17 May 2007
Mirrormask .... kind of a failure. But in a thought-provoking way.
We watched Mirrormask last night - my Netflix pick - and Dave was hugely unimpressed (no surprise there - he dislikes written fantasy and watching anything animated, so a Gaiman/McKean outing was hardly going to be his thing.) Since it was released in 2005, I'm not going to be bothering to warn about spoilers below, I'll just head right into them.
I wanted to like it, I really did.
I love the written Gaiman/McKean book collaborations, and the individual work of each. But ... I know why the movie wasn't a commercial success (I was living in New Zealand when it was released, so I have no idea/recollection of what the critics said.)
The pacing sucks, and the storyline is too intricate. I thought, over and over again, that it would be perfect and clever a book but as a movie ... it moved too fast for me to be able to register most of the visual clues and many of the clever lines were thrown away, without appropriate pauses to process the joke.
Was it just me, or were the actors mostly talking really fast? I felt like I was watching Shakespeare for the first ten minutes, then I settled into the rhythym of the speech patterns and accents and could comprehend. I suspect part of my problem with the dialogue was the sound mixing, either on my tv or as it was translated to DVD or just badly mixed in the first place - I had no trouble hearing the music (which was partly unfortunate, since a lot of it sounded like an extended Dave Matthews band jam) but the speech wasn't crisp enough.
That plus the overly complex plot (for a movie that I complained above moved too fast and finished in well under 2 hours, it sure was draggy: okay, evil black queen versus enchanted white one, just like the socks at the beginning, I get it already) made me have to strain to pay attention just to be sure I was following the storyline. Let's just say I was glad I was stone cold sober.
On the plus side: I watched the entire movie in one sitting and did not fall asleep. (This is rare for me.) Visually, it was often brilliant - I thought the realisation of McKean's characteristic artwork into masks was fucking genius, and it was a little CGI-heavy - I felt like sometimes the movie used CGI for special effects as a shortcut to a more interesting visual narrative, which is a personal pet peeve - but seriously, if there was ever a movie designed to be paired with judicious use of CGI, this (and the live-action version of James and the Giant Peach) was it. And my complaint about the dialogue wasn't that it sucked - I suspect it was probably a lot funnier and smarter than I could quite follow, since it moved too damn fast. (Yes, I am a fogey. And possibly a fogey that's been spoiled by too many Monsters, Inc and Labyrinth sorts of movies.)
On the acting, I have no real complaints - I thought the mum, daughter (helena) and father (who was underutilized - Rob Brydon was brilliant in Marion and Geoff but I think is largely unknown outside the UK) and the fairy-tale-ish parts were appropriately overplayed.
One thing I did really appreciate about the movie was its acknowledgement of the struggle between parent and child at adolescence. Although Helena was a bit too perfectly mannered to be a believeable teenager, always recanting before it's too late with things like, "I'm sorry I said that [wished for your death], Mum" when her mother first goes into hospital - doesn't everyone know that she's not supposed to apologize until AFTER she's saved her mother from death? It's part of the dramatic arc! Although at the same time, while it removed emotional tension it was nice not to see a teenager being a total asshole all the time. It reminded me that Gaiman's daughter was in her late teens while he was writing the film, and I wondered if some of the insights came from that. It also nicely avoided the trap of making Helena's comrade, Valentine, either perfect or a love interest - I was pleased to see that.
This was a really interesting failure. As an internet friend of mine always says, ambitious failures are more interesting than bland successes. I think, given some of my complaints above, that this is a movie which would reward repeated viewings so I could get more of the jokes, at least ... except it wasn't compelling enough for me to want to watch it again, ever.