This past weekend I finally got around to seeing MirrorMask, the debut film of graphic artist Dave McKean. I’ve been a fan of McKean’s record sleeves going back to Front Line Assembly’s Hardwired and Download’s The Eyes of Stanley Pain, though many more people probably know him from the Sandman comic book covers and his long standing collaborations with Neil Gaiman.

McKean’s work is distinctive: design collages of sculpture, photography, drawing, handwriting and funky typography ala Neville Brody under saturated color schemes. I knew he had applied it to motion graphics before, doing some short films I haven’t had the opportunity to see and the title sequence for the Gaiman scripted British TV series Neverwhere. When I picked up the Neverwhere DVD set earlier this year, I enjoyed its modest pleasures, but said I would have liked to seen the entire thing done in the style of McKean’s title sequence. That concept right there is basically MirrorMask.

I knew the rough story of MirrorMask going in, that it was produced by the Jim Hensen company, who was looking for a PG film in the mold of Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. The film would follow the Wizard of Oz mold where young girl growing up slips into a world where various things from real life blend into a distorted dreamscape. You know the drill. We had originally planned to head to
Manhattan to see this for its September release, but I’m glad we didn’t. We saw it in Hartford, at what we thought going in was an art house theatre, but in fact turned out to be on the campus of a local college. But the theatre was quite nice, with a balcony we sat in, a huge screen, and a gorgeous print of the film. No place this would have played in Manhattan could have possibly had a screen that big.

The major success of MirrorMask is that it isn’t just eye candy with a story you wait to be over. The story goes over familiar paces, true, but I found it genuinely engaging nonetheless. Most interestingly, I really enjoyed the non dream world stuff, the real world scenes shot on a low budget where the McKean visuals weren’t the focus. When McKean works again on a less fantasy oriented piece, as he has stated is his intention, I’m looking forward to it.

MirrorMask is a modest pleasure, to be sure, but worth seeking out on DVD, which is going to be out early January of next year. Hopefully those McKean short films will be on there.


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