Neil Gaiman (story & screenplay) and Dave McKean (story & storyboards),
Mirrormask -- The Illustrated Film Script of the Motion Picture
from the Jim Henson Company
(William Morrow, 2005)

Film scripts, such as the ones done for Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits and Kenneth Branagh's A Midwinter's Tale, to name but two that are here in the Green Man library, are, at best, odd beasts. There is text where conversation would be, and static images where there should be movement -- these are not the natural textures of film. Certainly the oddest of those beasts, setting aside those like Emma Bull and Will Shetterly's War for the Oaks script which is for a film that does't exist, are those that come out well in advance of the actual film, so that the reader must judge their worth solely on their own merits without knowing what the film is like. Such is the case of Mirrormask. If you're a fan of either the writing of Neil Gaiman (which I most certainly am, as he rarely disappoints me) or the ever so cool artwork of Dave McKean (his artwork for Gaiman's Coraline added just the perfect touch of creepiness to that short novel), you'll definitely want this work. Now, I suppose that you're asking what Mirrormask is about. Good question. So let's see what the press release that came with Mirrormask said about the plot:

Mirrormask tells the story of Helena, a fifteen-year-old girl who works for her family’s circus. Helena juggles, sells popcorn, and wishes that she could run away from the circus and join the 'real world.' Then, one day she wakes up to find herself in a magical world filled with fantastic beings and creatures, an alternate reality. It is a land of opposing kingdoms, one perpetually existing in light, the other in constant darkness. These lands have existed in perfect balance, until now. And Helena finds herself about to embark on a most remarkable journey.

The trailer is up here if you want to take a look at a teaser for the film. After seeing the trailer some months ago, I was strongly reminded of Alegria, a film which involved members of the Cirque Du Soleil in a wistful tale of a circus, lost children, and what it means to truly belong somewhere. (If you go hunting for this film, be advised that Alegria is also the name of a performance DVD by Cirque Du Soleil. The latter video is also very much worth seeing, but this is the Internet Movie Database citation for the one you want to see if you're interested in comparing it to Mirrormask . Any fan of Gaiman will enjoy it, as the writer, Rudy Barichello very obviously shares much of his slightly off-beat sensibilities. Ignore the carping by the reviewer. It does not detract from the Cirque Du Soleil in any way.) What makes Mirrormask different from the inspired madness of Cirque Du Soleil, as the press release notes, is that this is infused with the spirit of Jim Henson:

Dave McKean and I created the story and the script for Mirrormask in the Henson family home in London, surrounded by memorabilia and artifacts from Jim Henson's astonishing career in television and fantasy filmmaking,' says Gaiman. 'It was a true challenge and inspiration to try to make something today that would be as visually rich, creative, funny, and as moving as Jim Henson's original works.

It is, like Alegria, a circus film where reality itself seems to have decided to take a very long holiday in Brighton. In its place, the dreams that never quite see light are allowed free rein. Maybe Gaiman's Sandman series will never be filmed, but in some senses Mirrormask is a riff off that series. Rumor has it the Henson folk are working on developing Gaiman's Neverwhere as a feature film. Based on what is here, it'll be much better, more fantastical, than the BBC 1996 miniseries!

Ok, what have you seen from the Jim Henson company? Certainly you've caught at least bits of The Muppets, perhaps even seen the short-lived Dinosaur series a few years back. If you love fantasy, I do hope you've watched The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, and I certainly expect that you love Farscape if you're a science fiction fan. Oh, did I mention The Storyteller series? The point is that the slightly crazy geniuses at the Jim Henson company has created some of the most innovative environments and creatures to inhabit them that have been done by anyone. Only a hint of which is evident here, as this is mostly the storyboards and the associated text that Neil and David did for Mirrormask. (I said mostly. Pay attention and I'll explain that comment in due course.) Reading storyboards can be an exercise not all that different from watching sausage being made, in that end product is a lot more tasty than watching it be made. Fortunately that is not the case here.

First up in Mirrormask -- The Illustrated Film Script of the Motion Picture from the Jim Henson Company (ok, I really like the title) is a simple drawing of a young girl -- I assume it's Helena -- with a paint brush in hand. McKean's artwork is distinctive enough that I am immediately reminded of the framed poster for Coraline upstairs in the library which, of course, shows the young Coraline. Turn the page and you will see she has drawn the mirrormask logo there. Cool! A handful of sketches by Mckean follow before you get to Neil's 'Mirrormask, An Introduction'. And oh, what an introduction it is! Neil is a born storyteller, and this piece is no exception. The back story to Mirrormask is as interesting as the actual script itself, and Neil, not at all surprisingly, tells that tale well. Read it to see how this charming project came to be.

Most of this oversized volume is McKean's storyboards along with Gaiman's script. At just slightly under three hundred pages, it's certainly as detailed as reading a novel would be. (It's not quite that long, as there are thirty-two pages of color publicity photos and still from the Mirrormask film interspersed throughout.) This is not the first script by Gaiman I've read for review, that honor having gone to his Good Omens script, which had very little to do with the novel he wrote with Terry Prachett. I said of that script 'I'm reviewing it because it is quite well-crafted and an amusing read. And that is saying quite a bit as many scripts are as exciting as cold oatmeal the day after it's been cooked. Even the best of films can make a boring script as reading material in tech same manner that makes reading Shakespeare a less than satisfying act for most people.' That script was, as I noted in that review, 'slightly under one hundred and fifty page script. It was a quick read for me, and most likely for you as well -- a cup or two of tea and a few scones in length.' Not so with this one, as the storyboards are as good as the text. Yes, it was a very weird experience. I've never read a script with storyboards before beyond a page or two included in such works as Batman Animated, so I had to get used to going back and forth from script (right hand side) to storyboards (left hand side) without losing track of the story. It's not as much fun as reading a novel like Neverwhere or American Gods, but it certainly was time well spent over a few evenings. If you don't want to know anything about Mirrormask before you see it, do purchase this afterwards as it will add considerably to your appreciation of the film.

The various photos from the film, both actual stills and making of bits and pieces, are cool. My favorite stills are Eryl Maynard as Mrs. Bagwell with a make-up job that has a certain Brian Froudish feel to it, and the various lovely looks at the Anti-Helena. (I'm not giving away a whole lot by noting that the competing forces of Light and Dark, akin to that in Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, come into play at this Circus. Not to mention the idea of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts.) All of these certainly whetted my appetite for seeing the film!

Rounding out this impressive volume are various appendices, including Gaiman's 09/06/01 letter to McKean outlining 'THE MIRROR AND THE MASK -- A tale of urban magic and the imagination' as well as Gaiman on McKean and McKean on Gaiman. Appendix D is a silly bit called 'The Apology Song' which reminds of some of the lyrics Gaiman has done for the Flash Girls and Folk Underground, two bands involving Lorraine Garland, aka The Fabulous Lorraine, Neil's capable assistant.

Is it worth getting? Quite so. It will share a space in my library alongside other Gaiman material, as it's definitely worth keeping! Do keep a close watch for the film this fall at a multiplex near you. In the meantime, Mirrormask -- The Illustrated Film Script of the Motion Picture from the Jim Henson Company will keep you entertained!

[Cat Eldridge]