MirrorMask Blu-ray Review
Transferred to Blu-ray via MPEG-4, MirrorMask's 1.85:1 image is a splendid representation of Dave McKean's fabulous design work. I've seen this on SD a good few times and whilst its picture there was actually very impressive, this 1080p incarnation certainly improves on it in terms of finite detail, which is etched to a high degree of clarity, with the backgrounds and the creatures rendered with a wonderful sharpness that does go some way beyond its DVD predecessor. The myriad drawings, masks and bizarre architecture have a terrific boldness, and I love the intricacies revealed in the plain of spiral staircases and in the spirited chase through a sky filled with scaffolding. And the fast action, although there really isn't that much of it, is handled pretty well for the most part. However, unlike the SD edition, I did detect some slight blurring as Helena is whisked through the Byzantine maze of criss-crossing steel.
The colours are rather downplayed, almost bleached-out in some cases, and this is also part and parcel of an intentional softening of the picture during many of the film's more abstract scenes. This is to maintain that dreamlike quality and is not a fault of the transfer. The palette favours yellow, gold and ochre, the picture suffused with a waning amber hue. Certain reds, greens and blues are picked out well and offer nicely judged, though small, counter-balances of visual texture - such as on warped faces. Once Helena has past into the dream-world, the image is much, much more enjoyable - not least because the real world picture is actually quite hazily garish, with the primaries - especially red - coming over as too deep and dominant. The gauze-like approach to these early scenes isn't very nice, to be honest, and I don't recall the SD edition looking quite so soft and colour-boosted. But, as I say, these gripes are alleviated once we move into the more burnished alternate universe. Here, object delineation is greater and things such as the texture of the ground, or the walls, or the steps, can be very rewarding. Although, I have to say that the clarity of the image has a downside, in that the occasional low-budget compositing is often revealed with the live characters not blending so successfully with the CG backgrounds. This was a bugbear with the SD edition, but I would have to state that it is possibly compounded in high definition, with the live action subjects often appearing hazy and vague when compared to the background settings they find themselves in. But this is still only a minor moan and given the audacious approach taken by the makers, their ambitions can only be expected to exceed their monetary constraints.
Black levels are not as spectacularly deep as I found them to be on the SD disc, where there were occasions when they were totally impenetrable. But they are still very effective and powerful, just the same, and possibly even allow for more detail to be seen within. The seeping shadows are excellent and the inky black eyes of the Queen and Helena, once transformed, are utterly splendid. The contrast, of course, has been hugely ramped, which leads to a very jaundiced image. Whites can bloom quite glaringly, and whilst this is intentional, the BD picture bleeds such wild dazzle far more extremely than I saw it previously. There are many instances of bright lines of light, or piercing reflections, and these are always delivered with a tight sharpness that positively gleams with clinical precision. But, there is a greater sense of depth along some of the Gothic streets, the pencil-lined avenues and the distant objects, towers and weird landmarks now achieve a more pleasingly immersive quality. The film is still decidedly un-three-dimensional - it simply does not want to be - yet, unavoidably, some of the imagery has a rebellious tendency to pronounce itself quite pleasingly from the screen. It doesn't always work, and it is possibly more accidental than anything else, but shots of distant structures and Helena and Valentine in the foreground can become luxuriously deep.
Some grain is apparent in certain shots, and there are still traces of edge enhancement, although there are definitely times when the compositing style seems to create such an effect when it actually isn't there at all. The SD disc experienced some very minor elements of slow filtering but this seems to have been almost completely eradicated for the BD. On the whole, once MirrorMask leaves the real world behind and enters the fine-art dimension, the image looks captivating. A strong 7 out of 10.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 offers a marvellously clean and clear track, folks. It's not all that aggressive, but there is some pretty smart steerage that has the speakers chattering away throughout. I love the skittering of the eyeball-spiders' legs and the fluttering of the flying books. I commented previously that the sub for the SD's DD track did not get too involved with the action, but this has surely been addressed because there are several occasions when it sets-to with seriously weighty gusto - there is plenty of nice deep bass rumbling on offer when the orbiting stone giant quits orbiting and crashes to the ground, and there are some other great examples of solid wallop along the way.
The rest of the set-up gets a pretty impressive workout, too. Various effects, the flapping of wings, the sudden fx “stingers” and the ambience of wind and atmospherics can come across reasonably well. The soundfield across the front is wide and expansive and there are a few sweeping effects that cross over with subtle, but pleasing results. The score, whether you like the eclectic fumblings of new-wave jazz or not, is extremely well presented and really adds to the depth and presence of the film. Personally, I don't really like this type of music, but it does suit the film with its offbeat cheer and mood. The score has more warmth and resonance than it did on the SD's DD 5.1 track.
There's some nice touches of deep squelching when the black ooze comes into play and the caressing lullaby sung by a circle of living music boxes is beautifully done. Dialogue is always totally clear and there is absolutely no distortion at all. This is certainly a lovingly produced track that makes every effort to haul you into the weird world on screen, whilst avoiding any senseless pummelling with effects. In short, it fits the film and serves it well in this lossless presentation.
MirrorMask has a fairly neat little bundle of extras, I'm pleased to say. They may not be the most comprehensive on offer, but they are crafted with almost a collage-style that is wholly in-keeping with the two artists behind the film, and is also refreshingly different from the usual run-of-the-mill EPK stuff. Everything that was on the original SD release has been brought over to this BD edition and, with the inclusion of BDLive capability, fans should be very pleased indeed.
First and best of all is the Commentary Track from Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. However, if you thought that these two giants of the imaginative genre would be able to put magic into their words, then you may be disappointed. Both are extremely witty and down-to-earth but the track can often stray into dry and technical territory, I'm afraid. McKean is proud of his design work and his team of CG artists and is prone to go on about the technology involved in bringing their vision to the screen. He informs us of how shots were achieved, corners were cut and why certain shots were lost or altered - the opening title sequence, for instance. The pair certainly reveal of information and anecdote on their first joint screen venture and it is clear that the experience has not put either off undertaking more movie projects. Which is great news.
The next thing on offer is the mutli-part Making Of that has a Play All option. We get Neil Talks (5.50 mins) which has Gaiman revealing his high regard for McKean, how they came together and provides a nice overview of their on-going collaboration. Dave Talks About Film (5.41 mins) features McKean on how he built his team, his interests in film and particularly his love for imagery from old silent horrors. He expresses his desire to have MirrorMask look like his art - handcrafted. He certainly succeeded there. Beginnings (4.07 mins) has us meeting the producers from The Jim Henson Company as they talk about the genesis of the project and their natural affiliation for the work of Gaiman and McKean as a progression of their founder's vision. They go on about the Jim Henson feel to the movie, but I have to say that MirrorMask doesn't strike me the same way - it's a world apart from his somewhat cosy attitude to fantasy. Cast and Crew (7.45 mins) is a brief set of soundbites from Stephanie Leonidas, Rob Brydon and Jason Barry caught on-set between takes. Nice stuff from an obviously over-the-moon Leonidas and a little behind-the-camera background from the likes of the sound engineer about the noisiest day in Brighton's history. Day 16 (2.16 mins) is a split-screen time lapse video of one day in the 30-day shooting schedule. On one side we get the actual filming as it was done, whilst on the other we get the finished scenes. Trivia and production facts pop up on screen, as well.
In this bundle we also get two FX exposes. Flight of the Monkeybirds (4.10 mins) is a look at the creation of the beasts with rehearsals, script read-throughs, behind-the-scenes, animatics and the finished article as seen in the film. Giants Development (2.01 mins) has a gander at the floating behemoths (who, in the film, make Treebeard sound like a racing commentator) via conceptual art, doodles, clay models, storyboards, CG mapping and compositing the final shots.
Then we get what could have been a dire waste of time, but is actually a fantastic little segment, in the Q and A (20.24 mins). This is Neil and Dave on the MirrorMask promotional tour of America, taking questions from the audience. Dave makes a great reference to Baddiel and Skinner Unplanned (one of my favourite shows on TV, folks, alongside Shooting Stars and QI) and the whole thing does, indeed, have that quality of on-the-hoof improvisation. Very funny, the pair clearly have a ball in the various places in which they are quizzed and there's a great little anecdote about staying in Jim Henson's muppet-filled house whilst writing the script. We get a good key into Dave McKean's visual approach to his work and many things other than the production of the film are covered. He also states that he would love to shoot Gaiman's short story Troll Bridge one day. God, I hope he gets that chance, as it is my favourite of Gaiman's tales. It can be found in his anthology Smoke And Mirrors.
Then we get a Poster and Cover Art Gallery that showcases ten different designs for the poster, the books and the soundtrack.
And finally we get some trailers.
A reasonable selection of extras, all in all.
Inevitably, an audacious and experimental film like MirrorMask will be saddled with a love it or loathe it tag. The story may be familiar but the unique scripting and mesmerising visuals run the risk of alienating it from a larger crowd. Still, it would be a cold heart that refused to be swept along by the intricate beauty of such unbridled imagination. Personally, I was entranced by its uniquely deliberate oddness. It may have many familiar trappings, but it mixes them into a broth that needs a certain palette to fully appreciate. Yet, even with this proviso in mind, MirrorMask is a spectacle that deserves a place on every fantasy-lover's shelf, and the disc does an admirable job of presenting Gaiman's and McKean's fable with great AV quality and a nice set of features that prove able to bring the pair of fabulists back down to earth with wit and charm.
MirrorMask may never shake off its profoundly art-house aesthetic and it may not quite deliver on all of its narrative themes, but it still comes well recommended.
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