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The Mask (1994)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/9/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/12/2009

It's an understatement to say that home video has changed not only how we look at movies, but how we view movies. The home video revolution, which began with VHS and then grew to DVD and now Blu-ray Disc, allowed film fans to watch movies at their convenience. This lets us go back and re-examine older films and really study them. This can be particularly fun when we are viewing a movie which was very popular or a phenomenon of its time. When The Mask was released in 1994, it became a hit and solidified Jim Carrey as a breakout star. Looking back at the movie today, it reveals itself to be a weird movie, and one can wonder how it became a hit.

The Mask introduces us to Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carrey), a mild-mannered bank employee. Stanley lives with his dog, Milo, loves old cartoons, and constantly finds himself being pushed around by others. One day, a beautiful woman named Tina (Cameron Diaz) enters the bank, seeking information on opening an account, Stanley helps her, although he is falling over himself the entire time. Unbeknownst to Stanley, Tina is there to stakeout the bank for her boyfriend, Dorian (Peter Greene), a local mobster. Meanwhile, Stanley’s co-worker, Charlie (the late Richard Jeni), convinces Stanley to accompany him to a new club called Coco Bongo. Stanley meets Charlie there, but can’t get in. His humiliation is multiplied when he sees Tina there and realizes that she’s an entertainer at the club. While walking home, Stanley finds a strange mask. He takes it home and soon discovers that when he dons it, he becomes a superpowered wild-man with a green face. The mask’s powers allow Stanley to influence objects in his environment and it also makes him impervious. The first time that he wears the mask, he seek revenge on some of those who had wronged him. The second time, he returns to Coco Bongo and wows Tina. His antics gain the attention of the local police and Dorian’s gang. The mask seems to give Stanley what he’s always wanted, but will he lose himself in this new persona, and more importantly, can he elude those who are after him?

When we think of The Mask today, we most likely simply consider it one of Jim Carrey's early hits and hear lines such as "Smokin'!" or "Somebody stop me!" (And as the movie which spawned a belated sequel when no one saw.) But, watching the film again, it's difficult to believe that this movie became a mainstream hit and gross nearly $120 million in the U.S. Not because it's a bad movie, but because it's such an odd one. This is a movie where a cartoon fan with low self-esteem puts on a wooden mask which turns into a green-faced creature who wears a zoot suit and spouts very odd sayings. This doesn't sound like something which would become a mainstream hit, much less get greenlit by a studio. When Stanley becomes The Mask (as he's known), he not only becomes "cooler", but he becomes crueler as well, seemingly having little respect of other people. In that respect, he's an anti-hero and a bit difficult with which to relate. (We learn in the Blu-ray Disc's extras that The Mask was originally conceived as a horror film and that New Line was looking to find a new horror franchise to replace Freddy Krueger.)

But, this doesn't mean that The Mask isn't an entertaining film; on the contrary. If you can get on-board with the weird concepts and Carrey's rapid-fire delivery, then you're in for a good time. Where else will you find a movie which features gunfights, slapstick comedy, and not one, but two dance numbers. Director Chuck Russell cut his teeth in horror -- A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, The Blob -- but he handles the comedic aspects of The Mask quite well. He clearly lets Jim Carrey simply riff in some scenes, but he also knows when to slow things down. Speaking of which, there's no denying that Carrey makes this film what it is. It's impossible to imagine anyone else in the role, not just because of his physicality, but it doesn't come off as entirely corny when The Mask begins to quote movies.

Nearly 15 years later, The Mask still holds up quite well. Despite the fact that there have been plenty of weird "mainstream" films in the interim, much of this still seems surprising and fresh. Some of the special effects, which were groundbreaking in 1994, look a bit dated today, but they don't dampen the film's action. If you haven't seen The Mask in a while, this is a good time to check it out again.

The Mask has ridiculously large teeth on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 (although the box states 1.85:1) and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is quite sharp and clear, showing only a slight amount of grain in some of the FX shots and no defects from the source material. One thing which we would want from this transfer is good colors, and it doesn't disappoint. The colors are rich and vibrant, most notably the greens and blues. The image has a nice level of detail. For example, I don't think that I'd ever noticed that the yellow hat is felt before, but we can clearly see that on this transfer. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This track offers very good stereo effects which show nice separation. The in-film music sounds great. The musical cues comes from the rear and we get good surround effects when the mask is put on or when The Mask whirls by. The bass effects are a bit soft -- a few explosions sound good, but gunfire is muffled.

The Mask Blu-ray Disc contains a party full of extras. We begin with two AUDIO COMMENTARIES. The first features Director Chuck Russell, New Line Cinema Chair Bob Shaye, Writer Mike Werb, Executive Producer Mike Richardson, Producer Bob Engelman, Visual Effects Supervisor Scott Squires, Animation Supervisor Tom Bertino, and Cinematographer John Leonetti. This is one of New Line's "edited together" commentaries. This means that none of the speakers are together, so there's no spontaneity or discussion. Also, many of the comments aren't really scene specific. It sounds more like a series of interviews which have been strung together. The second is a solo chat with Director Chuck Russell. This is a good commentary, but keep in mind, it was recorded in the mid 90s. Russell gives very good scene specific comments, telling us about the sets and locations, the look of the film, and the actors. He also talks about the budgetary restraints and how certain choices were made. "Return to Edge City" (27 minutes) is a retrospective featurette which contains comments from Russell, Bob Shaye, and various producers. (Jim Carrey is seen in some archive footage.) The group talks about how the project came together and how the story went from comic book to a script. They then discuss the casting. From there, the piece looks at the shooting of the film, from the sets to the special effects. Offering one of the best aspects of a retrospective, the group also talk about the film's release and it's popularity. "Introducing Cameron Diaz" (13 minutes) features comments from the film's casting associates who discuss how Diaz was cast. This includes some audition footage. We get a look at the Tex Avery cartoons which influenced the look of The Mask in "Cartoon Logic" (14 minutes). "What Makes Fido Run" (11 minutes) looks at how movie dogs are trained, with comments from animal trainers, and contains a lot of footage of dogs at work. The Disc contains two ADDITIONAL SCENES which run about 4 minutes and can be viewed with optional commentary by Russell. In a nice change of pace, both of these scenes are important, as we get an alternate opening, and the death of a character. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long