Leaving my first theatrical viewing of MirrorMask, I was reminded of the dream sequence in the middle of Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound, where Salvador Dali was given carte blanche to design a surrealist dream. It's a great sequence. Sixty years later, a top-notch visual artist and an accomplished storyteller had the limitless potential of computer-generated imagery at their disposal. It's as if Dali had been given today's technology, but, instead of melting clocks and big crutch-like sticks, there's Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman's lexicon of sphinxes, monkey-birds, and fish.
You might know Gaiman from, among other works, the acclaimed comic book Sandman and his best-selling novel American Gods. McKean, meanwhile, created multimedia cover art for much of Sandman's run, along with illustrating other graphic novels. MirrorMask, designed and directed by McKean, with the screenplay and co-story credit going to Gaiman, is McKean's feature-length debut, and, thanks to Jim Henson Productions, he and his team had total control. They just had to make it for $4 million. According to the special features, they shot on location for 10 days and with the actors in front of a blue screen for 20, followed by months of work for McKean and his 15-person postproduction crew. So let's add it up: $4 million, 30 days, 15 digital artists, one amazing film.
MirrorMask's visuals are like nothing you've ever seen. The DVD's 1.85:1 anamorphic presentation offers a color palette that is mostly muted, with some scenes so dark, it's like they were candlelit. Therefore, MirrorMask will best be viewed in a dark room on a system with deep black levels. Iain Ballamy's score ranges from the creepy to the soft-jazzy. While I could have done without the Kenny G-like soprano sax, the percussion fits beautifully and gives the disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 track a good workout.
Special features include one commentary, four interview segments, exceptional featurettes covering one particular day of shooting, and two effects sequences, plus some poorly shot Q&A sessions from the San Diego Comic-Con and Sundance.
Anyone who appreciates imagination, stimulating visuals, surrealism, and the power of film as something that can harness years of dedicated artistry into a career-defining film will love MirrorMask. And, if you've got kids, that's even better, because they're bound to love it, too.