MirrorMask DVD Review
PictureTransferred to DVD with an anamorphic 1.85:1 image, MirrorMask is a splendid representation of Dave McKean's fabulous design work. I've seen this on a 44 inch rear projection and on a super-large projection screen and, whilst the larger image displayed some obvious edge enhancement, I have to say that the picture was immensely satisfying on both. Detail is etched to a high degree of clarity, with the backgrounds and the creatures rendered with a wonderful sharpness. The myriad drawings, masks and bizarre architecture have a terrific boldness, and I love the intricacies revealed in the plain of spiral staircases and the spirited chases through a sky filled with scaffolding. And the fast action, although there really isn't that much of it, is handled very well without any blurring or motion drag.
The colours, as I've stated, are rather downplayed and this is also part and parcel of an intentional softening of the picture during many scenes. This is to maintain that dreamlike quality and is not a fault of the transfer. 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. But this is 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 spectacularly deep and often totally impenetrable. The seeping shadows are excellent and the depth along some of the gothic streets is splendidly achieved. Some grain is apparent in certain shots, which I found a little unusual in a film so recent and there is some very minor slow filtering taking place. But, on the whole, MirrorMask looks captivating.
SoundThe Dolby Digital 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. The sub may not get too involved with the action - that said, though, there's still some nice deep bass rumbling on offer - but the rest of the set-up gets a pretty impressive workout. 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.
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.
ExtrasMirrorMask 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.
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) 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 previews for Labyrinth, Zathura, Jumanji and a couple for the Stargate TV show.
A reasonable selection of extras in all.
VerdictInevitably, 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 it. 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 bring the fabulists back down to earth with wit and charm. Well recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £16.72
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