Friday, October 7, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Lack of storytelling fogs up "MirrorMask"

Special to The Seattle Times

Either writer Neil Gaiman is overrated or he's having dreadful luck with adaptations of his work. To suggest the former is to provoke the wrath of fantasy fans everywhere, but Gaiman wrote the screenplay for "MirrorMask" himself, and it's a crushing bore.

With longtime collaborator Dave McKean as his director and production designer, it would seem that Britain's premiere fantasist would be primed to unleash a newfangled "Wizard of Oz." McKean's designs were a crucial contribution to Gaiman's popular "Sandman" graphic novels, and their teaming with Jim Henson Productions had fan sites buzzing over a year ago.

Movie review 2 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"MirrorMask," with Stephanie Leonidas, Gina McKee, Jason Barry. Directed by Dave McKean, from a screenplay by Neil Gaiman. 101 minutes. Rated PG for some mild thematic elements and scary images. Varsity.

Terry Gilliam's once-promised film of "Good Omens" (from the novel Gaiman co-authored with Terry Pratchett) has been abandoned, so we're left with the bland British miniseries "Neverwhere" as a previous example of Gaiman's fiction-to-film misfortune. Now, with its mind-numbing excess of digital imagery and lack of compensatory storytelling, "MirrorMask" suggests that something of Gaiman's is getting lost in translation.

Stephanie Leonidas plays Helena (and looks like a teenage Helena Bonham Carter), born into a circus life she's grown to despise. Shortly after she yells "I hope you die!" at her well-meaning mother (Gina McKee), mom's in a hospital, near death from an unspecified condition. Helena then escapes into the fantasy world of the Dark Lands, where only the elusive MirrorMask can revive the Queen of Light (also played by McKee) from her death trance.

The pleasures of McKean's digital visions are abundant but fleeting, from sphinx-cats to creepy spiders with giant eyeballs and cubist sentinels that would feel right at home in the animation of the Brothers Quay. Alas, it's all for naught. At least the mostly digital "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" had the advantage of pulpy nostalgia; "MirrorMask" has only dreariness and shallow, emotionless adventure.

Jeff Shannon:

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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