Neil GaimanDora Bryan
Medium: film
Year: 2005
Director: Dave McKean
Writer: Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean
Keywords: fantasy
Country: UK, USA
Actor: Stephanie Leonidas, Jason Barry, Rob Brydon, Gina McKee, Dora Bryan, Stephen Fry, Andy Hamilton, Simon Harvey, Lenny Henry, Robert Llewellyn, Eryl Maynard, Eve Pearce, Nik Robson, Victoria Williams, Rick Allen, Gina D'Angelo, Simon Schofield, Silvia Fratelli, Lina Johansson, Emma Noris, Peachi Pangea, Mark Tate, Richard Thompson, Robin Thompson, Iain Ballamy, Chris Batchelor, Stian Carstensen, Martin France, Stuart Hall, Dave Powell, Trifon Trifanov, Peter Borroughs, Rusty Goffe, Kerry Jay, Fiona Reynard, Nick Dainton, Nick Jackson, Mark Perry, Kate Robbins
Format: 101 minutes
Website category: Fantasy
Review date: 18 March 2018
It's a fantasy by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. They devised the story together, then Gaiman wrote the screenplay and McKean directed it. This made it nostalgic for me, especially since both have very distinctive voices. (Well, that's visual in McKean's case, but I hope you know what I mean.) They're old collaborators. The only difference is that this is a movie made with The Jim Henson Company, rather than a comic or a book.
It doesn't really work, I think, but it looks gorgeous and there's stuff here to think about. Its expression of its themes is complicated enough that I might well rewatch it at some point.
To start with the downside, though, it's not very accessible. The obvious comparison point is Labyrinth, another gloriously inventive Jim Henson fantasy, but Labyrinth had baddies, jokes and a straightforward plot that anyone could understand. It was a children's film. This film, though, is just wearing those clothes. Its themes are spiky teenage ones. Its heroine turns into a goth and is threatened by a version of herself who fights with her parents, leaves home and takes boys back to her bedroom.
Even the film's form isn't as kiddie-friendly as it looks. Yes, it's a fantasy quest in which a teenage heroine goes through a land of wacky impossible things, voiced by people like Stephen Fry, Robert Llewellyn and Lenny Henry. However we don't really understand what's going on and only near the end does it become clear that the film actually has a plot. I'd assumed that it was an abstract elaboration on its themes. The plot's actually straightforward once you've worked it out, with a Good Queen, a Wicked Queen and a doppelganger who's taken our heroine's place in the real world... but only if you've chosen to take it literally. For once, here, one might end up going for the old saw of "maybe it wasn't literally real and it was all just part of the hero's psyche". No one's trying to defeat evil, for instance. Instead, the problem's that "the balance was broken".
Oh, and the first twenty minutes are set in the real world, with our heroine being an unwilling part of a circus troupe because it's in the family. These scenes do some fun things with colour and distorted visuals to portray, I'd guess, our heroine's relationships with and connections to the world.
The visuals really are a tour de force, though. What's more, it's pure McKean. This is what McKean's work would look like if it could move, using CGI in deliberately unnatural ways that are a joy to see. Things have faces that shouldn't, while things that should don't. (Everyone in the fantasy world wears a mask and talks as if our heroine's uncovered face is a deformity.) Even though the narrative's being obscurist, the film's a delight to watch. Well, in small amounts, anyway. It's a bit of a slog to sit through all of it.