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Mirrormask - Preview

Dave McKean's Mirrormask

Preview by Jack Foley

ONE of the British successes at this year’s London Film Festival was Mirrormask, the feature film debut of acclaimed comic-strip artist, Dave McKean.

McKean is hitherto best known as illustrator of The Sandman comic series, as well as Hellblazer. He also provided the art for Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum, about the inmates of the infamous madhouse which houses Batman’s villains in the DC Universe.

Mirrormask was co-written with frequent collaborator, Neil Gaiman, and takes the form of a rites-of-passage fable in the style of The Wizard of Oz, Time Bandits and Labyrinth.

It was filmed with the support of The Henson Company, who actually approached McKean to devise a family fantasy film in the style of the classics.

Talented newcomer Stephanie Leonidas plays 15-year-old Helena, a reluctant performer in her parents’ struggling circus who seeks nothing more than to live in the real world.

After a violent family row her mum (Gina McKee) collapses and is taken to hospital for an operation, prompting the guilt-stricken Helena to enter a dark dreamworld bearing a nightmarish resemblance to reality.

Sent in search of something known as the MirrorMask, she embarks on an odyssey through a bizarre landscape populated by people and creatures both grotesque and beautiful, helpful and menacing.

Mirrormask provides the perfect platform for McKean to display his inventive mix of live action and digital animation and arrived at the London Film Festival off the back of strong word of mouth from the Sundance Film Festival.

It co-stars Rob Brydon, Jason Barry, Stephen Fry and Lenny Henry and played to packed audiences on both occasions it was shown.

For McKean, it served as a challenging and intriguing first experience as a director, particularly given the constraints with the budget.

Speaking at the festival he admitted: “It was certainly the biggest commitment of time and energy I’ve undertaken.

“The shoot was quite short, 30 days. But the post-production and the animation, we budgeted for about eight months but it turned into 17 months. It just went on and on and on.

“There were many phone calls home to my wife, saying: ‘I don’t think this is ever going to end. I don’t think we’re ever going to finish this bloody thing!’

“The drag was the computer side, the data and all those boring, technical things and having no money to throw at problems to make them go away. I don’t want to do big budget films but next time it would be nice to just have a little bit more.”

Word of mouth has generally been positive from the festival circuit although McKean candidly admits there is plenty wrong with the film and reviews have been fair in reflecting this.

“It’s obviously a first film, there’s obviously things wrong with it, it has its fair share of problems and I think most of the reviews have reflected that.

“But having said that most of the bad reviews have said nice things about the way it looks and most of the good reviews have said bad things about the dozy story. So I think that’s fair.”

Mirrormask is due to open in the UK next year (2006).