Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean made a special visit to Comic-Con International in San Diego on Friday to preview clips of their newest collaboration, “Mirrormask,” a film for Jim Henson studios.
While McKean and the convention staffers tried to get the various “Mirrormask” clips set up on the ballroom projector, Gaiman wowed the crowd with a different surprise announcement. “‘Death: The High Cost Of Living’ is now being made by New Line,” he said. “We finally got a script everyone liked, and we took it to Warner and they said, ‘this is a fifteen million dollar movie. We don’t make fifteen million dollar movies.’ But New Line did, so there you are.”
Then McKean joined Gaiman on the stage and the lights went down as the first Mirrormask clip rolled. The clip itself is nearly impossible to describe, though it was filled with the trademark collage-style imagery that fans of Dave McKean have come to know. Afterwards Gaiman smiled and said, “We had a screening, a rough cut, which means that the film is mostly done; there were one or two bits with a bluescreen where we needed to add effects, but it was largely there. Afterwards an executive said to me, ‘That was like Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. On acid. But for children.’ I thought that was fair enough,” he added with a laugh.
“We said right, that’s it, that’s the tagline for the film,” McKean added.
Asked how the idea for “Mirrormask” came about, Gaiman explained, “Well, the studio had noticed that the films ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘The Dark Crystal,’ over the years, were very steady sellers for them. Not huge hits exactly, but perennials, they sell a steady amount every year. So they said we should do something like that and do you think we could get Dave McKean to direct it? And I said well if Dave’s directing it I’m writing it.
“And the studio said right, well, those movies cost about 15 million dollars to make, all those years ago. We can’t give you that. We can give you about four. So you get to make a movie for not enough money but we can promise that men in suits won’t bother you.
“And the Henson people sent Dave and me away to their mansion, it’s actually Jim Henson’s old house, and really no one’s used it since he died. It’s still full of old puppets and things. I picked up this one old dusty puppet and made its eyes open and close and then one eye opened again and it just fragmented away. It was quite the most horrific thing I’d ever seen. That image gave me a starting place.”
Asked to describe the story, Gaiman smiled. “There’s this girl Helena that works for her family circus. She sells peanuts and juggles and so on. And she hates it. You know how kids used to want to run away and join the circus? Helena wants to run away and join real life. Well, real life enters her life with a bang when her mom gets terribly sick, and in the hospital waiting room Helena falls asleep and has a dream. She dreams that she’s in a land with a white queen and a dark queen, and the white queen has fallen asleep and can’t be woken and the dark queen’s daughter is missing. Some think this daughter might be Helena herself. And Helena has to find the way to wake the white queen and get out alive, and as the story goes on she finds out that this all might not be just a dream…
“It’s got gryphons and sphinxes and books and librarians and a most unreliable juggler.”
“Mirrormask” is slated for a limited theatrical release in early 2005 followed shortly by a DVD release. “This panel is actually being filmed as a DVD extra,” Gaiman confided.
“Yes, so we’ll need release forms from all of you,” McKean added, to much laughter from the packed ballroom.