There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Despite Joel Schumacher’s best efforts in the ’90s, comic-book adaptations are once again a viable box-office option. And with viability comes predictability—even when the source material comes from longtime industry risk-takers. Consider Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s MirrorMask. This Home Alone on mescaline follows the exploits of artistic British teen Helena (Stephanie Leonidas), who lives and works in the circus run by her mother and father. She’s grown tired of the whimsical life around her and wants to run away to join the normal world. But soon after a mother-daughter argument, Mum takes ill and Helena becomes trapped in an even more bizarre dream world inspired by her drawings and featuring several people from her waking life in bizarre new roles, Wizard of Oz–style. Needless to say, the contents of this dream world embody her fears and insecurities about her mother’s illness and will affect events in the real world. A good-enough setup for some, but in light of his genre-bending work on the Sandman comic series, Gaiman’s first attempt at an original screenplay feels rather tame—even for a PG film aimed at kids. Worse, it isn’t much more than a setup. At times, it seems that Helena and her jesterlike companion, Valentine (Jason Barry), simply wander aimlessly from set piece to set piece. Perhaps that’s not too surprising, given that the real star of the show is the visuals. “Designed and directed” by McKean, MirrorMask is a full-motion version of the dense, multimedia dreamscapes the artist created for Sandman and Grant Morrison’s hand-painted Batman graphic novel, Arkham Asylum. Though breathtaking to behold—the plaza with hundreds of enormous spiral staircases leading nowhere, or the architectural impossibility that is the villain’s crumbling palace—the CGI-heavy atmosphere does create problems. In many scenes, the actors are obviously standing on a green-screen soundstage, interacting rather unconvincingly with elements and characters that must have been added in postproduction. Also troublesome is the wildly inappropriate use of Iain Ballamy’s lite-jazz score; orchestral sweep—or even something phoned in by Danny Elfman—would’ve been a better fit. Gaiman and McKean have created a world of darkness and, sometimes, even menace. But the most frightening thing about MirrorMask is how conventionally it falls short.—Jason Powell