ROGER EBERT OVERDRIVE:
MirrorMask (Sony Pictures)
With Neil Gaiman writing and production design and direction by Dave McKean, you just know that a film like MirrorMask
is going to be visually interesting, yet still have an entertaining story. And the final product sort of does. Sort of.
MirrorMask is the story of Helena, a young girl who works with her parents in the circus (she's a juggler). When her mother collapses backstage during a performance and needs surgery, the circus is temporarily shuttered (they are in Brighton, and wow, that place is economically depressed), and Helena spends her time drawing pictures. Then one evening she goes for a walk and finds a violin player and two jugglers practicing their act. Before she has time to find out who they are, they are attacked, and the violin player and one of the jugglers are killed by a kind of moving rock wall and the surviving juggler (Valentine) and Helena run for their lives.
Apparently, Helena has entered a parallel world to our own, a world of light and shadows, and those two sides are fighting against one another. Helena's counterpart in this world is a wayward princess who entered Helena's world at the same time that Helena entered hers. There are an ailing Queen of Light and a Queen of Shadow (both of whom look like Helena's mother), as well as the Prime Minister of Light (who looks like her father). The only cure to saving the world of Light and pushing back the world of Shadow is to find the MirrorMask, a magical device which allows the wearer to fulfill their wishes. So with Valentine's help, Helena embarks on a quest to find the MirrorMask, heal the Queen of Light, and then return to her own world. But she has two problems: the other princess doesn't want to come home; and the Queen of Shadow wants Helena to stay in the princess' place and is willing to brainwash her to do it. Throw in lots of bizarre creatures, maskwork, the most comprehensive use of bluescreen filming since Sky Captain,
and a little betrayal thrown into the mix, and you've got at least a pretty, different movie to look at it.
As far as a story goes, however, it's got some serious flaws: 1.) the story moves at a snail's pace; 2.) good production design that serves only itself isn't technically good production design; and 3.) there are some definite Britishisms, including the setting and the backstory of Helena, which isn't explained at all. Imagine a Cirque de Soleil show, throw in some monsters, and turn it into a movie, and you've got the same fairly-empty-but-really-pretty-to-look-at result. And that's unfortunate. I expected more of Gaiman's and McKean's story -- while it does have some nice touches, it just doesn't work. This is obviously trying to be a modern-day Alice in Wonderland but is too visually weird for its own good.
I apparently had higher hopes than this movie was able to deliver. I hope that some day somehow, someone somewhere decides to film Good Omens instead.