just saw this movie this week. It was written by one of the most popular and award winning speculative fiction authors working today–Neil Gaiman. Mr. Gaiman has been nominated for Hugo again for his short story "How To Talk To Girls At Parties" and has won just about every other award under the sun for his novels (especially American Gods) and his comic book series, Sandman. So you can understand why anyone would come into this movie with high expectations.
MirrorMask was okay. It had all the right things: character conflict, a world to save, a bit of character growth, giants, libraries, a betrayal, a good queen and a bad queen, not to mention beautiful scenery, and marvelous acting (I can’t wait to see more of Gina McKee and Stephanie Leonidas). But I don’t think it is going to become for the generations what The Princess Bride or Dark Crystal or even The Neverending Story became. Neverending Story was so badly acted in places it made you want to pull out the actors and insert a water buffalo because clearly the buffalo would have read the line better. Doesn’t matter. It is the world that makes the movie.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the world is what makes most
fantasy work, and a lot of science fiction too. Narnia, Middle Earth,
Discworld, heck–half the time we name the series for the world itself,
not the characters. Look at mysteries; you have the Kinsey Millhone
Mysteries or the V.I. Warshawski Novels. But in fantasy it is the
Chronicles of Narnia. We don’t even bother to keep the same characters
in the series. I don’t care who Terry Pratchett has in the latest
Discworld series, I just want to go there.
Which brings me back to MirrorMask, with its surreal sort of world.
It’s interesting. It sends you off on the idea that Helena, our main
girl, is only dreaming of the land she had drawn and posted on her
bedroom wall (and never quite answers if she wasn’t just dreaming). It
has all the aforementioned character conflict and drama and teenage
angst that make for good fantasy. But I never once wanted to step into
that world. Even Helena doesn’t particularly seem to want to be there
and shows no regret at having to leave in order to save the world. She
didn’t even say goodbye to her friend–who, granted, did betray her but
then came back and saved her.
In the end, it is a beautiful story, gorgeously rendered by McKean,
well acted, and the drawings are spectacular. It has all the
ingredients, but isn’t quite soup. It makes a good movie and is worth
watching. But I doubt it will become the pop culture reference, lines
bandied about amongst teenagers who grew up watching it, the way other
fantasy films have become. There was nothing to get lost in and love.