Starring: Stephanie Leonidas, Jason Barry, Rob Brydon and Gina McKee
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: 15.99 (single disc) / £24.99 (box set that also includes Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal)
CDR33846 / CDRP4831
Certificate: PG
Available 05 June 2006

Helena works for the family circus, and wishes - quite ironically - that she could run away and join real life. But such is not to be the case, as she finds herself on a strange journey into the Dark Lands, a fantastic landscape filled with giants, Monkeybirds and dangerous sphinxes. Helena searches for the MirrorMask, an object of enormous power that is her only hope of escaping the Dark Lands, waking the Queen of Light and returning home...

If, like me, you fondly remember those '80s Jim Henson movies Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, then the best way of describing MirrorMask is as a modern film in the same vein. Actually, for those of you who grew up on Henson movies, this DVD is also being released in a box set with both Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal.

The film opens on a small, family run, circus and we are introduced to Helena, the daughter of the circus owners. The evening's performance is not going well. Helena gets into a fight with her mother just before she is due to start her act. Her mother collapses and is taken to hospital. She is rushed into surgery and it is unclear whether she will make it through the night - the family will only find out the next morning if her operation was a success. The rest of the movie is told as a dreamlike sequence as Helena goes to sleep wondering what news the morning will bring.


I mentioned earlier that this film is very much like those old Henson movies. In fact, I don't think it's unfair to say that MirrorMask is actually a reworking of Labyrinth - there are a lot of similarities. For starters, both revolve around young girls who are coming of age and are total outsiders - not really fitting into the real world and instead shutting themselves away and preferring to live in their own fantasy worlds. Then there is the fact that both, in frustration, wish for something that they don't really want (in MirrorMask Helena wishes her mother dead and in Labyrinth Sarah wishes the Fairy King would come and take her baby brother away). When these things happen (or in the case of MirrorMask, may happen) both girls are whisked off into a dream world and must confront the rulers (The Queen of Darkness and the Goblin King) of the these worlds. Both girls meet odd looking male creatures (Valentine and Hoggle) who act as their guides. And then, both girls are betrayed as their guides deliver them to the rulers of their respective worlds - but eventually they realise what they have done and help to free the girls and to complete their quests. And, finally both (this shouldn't spoil too much for you) conclude with a hint that maybe it wasn't all just a dream after all.

If you're familiar with the artwork of Dave McKean then you'll instantly feel at home here. In fact, there is one trippy sequence that is actually constructed from collage images and looks more like a comic book than it does a collection of live action segments - very impressive.

The casting is faultless. Gina McKee is perfect in her roles as Helena's mother as well as both the Queen of Light and the Queen of Dark. Stephanie Leonidas and Rob Brydon work well together as Helena and her father - although I find it hard to take Brydon seriously. Every time he opens his mouth I was expecting him to say something funny. But by far the best piece of casting is Jason Barry as Valentine. This is not an easy role - mainly due to the fact that his face is obscured by a mask for the majority of the movie, but somehow he manages to make us believe in the character, and actually feel for him. There are also vocal cameos from Stephen Fry, Red Dwarf''s Robert Llewellyn and Lenny Henry.

I didn't notice, on first viewing, the difference between the griffin and the Sphinx/cats and I thought more should have been made to distinguish the two. I also thought that Rob Brydon provided the face for the cats - they do look incredibly like him - but it was actually Simon Harvey.

The one thing that I really didn't think worked was the song in the middle of the film - to be honest that whole sequence should have been left on the cutting room floor. It really didn't go with the rest of the film, and it was way too long.

Extras include an audio commentary with Gaiman and McKean; The Making of MirrorMask (54 mins) featurette which can be played as a single feature, or broken down into different segments); and trailers for other movies which are oddly flagged up on the main title page as well as the Special Features page.

The audio commentary threw up a lot of interesting bits of information, including the fact that Rob Brydon was not going to play the part of the Prime Minister - they were hoping to get David Bowie; and that the opening sequence was shot and edited entirely in split screen - but dropped at the last minute.

The Making of featurette has an interview with Gaiman; an interview with McKean; a section that looks at how everything started; cast and crew interviews; production segments; and a Q&A with Gaiman and McKean. It was interesting to learn that the majority of the artists on this movie were fresh out of art school, and that instead of giving them all little bits and pieces to do - like on any normal movie - they were each given their own characters and scenes to create. What was incredible was that they also had quite a bit of creative freedom too.

This is certainly one of the oddest and most beautiful movies to come along in recent years. And, like Labyrinth 20 years ago, MirrorMask is bound to appeal to viewers of all ages. It's twisted, it's bizarre, but most importantly it treats its young audience with intelligence. If there is any justice in this world, this film is destined to become a cult classic. Jim Henson would be proud.

Darren Rea

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