Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Mirrormask and Subliterates

I'm really excited that Tom Delay was indicted, but he has a long time to suffer and politics has been so depressing lately, so I figure it's time to change gears and to take issue with Michael Atkinson's Village Voice review of Mirrormask, written by Neil Gaiman and designed by David McKean. Atkinson hated it and I can respect that. He knows film. I saw the movie a few months ago and liked it. But, hey, to each their own.

In a short review, Atkinson mocks Gaiman for writing comic books and calls his readers undemanding and subliterate. There's no need for yet another online geek defense of graphic novels to be posted to the Web but this is an odd charge to level against Gaiman at least because he's also a best-selling prose novelist who gets kind treatment from book critics but mostly because, if you were really sub-literate, you wouldn't get half of the references in his graphic novels. Also, I like his graphic novels and can read so, nyah.

Atkinson doesn't really spell out his beef with comics, except that they seem to involve pictures and words, which, um, films do, except that in film, the words are spoken for the benefit of the subliterate. As for books with pictures and words, I wonder what William Blake would say about such objections.

Atkinson also implies that Gaiman isn't storyteller enough for an adult audience, which is odd since this is a kid's movie.

Honestly, I thought it had some flaws. It could have been paced better, the plotting is a little convenient at times and the performances get the job done but didn't blow me away. It's a great premise though and a nice twist on an old story idea: a kid who grows up in the circus wants to run away and join real life but winds up someplace weirder than a circus could ever be. As a kid's movie intended for wide release, it even takes some risks with the moral by telling the young not to embrace normalcy.

Also, I was pleased to learn that if I'm ever attacked by a sphinx, I can confuse the creature and escape by pointing over its shoulder and yelling, "Look, an idiot!"

All in all, I thought it was a likable movie and I expect its intended audience will like it more than I did but it's fine for Atkinson to disagree with me there as the whole argument becomes about taste at that point. Oddly enough, though, Gaiman's next movie project is an adaptation of Beowulf and the poor guy has been inundated with emails from his fans, who want to know which of their favorite scenes from the book will make the final cut. Wait a minute, his fans have favorite scenes from Beowulf? Those subliterates.


At 9:47 AM , Blogger adriana said...

HAHAHAHAH!!! I puzzled at that review, too. I wanted to just buy the guy a good graphic novel and tell him to shut up and read.

..."they seem to involve pictures and words, which, um, films do, except that in film, the words are spoken for the benefit of the subliterate"

this is priceless.

At 10:48 PM , Blogger Mike M. said...

Glad I amused. It is weird to see an infuential critic go back to the old, "can that comic book guy do this?" meme at this point in time, when the medium has evolved and when the author in question left the medium (at least full time) 7 years ago and has even, while being accused of catering to the subliterate, surpassed his earlier successes (commercially, if not artistically, but probably both) as a novelist. Heck, leaf through old copies of Sandman and it's even clear that the mythology he developed there (the idea that old gods still walk the Earth, powered by the remnants of belief) informs both American Gods and Anansi Boys. As for Mirrormask, I know there was the expectation of it being another Labyrinth, but you can't set out to do that. Mirrormask will probably enjoy a respectable, somewhat limited release and I can see it taking on new life and cult following on DVD, and if I had kids, I'd certainly show them the film, but to expect an instant, mainstream or even oddball following is too much to ask of any movie, and I think it's being reviewed as if that's a given, rather than for what it is which is, flawed, yes, but also smart, quirky, clever and visually enticing. It is, I think, despite its flaws, a better and more interesting and more challenging children's film than we usually see. I'm a little biased though, because the whole "Kid in a circus running away to join the real world," is the kind of inverted old idea that I like to use in my creative work, if not in substance, than certainly in form. It might have been a long time ago for me but I think that a lot of how I write comes from the idea central to my first play, which was, "God's powerful, but what about his younger misfit brother Gosh?"


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