MirrorMask: The Illustrated Film Script of the Motion Picture from The Jim Henson Company by Neil Ga

Glenn McDonald

And so we have the strange situation in which we can peruse at length the full script and storyboards well before we have any chance of seeing the movie itself. It's the ultimate spoiler.


Publisher: William Morrow
Subtitle: The Illustrated Film Script of the Motion Picture from the Jim Henson Company
Author: Dave McKean
Price: $34.95
Display Artist: Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
Length: 368
US publication date: 2005-07
Amazon affiliate

Ancillary merchandising for films can certainly run to the ridiculous. Just the other day I saw a Darth Vader lawn sprinkler for sale at Wal-Mart. I almost bought it, for reasons of irony and kitsch, but then stopped myself when I realized how depressing it would be to buy a Darth Vader lawn sprinkler from Wal-Mart. There are some consumer acts that even irony can't cut.

Film merchandising projects can certainly be worthwhile, of course, especially when the publishing market gets involved. Books attached to films are indeed a kind of merchandising, but they need not be so overtly crass. The hardcover edition of MirrorMask, The Illustrated Film Script of the Motion Picture from The Jim Henson Company is an example of a companion book that makes sense. After all, the film's creators, Neil Gaiman (screenwriter) and Dave McKean (director), are two of the most celebrated graphic novel artists of all time. It seems entirely proper to see a book from these two. What's weird is that there's a movie attached.

Due to the vagaries of the film distribution business, it turns out that the book MirrorMask will be on shelves for several months before the movie hits theaters. (Although the film has screened at a few festivals, it's not expected to see wide distribution in the US and Europe until later this fall). And so we have the strange situation in which we can peruse at length the full script and storyboards, along with production stills and written material by Gaiman and McKean, well before we have any chance of seeing the movie itself. It's the ultimate spoiler.

The story of MirrorMask is vintage Gaiman, and I mean that with all the slight exasperation and ultimate affection it implies. Helena, troubled and dreamy teenage heiress to the family circus, is drawn into a strange alternate reality that may or may not be all in her head. There she embarks upon the hero's quest, complete with scary villains, dubious allies, weird and marvelous locales, and the requisite evil queen. Most involving is the presence of a doppelganger Helena, a changeling mirrorself who wants a life of her own here on our side of the fence.

In its essentials, the story of MirrorMask is evocative of many older stories -- Alice in Wonderland presents itself pretty readily. But Gaiman will be the first to tell you that all stories are just resonant amplifications. From a handful of ancient myths, we tell ourselves these same stories over and over again. Gaiman typically wears his voluble inspirations on his sleeve, but what's surprising here is the specifically similarity to ground Gaiman covered himself in his groundbreaking comics series Sandman, particularly the "Game of You" story arc. And Helena must be Gaiman's 100th iteration of dangerously imaginative, slightly punked-out teenage heroine.

That said, MirrorMask is populated with fantastic and inspired moments: monkeybirds and flying giants, sentient cities and temporal "soft places" where the space-time continuum maintains a refreshingly informal attitude. The character of Valentine, Helena's companion for much of the journey, is one of the story's richest creations -- a charismatic rogue whom, due to his ambiguous reality, Freud would find vastly compelling.

As to the book itself, each page has six sketches by McKean, in the 1.85:1 storyboard aspect ratio, running vertically down the page alongside Gaiman's script, which is formatted in the usual commercial screenplay style. In a rather roundabout way, it seems Gaiman and McKean are once again working together in their field of specialty -- comics. Juxtaposed words and images in deliberate sequential order.

The publisher has made a tremendous effort to package this thing nicely. The hardcover book is printed in big prestige 11" x 9" format, with a full-color dust jacket illustrated by McKean, and 32 pages of color production stills inside. The various introductions and appendices provide "making of" details and a lot of back and forth on the creative process between Gaiman and McKean.

But none of this can prevent the book from feeling more than a little thin. Gaiman and McKean's previous comics work together, particularly on Sandman, had one distinguishing characteristic -- density. Gaiman's writing is famously packed with mythic and literary allusions, both in the text and the artwork. McKean's busy compositions are incredibly heavy, in terms of visual complexity. (He did the covers for all the Sandman issues and, later, the graphic novel collections).

But the screenplay-and-storyboard format here reduces the work to, literally, sketches. McKean's images are greyscale line drawings, and Gaiman's text is pared down dramatically to the necessarily spartan style of the screenplay -- dialogue and short "stage" directions. The pages have a kind of sparse simplicity, pleasing initially until you realize that's all you're going to get. I don't think I've ever moved through 336 pages so quickly in my life. There's simply nothing to linger on.

From what I've seen in the production stills and the trailer (available online here [[]]), this certainly isn't going to be a problem in the finished film itself. The movie is immediately recognizable as McKean's vision -- all freak show darkness and intensity.

Collectors and those who like to peek behind the curtain will certainly enjoy this book, and Lord knows it looks handsome sitting there on the coffee table. But as an aesthetic item in and of itself, as a cultural artifact borne of film merchandising, MirrorMask is little more than a buffed-up scrapbook.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.