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Randall Wallace
Leonardo DiCaprio, Gabriel Byrne, John Malkovich, Jeremy Irons
Writing Credits:
Randall Wallace

Cruel King Louis XIV of France keeps his twin brother imprisoned. Can the twin be substituted for the real king?

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$17,271,450 on 3101 Screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated PG-13.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 132 min.
Price: $34.93
Release Date: 10/9/2018

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Randall Wallace
• Interview with Producer Paul Hitchcock
• Interview with Production Designer Anthony Pratt
• “Myth and the Musketeers” Featurette
• “Director’s Take” Featurette
• Original 1998 Featurette
• Alternate Mask Prototypes
• Trailer


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The Man In the Iron Mask (1998)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 23, 2020)

An adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s “Musketeers” novels, 1998’s The Man in the Iron Mask takes us to France circa 1662. King Louis XIV (Leonardo DiCaprio) leads a life of extravagant excess so great that his expenses drive the country into poverty and starvation.

Unknown to most, Louis has a twin brother, a man kept imprisoned for years. In the face of Louis’s ruinous rule, former royal guards Aramis (Jeremy Irons), Athos (John Malkovich), Porthos (Gérard Depardieu) and D’Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne) seek to replace the king with his brother.

After 1997’s Titanic became an era-defining hit, some attempted to explain its success solely due to the appeal of its lead, DiCaprio. This legend claims that Titanic earned more than $2 billion worldwide because teen girls flocked to the theater over and over to ogle their heartthrob.

That was always an idiotic notion, and proof that it didn’t fly came right away via Mask. The film debuted in second place behind Titanic, even though the latter was then in its 13th week of release.

Eventually Mask would earn $56 million in the US and a total of $182 million worldwide, figures that look decent by 1998 standards. Nonetheless, they establish that Titanic’s success didn’t come solely – or mainly – via sales to teen girls, as that potential audience couldn’t do much for Mask.

Perhaps Mask didn’t zing at the box office because it didn’t offer an especially compelling experience. The film earned reviews that one would call mediocre at best, and these seem apt, as it never threatens to take charge of the screen.

DiCaprio eventually turned into a solid actor, but in his youth, he tended toward inconsistency, and he fails to do much with either of his two roles. As Louis, he seems oddly inert, without the devilish charisma the wicked king needs, and as the twin Phillippe, he barely feels different, as the “nice brother” feels oddly similar to the monarch.

Our four musketeers offer more engagement in their underdeveloped roles. Each one gets his own small collection of personality traits, just enough to so we remember the differences but not enough to flesh any of them out in a compelling manner.

Still, these actors at least bring some life to the proceedings. Malkovich maintains a good sense of Athos’s wounded heart, while Byrne displays D’Artagnan’s inner conflict nicely.

The four musketeers can’t redeem the general lethargy of Mask, though, as this feels like a plodding “adventure”. With all the potential battle and intrigue and romance, Mask should crackle on the screen, but instead, it tends to meander and mope on its long way toward its conclusion.

Much of the problem stems from writer/director Randall Wallace’s inability to create any sense of momentum or tension. Given all the stakes involved, the film should tingle with excitement and peril, but those emotions remain in exceedingly short supply.

Instead, Mask plods along across its 132 minutes without much real drama or adventure. It delivers a “point A to point B” narrative that lacks the ambition or urgency it requires to become a winning effort.

The Disc Grades: Picture D/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

The Man In the Iron Mask appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 and of 1.85:1 on this double-sided, single-layered DVD. The 1.85:1 image has been enhanced for 16X9 sets. That’s a lot of content to place on one layer, and the DVD suffered from this overstuffing.

Sharpness became the major issue, as delineation consistently seemed dull and bland. Even closeups felt tentative and off, so wider shots became awfully soft and fuzzy. It usually felt like I watched the movie through a layer of gauze.

At least jagged edges and shimmering remained minor, but edge haloes cropped up through the film. Digital noise turned into a distraction, and more than a few specks and marks marred the presentation.

Colors looked overly ruddy and heavy. Skin tones seemed redder than they should, and all the hues felt too dense.

Blacks actually seemed pretty decent, but low-light shots appeared murky. Even though I try to cut early DVDs like this one a break, I still felt this was an awful image.

While not great, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Mask seemed fine. Speech could be a little reedy, but the lines were intelligible and without edginess or other flaws.

Music showed nice range, and effects came across with fine clarity and impact. Those elements added good zing to the proceedings and lacked distortion.

The soundfield seemed positive, as the music demonstrated good stereo imaging, and the movie took advantage of all its action sequences. All five speakers presented a reasonable amount of information, especially during the livelier scenes.

We didn’t get a ton of combat sequences, but when they arose, they used the spectrum in an involving way that placed the action around the room. This didn’t become the most ambitious track overall, but it worked well for the material.

The disc comes with a mix of extras, and these launch with an audio commentary from writer/director Randall Wallace. He brings a running, screen-specific look at story/character areas, cast and performances, sets and locations, period details, stunts and action, cinematography and editing, music, and connected topics.

Recorded in 1998, Wallace’s commentary holds up well – except maybe for his reference to Peter Sarsgaard as a “new actor”! Wallace covers a nice array of subjects and gets into his movie well during this informative chat.

Storyboards/Conceptual Drawings brings seven stills that offer these forms of art. While the images seem good, we don’t get enough of them to make this much of a bonus.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we see a collection of Alternate Mask Prototypes. During this two-minute, one-second reel, we see different mask concepts and hear commentary from Wallace as he describes the decision-making process. Largely due to the director’s remarks, this turns into an informative piece.

Now best-known as Leonardo DiCaprio’s first film released after Titanic, The Man In the Iron Mask delivers a bland affair. Even with dollops of action and intrigue, the film can’t provide any real excitement or drama. The DVD boasts good audio along with a few bonus materials and abysmal picture. Mask never threatens to turn into a bad movie, but it’s a pretty dull one

To rate this film visit Blu-ray review of MAN IN THE IRON MASK

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