The Mask: Platinum Series Edition Review
Fiction has always loved the loser - the pleb that disappoints his peers; tries foolishly to win the girl, and falls second fiddle to the loveable rogue. In most respects, we love our comedy filled with pathos, giving the protagonist as many problems as possible; often with a healthy dose of humiliation. So, why do cinema-goers love to see our fellow humans fall? Is it a primal, subconscious desire to see our kind suffer? One has to wonder, since cinema is full of rags-to-riches tales - people that overcome adversity, and claim the prize that they were so cruelly denied (in the case of the Rocky franchise, it was done five times over). Such tales have seeped into comic book literature too, and you should be able to spot the theme in just about any superhero origin story. The most obvious would be Clark Kent - a bookish, four-eyed reporter who gets hassle from his colleagues, only to become the most powerful being on the planet. Peter Parker suffers the same woes too; a nerdy photographer who lets life slip through his fingers, until he jumps into that red and blue leotard.
But none of them have adopted the theme “from zero to hero” quite as passionately as The Mask, New Line’s classic adaptation of the Dark Horse comic strip. Originally conceived by Mike Richardson, the character was an amalgam of Warner’s Looney Tunes roster, and Tex Avery’s brash, almost violent cartoons. Such aesthetics were adopted by Richardson when forming his superhero. Except, he wasn’t very “heroic” at all. The Mask is a mischievous troublemaker, an out-of-control whirlwind of energy, which can transform its owner into anything he or she desires. Therefore, it’s the perfect fit for that loser stereotype. Here we have Jim Carrey, in star-making form as Stanley Ipkiss; the nice guy that never fails to finish last. When given powers by the mystical relic, Stanley disappears, and The Mask reigns supreme...
A mild-mannered bank clerk, Ipkiss is going nowhere fast. He’s nice to everyone, but his genial presence doesn’t seem to be doing him any favours. So, when his colleague Charlie (Richard Jeni) offers to take him to the famed Coco Bongo Club, he feels like his luck is changing. Unfortunately, it gets worse. After a series of humiliations, he winds up near the river, depressed. That’s when he notices the mask floating in the water, and mistaking it for a body, he retrieves it. Soon enough, he puts on the dreaded artefact and becomes The Mask - a green-faced, gleaming-toothed madman, that brings Stanley’s fantasies to life. Yet, it causes him problems too. After robbing his own bank, he is pursued by Lt. Kellaway (Peter Riegert), and foils the dastardly plans of criminal Dorian Tyrell (Peter Greene). With help from his trusty canine Milo, can he save his neck, and save the day too?
Now 11 years old, The Mask holds up surprisingly well. A childhood favourite, it never ceased to amaze me - an efficient brew of wild slapstick, action, comedy, and bravura special effects. The latter is what made the film really stand-out upon its release in ‘94. ILM’s efforts on The Mask are still first-rate, yet it succeeds in so many other departments too. Directed with considerable flair by the underrated Chuck Russell, it’s a gorgeous and highly colourful fantasy, that manages to paper-over it’s flaws with raw energy alone. Russell also had the good sense to cast Carrey (a decision that the studio tried to veto at every turn), since his elastic-gurning is perfectly suited to the character. In fact, has the comedian ever received a role as good as this since? Only Ace Venture: Pet Detective comes close, and that was released the same year.
While it may be “The Jim Carrey Show”, The Mask manages to shine with its supporting cast too. Greene has been typecast as the villain for years, and with good reason - he looks the part, and just about convinces as a sleazy thug. It’s a role we’ve seen many times before, but Greene is efficient (though it’s hard not to think of his turn in Pulp Fiction whenever he’s on screen). Riegert is also good comic value as the inept Kellaway, yet it was Russell’s other big discovery that really fired The Mask into life. Matching Carrey for sheer screen presence, Cameron Diaz was a revelation upon the films release, and her first movie role remains a memorable one. Her fate as a superstar was sealed by her introduction - one of the best in modern cinema, surely - a sexy, slinky announcement of a sex-bomb; never failing to grab my attention. Her part is sorely underwritten, but it doesn’t matter. Diaz overcomes the script at every turn.
And that is The Mask’s only failing: the screenplay lacks inspiration. The dialogue is pretty great, giving Carrey plenty of zingers, but the story needed work. It’s a simplistic affair (like most origin tales), moving from set piece to set piece with speed. Mike Werb’s writing is smooth, if unoriginal; using well-worn stereotypes for each member of the cast. Yet Russell utilises the clichés to great effect. In his mind, he made a throwback to the pulp literature of the 1940’s (when cartoons reached their creative zenith), and his influences are obvious from the opening frame. Thanks largely to cinematographer John Leonetti and production designer Craig Stearns, the film has a classic Hollywood look and feel, which brings the fictional Edge City to vivid life. If the story isn’t keeping you entertained, then your interest might be kept by Russell’s striking compositions...
His light approach to the material makes it a perfect family picture. In fact, it’s worth noting the differences to the comic strip, since Richardson’s work was an ultra-violent brew, with lashings of claret. The absence of grue doesn’t harm the film at all, and it merely fuels Russell’s imagination for cartoon imagery. It also gives him the perfect excuse for several well-choreographed dance routines. The musical numbers really hit home, and it’s where The Mask reveals its movie magic. The first, at the lovingly-retro Coco Bongo Club, is easily the best; with Carrey and Diaz dancing their socks off. It’s a truly “cinematic” scene, enlivened by the OTT special effects. The latter really do hold up to close scrutiny. In these times of endless CGI, the techniques employed by Russell and his crew are obvious, yet they blend seamlessly with the live action. The reason is simple: they enhance the story, and don’t swamp the picture. Seeing Carrey transform into a cartoon wolf, or contort his body into any shape imaginable, is more fun than anything Lucas could muster in Episode III. It also helps that Carrey was at the top of his game.
Some critics have resisted the temptation to call The Mask a classic. Indeed, it’s probably too silly and flawed to attain that honour, but its entertainment value hasn’t diminished. If you want a fun, brash and amiably daft comedy, it fits the bill with style. Carrey and Russell often thought about making a sequel, so it’s a shame that New Line eventually released one as Son of the Mask - an awful vehicle for the ever-annoying Jamie Kennedy. Still, the original has aged better than anyone would have thought. Give it a spin.
The Mask has braced a fairly interesting history on DVD; deployed by New Line under their Platinum Series banner way back in 1997. It was the birth of the format, and for its time, the disc was fairly impressive - a perfect showcase for the technology. Yet, it looks primitive today. Therefore, fans have been longing for a better version ever since, and it’s finally here. The brand-spanking new transfer will be enough for some to upgrade, but there’s also some new material to plunder...
The Look and Sound
The real reason to pick up this disc, is the wonderful anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer, which was newly-minted from the source material. It screams with colour - this is a bright, effervescent picture that takes its eye candy seriously. Grain is practically non-existent - a welcome surprise, considering the films age, with only a smidgen throughout. It’s a sharp and thoroughly detailed transfer (so much, that Carrey’s make-up is clearly rubber in some shots). It’s not perfect - DVD anoraks might notice some edge haloes, but it’s a solid 9. A first-rate remastering job, New Line have given John Leonetti’s photography a new vibrancy.
The quality is maintained with the audio, and viewers have a choice: a scorching DTS ES 6.1 mix, or Dolby 5.1 EX. Even if you don’t have a 6.1 set-up, the first track is an outstanding piece of work. It’s wonderfully dynamic, with the sound effects coming across in a clear, fluid manner with the centre-stage dialogue. Considering the material - an action/comedy hybrid with musical interludes - the sound is key, and these tracks really do impress.
There’s enough fresh material for fans to double-dip; presented alongside the previous supplements. For a one-disc affair, this is a commendable package. Jim Carrey is absent, but it’s still a fun disc.
There are two of these, beginning with the original 1997 yack-track, by director Chuck Russell. The filmmaker is a calm, clear and passionate speaker, and he comes well-prepared. The commentary is filled with insight and trivia, and Russell is clearly appreciative of the opportunity. Naturally, he talks about the genesis of the project, particularly the technical challenges of getting it on screen; and the methods employed by the crew. It’s an entertaining and detailed commentary, and is recommended for long-time fans of the film.
The new track is a cut n’ paste affair, with contributions from Russell, co-chairman of New Line Bob Shaye, writer Mike Werb, executive producer Mike Richardson, producer Bob Engelman, ILM visual effects supervisor Scott Squires, animation supervisor Tom Bertino, and cinematographer John Leonetti. As you’d expect, it isn’t screen-specific, so the speakers discuss the film in general. They all possess a wealth of information regarding the film, and there are some interesting factoids, yet this isn’t as interesting as Russell’s solo track. The interview material is edited together well though, with each speaker announced by the moderator.
The rest of the disc is video-based material. The best of these is "Return to Edge City", a half-hour retrospective, with interview material from a great deal of the key production crew (most of whom, were on the commentary). As you’d expect, there’s a fair bit of repetition, but it’s illustrated with footage from the set, and proves to be an enjoyable piece. "Introducing Cameron Diaz" is a great look at her casting in the film, and it’s interesting to note her reluctance at taking on the role. But the featurette is notable for providing her rare audition tape. Fans of the actress should love this. “Cartoon Logic” delves into the Tex Avery similarities, comparing shots from his work, to shots in The Mask. A historian is also on hand to document Avery, and the importance of his work. Last but not least, is “What Makes Fido Run?”, an amusing look at dog training in motion pictures. The film required a lot from its canine co-star Max, and this featurette shows the pains taken by the filmmakers to make the scenes work.
You’ll also find two deleted scenes (found on the first DVD), and trailers for The Mask and Son of the Mask.
The Bottom Line
The Mask has been entertaining audiences for 11 years now, so convincing fans to pick up this DVD shouldn’t be too hard. One of Jim Carrey’s very best, it should find a place in any comedy fan’s collection. New Line deserve kudos for the excellent transfer, and some fine supplements. It’s a fun film, on a fun disc. S-s-s-s-mokin!