Pictures) US DVD Release: February 7, 2006 Running Time: 1:40:50 (28 chapter stops) Rating: PG (For Some Mild Thematic Elements and Scary Images) Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic (Extra Features: 1.78:1 anamorphic) Audio: English DD5.1, Portuguese DD5.1, Thai DD5.1, French DD2.0 (Extra Features: English DD2.0) Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai (Extra Features: Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Thai; the commentary track is subtitled in Spanish and Portuguese) TV-Generated Closed Captions: English (Extra Features: None) Menus: Some brief animation plus background animation. Packaging: Standard keepcase; insert has cover art for other Sony Pictures titles on one side and a MirrorMask poster image on the other. MSRP: $26.96 THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT IT: 3/5 MirrorMask is an interesting case. On the one hand, its plot isn’t nearly as interesting as it might have been. On the other, as a piece of audio-visual art, the film is quite impressive. It shows extraordinary imagination and creativity in its imagery. Had the story (co-created by Designer/ Director Dave McKean and writer Neil Gaiman) been as clever, MirrorMask could have been a modern classic. Visuals aside, McKean and Gaiman, who are great talents, have done better work. The plot involves the adolescent daughter of a performing circus family and a dream she has on the night her mother is to undergo unspecified but clearly risky surgery. The girl, Helena (Stephanie Leonidas), is going through the usual teenaged moodiness and rebellion, and is wracked with guilt due to a blowup with her mom Joanne (Gina McKee) shortly before her mother’s unexpected collapse. On top of worries about the surgery, Joanne’s incapacitation creates a huge problem for the family circus, which is forced to work around the loss of a key performer and administrator. Helena’s life appears to be mostly cut off from the world outside of the traveling circus. She isn’t shown to have friends her own age or activities based outside of the circus camp. Her only method of escape is to draw pictures of fantastic places and characters, which cover the walls of her trailer. The night of her mother’s surgery, Helena dreams of an adventure in a magical land created from a combination of her artwork and real places that figure in her experience. The adventure involves a few characters who take the form of real people (including Light and Dark Queens, both of whom are played by Gina McKee, and a minister who appears as her father (Rob Brydon) ) and a lot of characters and creatures born of her own imagination. The central figure in the dream, a man called Valentine (Jason Barry) who becomes Helena’s traveling companion, does not seem to be connected to any person in Helena’s real life. In the dream world, the White Queen lies in a soft-focus coma brought on by the troublemaking daughter of the Dark Queen (portrayed by Leonidas as Mirror, Mirror Helena), who has stolen a special charm in order to travel to the real world. At the same time, a physical darkness is spreading over the land in what seems to be an invasion by the Dark Queen. However, the Dark Queen’s realm is also in danger because of her daughter’s mischief. Not everything in the dream adventure makes logical sense, and a lot of its episodes feel very random, but then again, that’s how dreams are. The dual nature of the good and the rebellious Helena, and of the passive and oppressive sides of her mother, are pretty clearly illustrated by the multiple characters. However, that’s not really enough to carry the bulk of a film from a story standpoint. The entire dream sequence consists mainly of Helena and Valentine walking around fantastical landscapes and interacting with bizarre creatures. It’s sometimes intense, and sometimes humorous, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t have the depth it would like to have. The real-world story of Helena and her parents definitely had the potential for deeper meaning, but isn’t given the screen time to develop very far. It doesn’t have a chance to get much under the surface of the family and its relationships. As it is, this angle works only on a rather basic level. But forget the story for a moment. MirrorMask is one of the most visually imaginative films ever put to celluloid. Makeup, costumes, models, blue screens and CGI are mixed together to create a mind-blowing stew of fantasy. An astonishing array of designs make up the dream world -- some angular, some rounded; some dull and some vibrant; some verbal and some silent; some benign and others malevolent. Even after a couple of viewings, it’s clear that there are yet more details waiting to be noticed and artistic ideas waiting to be discovered in this incredibly creative work. And the visual genius doesn’t start and stop with Helena’s sleep cycle, either. The real-world settings are very carefully composed and invariably surreal, from the busy, neon images of the circus tents to the seaside vistas of an enormous, decaying Brighton apartment building. Touches of CGI are used to great effect to mold the locations to Dave McKean’s original concepts. MirrorMask is an absolute delight for the eyes from start to finish. The film’s PG rating is also worthy of mention. Although some of the dream world images are too intense for very small children (parents of toddlers may want to screen it ahead of time, as different children may react differently to the scary and creepy parts), there is really no objectionable material in this movie. This is a perfectly appropriate experience for families to enjoy together -- an all-too-rare treat these days. THE WAY I SEE IT: 5/5 MirrorMask is all about creative images, and their presentation is nothing short of spectacular. Somebody worked very, very hard to make this disc look very, very good. The picture shows great detail, with a bitrate that exceeds that of some SuperBit titles. Colors are vibrant in some scenes, dull in others; fresh and true some of the time, heavily tinted at other times. There is a near-constant flicker in the dream-world sequences, but I am certain that it is intentional, since it’s absent from the real-world scenes. If there is one negative thing that can be said about the image, it’s that there is a hint of edge enhancement visible, but even that is quite unobtrusive. You’re not likely to notice it if you aren’t looking for it. Grab a copy of MirrorMask and show off that brand-new, professionally calibrated display of yours. THE WAY I HEAR IT: 4.5/5 The audio is nearly as impressive as the video. Nice directional effects are present throughout, along with an eccentric, jazzy score that adds to the film’s mystical atmosphere. Dialogue is always clear. The effects never become overpowering, although there are a couple of places where a bit more power would have been appropriate. THE SWAG: 2.5/5 (rating combines quality and quantity) Commentary with Director Dave McKean and Writer Neil Gaiman This is a solid, if not mind-blowing, track. The creators of the film talk mainly about technical and artistic aspects of the production. Some of it is quite interesting, but some parts are a bit dull as well. They discuss several deleted scenes, and it’s a shame that those aren’t included on the disc. The Making Of MirrorMask A series of eight featurettes that can be played separately or in sequence via the trusty Play All button. Overall, they’re worth watching. Neil Talks (5:53) Writer Neil Gaiman talks about how this film came about, with some comments on his other works. Dave Talks About Film (5:43) Director/ Designer Dave McKean talks about his career so far and his work on this film. Beginnings (4:09) Various members of the production team relate their thoughts on the project. Cast & Crew (7:45) An EPK-type piece of decent quality. Day 16 (2:17) In the most original and creative feature, one entire day of blue-screen shooting is shown in time-lapse photography side-by-side with the corresponding finished scenes as various factoids about the film come and go on the screen. It’s very cool and could have been stretched out much longer. Flight Of The Monkeybirds (4:12) A behind-the-scenes piece on the sequence involving these bizarre but strangely lovable creatures, including a reading, blue-screen work, and CGI development. Giants Development (2:03) The creation of these weird characters is illustrated, from simple doodles through sketches, clay mockups, and the various stages of computer models. Questions & Answers (20:24) McKean and Gaiman answer various and sundry questions from fans at a few different conventions where MirrorMask was screened. There is some interesting information as well as some funny banter. Poster & Cover Art Ten different images used for posters, covers for tie-in books, and the soundtrack album. Trailers Labyrinth (0:32) (DD2.0; 1.33:1 non-anamorphic) Zathura (2:29) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic) Jumanji Deluxe Edition (0:55) (DD2.0; 1.33:1 non-anamorphic) Stargate SG-1 Seasons 1-7 (1:02) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 non-anamorphic) Stargate Atlantis Season 1 (0:55) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 non-anamorphic) SUMMING IT ALL UP The Way I Feel About It: 3/5 The Way I See It: 5/5 The Way I Hear It: 4.5/5 The Swag: 2.5/5 MirrorMask may be a quintessential case of style over substance, but whoa, Nellie, what style! I could take or leave the story, but I was just as enthralled by the visuals upon a second viewing as on the first -- there’s so much to experience that it’s impossible to take it all in at once. Plus, the audio is excellent and imaginative as well; although it’s subtle enough that some may be completely distracted from it by the amazing images. The nice selection of extra features is a great bonus -- they were almost a requirement for a technical wonder such as this film. The flaws in the story hold MirrorMask back from getting my full recommendation, but it’s definitely RECOMMENDED as a show-off-your-system audio-visual experience.