MirrorMask is a film made by the same people who made The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, the two movies which pretty much defined the 80s, and most peoples childhood's for that matter. It's a strange film, but in a good way, and has shot up my top 10 list and may be my new favorite movie. So much I can say about it, so I'm going to split up my thoughts into several categories.
The story was written by Dave McKean (most famous for being a comics illustrator) and Neil Gaiman (most famous for being a comics writer), and the screenplay was written by Gaiman. McKean has said that most of the story is based on a series of dreams he had, with ideas added in by Gaiman, and the dreamlike nature shows. The budget was very low, so both of them were making the film for arts sake.
I love stories about how our world and the world of fantasy are not two seperate places, but rather interconnected. This is seen in The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, The Neverending Story (and most other works by Michael Ende) and plenty more. The fantastic trend continues here, but in a new way.
Basically, it's about a 15 year old girl named Helena whose family runs a circus. She hates it, and wants to "run away and join real life," but when her life is thrown in a corkscrew when the circus business begins to go down and her mother collapses during a performance and is in the hospital for brain surgery, she's pulled into the fantasy world of the drawings she has created and which hang about her room. Without spoiling anything, suffice it to say that it gets weirder....much weirder. But everything fits so thematically well, and portrays some truly human conflicts in a truly bizarre world.
As I said earlier, they had a ridiculously low budget apparantly, and as such, most of the cast is unknowns. The only one I recognized is Jason Barry who plays the character Valentine because of a secondary role he had in Titanic. This works to their advantage though in my opinion. When I watched I Am Legend, I didn't see Robert Neville, I saw Will Smith; in War of the Worlds I didn't see Ray Ferrier, I saw Tom Cruise; and in any Jim Carrey movie I fail to see anyone but Jim Carrey! that happens with so many movies and so many actors. MirrorMask didn't have that problem, and it meant I could see the characters and not the actors.
Not to mention they're all damn fine actors. One actually plays two characters and still manages to give each character their own depth, and another plays three and still accomplishes that. Even the actors with very minor roles make top-notch, memorable performances. The highlight though would have to be Jason Barry's portrayal of Valentine. It's off-the-wall, very theatrical, and truly entertaining. He manages to be funny, and still have a lot of depth and importance.
It was directed by Dave McKean, who as I said earlier also wrote the story (along with Neil Gaiman), and made most of the concept art. If you look at the concept art, and then the finished product, there is virtually no difference to be seen. This is quite possibly the most beautiful film I have ever seen in my entire life. The low budget required them to make a world that didn't look that photorealistic, and they took this as a blessing in disguise.
Most of the story is based on McKean's dreams, and it truly LOOKS like a dream!
Like the film, the music is beautiful, atmospheric, and kinda' trippy. Calming tones at one point, and upbeat and fast during another, but all managing to sound together. Unlike a lot of films, I really didn't notice when the music began and when it ended. I'm not saying I didn't hear it, I'm saying that it blended in perfectly and flowed together in a way unlike most any other film. Amazingly this was apparantly the first score that the person doing the music did. There's also a great song called "If I Appologize" played during the credits, written by McKain and Gaiman, which is truly magnificent. Unlike the Henson companies other film Labyrinth, we don't get any of those crazy David Bowie musical segments, though there is one point with a mechanical version of the song Close to You sung by what appeared to be robotic Jack-in-the-boxes which manages to be far weirder (and for that matter creepier) than anything David Bowie did with a group of muppets, which is saying a helluva' lot really.
The motivation of this movie wasn't to make an immediate success. The backstory is that the Jim Henson company, seeing the success that The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth were having on DVD, even though they were at the time thought to be flops, wanted to do something like that again. Over 20 years later, we're still watching those films, and new generations are discovering their greatness for the first time. MirrorMask hasn't done so well commercially, but has allready developed a steady cult following like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. 20 years from now, we'll still be watching it.