We were really looking forward to this film designed by Dave McKean and written by Neil Gaiman. It was only playing at one theater in town, so we finally hied ourselves over to catch it before it disappeared. At the matinee showing, it appeared that we would have a private screening, until just after the film started a woman came in and sat right behind us in the otherwise empty theater. Sigh.
Reviews of the film have been mixed (or just negative) and it's easy to see why. While visually stunning and inventive, the story drags. It's a simplistic tale of good v. evil writ upon the life of a (pre?) teen girl, but that in itself is not a problem -- how many great narratives have begun with just that frame? No, the problem is that movement from one point to the next is not propelled by story but by what seems to be the desire to create another stunning tableau. And they are stunning whether gorgeous or menacing, but that's not very engaging. Because of the lack of engagement, the Neil moments stand out a little more nakedly: funny, sure, but unconnected (I still think Neil needs an Anthony Blanche to warn him away from the dangers of charm). While the actors manage to round out the characters, they are forced by the plot to become little more than chess pieces, moved by the need to get to the next tableau rather than by the need to accomplish something.
There is a fun cameo by Stephen Fry.
The visuals are amazing, melding live action and special effects seamlessly for the most part, creating incredible creatures and wonderful buildings. But the film, in the end, is a big picture book with the rudiments of story. The pictures are amazing. When one character appears without the omnipresent mask, it's a bit of a let down. I immediately thought of Garbo's response to the revelation of Jean Marais at the end of Cocteau's La Belle et la Bete: "Give me back my beautiful beast!" Why settle for anything less than the extraordinary?