A good biographical documentary can land anywhere between laudatory and damning of its subject—and can be any combination of either or rejection of both—so long as it has something new to teach you. But therein lies the rub: more than any other kind of movie does a documentary attract audiences already in the know. People come to nonfiction films about Alejandro Jodorowsky or Anthony Wiener with at least the rudimentary knowledge of why these subjects have impacted the world to a degree deserving documentation. This truth is likely tenfold the case in regard to Neil Gaiman, the sort of artist who commands a fan base prone to all-out devotion.
The members of this community may be the only elements composing the audience targeted by Dream Dangerously, an assembly of footage from Neil Gaiman’s last ever book signing tour. But they may also be the ones to whom Dream Dangerously can offer the very least. It isn’t as though scant tidbits about young Gaiman’s daydreaming or jokes he tosses to the camera about the toll that signing thousands upon thousands of books a day has taken on his dominant hand won’t prove worthy of a smile or two to the average fan of his work. The same goes for talking heads from friends and colleagues like Terry Pratchett, George R. R. Martin, and Bill Hader.
But a good half hour or so into a feature, that caliber of fan might find him or herself craving more than just amicable validation of the reach and power of Gaiman’s work. Having spent so much time following, talking to, and about Gaiman, you’d think the filmmakers might have mustered a novel vantage point on the breadth of his work, or the relationship between craft and author. But for the span of its run time, Dream Dangerously is content only to applaud the art and literature of Gaiman, without stepping up to the task of saying much in the way of the new about them, nor about their creator, a man ostensibly rich with story and eccentricity.
The principal exception to this rule is the chapter of the film that delves into Gaiman’s marriage to punk rock musician Amanda Palmer, known best for her work as lead singer, pianist, and composer for the Dresden Dolls. If fans of Gaiman’s work are in the dark about any aspect of his psyche, this might be it. What’s more, the proverbial odd couple of artists proves to be more than a harmony of hearts, but a great recipe for creativity. To watch them talk to and about each other, and even to perform together—as we see at one of the film’s high points—is especially exciting.
But by and large, when the film sticks to the topic of Gaiman, his various titles (devoting a good deal of time to Neverwhere and The Sandman especially), and the fan fervor that will forever surround the words, it relegates to a display of niceties. Regularly vindicating and often charming, but never quite as adventurous as the works of Neil Gaiman deserves.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 burritos
Images: Respect Films