Release Date(s)1998 (October 9, 2018)
Studio(s)United Artists/MGM (Shout! Factory/Shout Select)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C+
Alex Dumas’ story of the Three Musketeers and their attempt to supplant a ruthless and unwieldy king was given the big screen treatment once again in 1998 with Randall Wallace’s The Man in the Iron Mask. Wallace, who had just had success writing Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, was given the opportunity to direct, which was his first chance to do so. Although the film was not well-received by critics, the popularity of Leonardo DiCaprio, who was fresh off Titanic, made the film successful with audiences.
I honestly hadn’t seen The Man in the Iron Mask since it hit home video. It’s never been a film that I’ve ever really wanted to revisit and, sad to say, I had mostly forgotten about it. Still, I consider myself someone who appreciates period films and swashbuckling adventures, and upon re-examining it, I didn’t find it to be much of a chore to sit through. I can certainly see why it was somewhat popular at the time. It’s an old-fashioned adventure story that’s easy to follow, the plot twists and turns along the way are simple and not terribly complicated to figure out, and it’s a nice throwback to the films of old Hollywood.
On the other hand, I can also understand some of its criticism. Some of the casting choices, including DiCaprio himself, don’t really jive that well. John Malkovich seems to be lost in his own film, but he does manage to pull off some good emotional moments. Then there’s the sex-crazed, flatulence-exerting, and sometimes naked Gerard Depardiue, who is basically the film’s unnecessary comic relief.
My biggest problem with the film is its look and feel. Nothing really rings true, despite the faithfulness to the story itself. The costumes are colorful and the period is well-realized, but it lacks grit. Besides some of the poor casting choices, occasional bits of noticeable CGI also creep in and, aesthetically, the film doesn’t require them. So while I enjoy The Count of Monte Cristo more (which came along a few years later), The Man in the Iron Mask is fairly solid entertainment, but with some caveats.
Shout Select’s 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray release of the film features a transfer that comes from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative. While this is definitely a boost in fine detail and clarity, the problems I have with the film’s look are only magnified. The transfer itself is excellent, however, as everything appears extremely clean and clear with sold grain levels and high detail on both foreground and background objects. Colors are quite lush, but skin tones are a little too pink for my tastes. Blacks are deep and the contrast seems a tad high, but there doesn’t appear to be any enhancements made to it. The only flaw I noticed was a brief, thin white line in one scene, which was so minor that I almost missed it. For the audio, English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD tracks are included with optional subtitles in English SDH. While both options have plenty of potent stereo activity, the 2.0 seems more adept. The 5.1 feels more front-heavy and, therefore, unnecessary by contrast. Dialogue, score, and sound effects are all clear with good separation, and there are no leftover instances of drop-outs or distortion.
Extras include a mix of old and new material, including an audio commentary by writer/director Randall Wallace; a new 19-minute interview with producer Paul Hitchcock; a new 8-minute interview with production designer Anthony Pratt; the 8-minute Myth and the Musketeers featurette; the 30-minute Director’s Take featurette; an original 5-minute promotional behind-the-scenes featurette; an animated gallery of alternate mask prototypes; and the film’s theatrical trailer in HD.
The Man in the Iron Mask is an interesting relic of its era when Leonardo DiCaprio was riding high on his “King of the World” popularity. While it’s not a project that’s suited for him, it still has plenty of merit to it. Shout Select’s presentation of the film is a nice one and certainly worth the upgrade for anyone who hasn’t picked up the film’s previous Blu-ray release.
- Tim Salmons