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The Man In The Iron Mask – 20th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Review)

In the first quarter of 1998, Titanic ruled the box office. Week in and week out, James Cameron’s film could not be stopped (Until Lost In Space finally overtook it). It was a phenomenon. One of its biggest challengers came in the form of the next movie that had the same star. DiCaprio vs DiCaprio came in the form of The Man In The Iron Mask, a movie whose trailer ran nonstop before Titanic leading up to this. When estimates came out, the films had funny enough tied at the box office, BUT actuals came in and Iron Mask fell short just a couple hundred thousand dollars. Shout! Factory isn’t celebrating Titanic though. The Man In The Iron Mask is getting their attention as it turns 20. They are giving it a new transfer and a few new bonus materials. You’ll want to pre-order it for when it arrives October 9th. 

Film 

The former musketeer Athos swears vengeance after despotic King Louis XIV causes the death of his son. Summoning his old comrades Porthos and Aramis, he hatches a plan to liberate a shackled prisoner rumored to be the king’s twin brother, and then install him on the throne. But the three musketeers must also contend with their old friend D’Artagnan, who has remained in the king’s service.

The Man In The Iron Mask has the ingredients for success but can’t quite get over the hump to be either a swashbuckling adventure or a gripping drama. While trying to be both, it can’t quite excel beyond being a little bit average at both. The film is the directorial debut of Randall Wallace following his success as the writer of the Academy Award winning Braveheart (To which he was nominated for Best Screenplay, which went went to Christopher McQuarrie for The Usual Suspects). Perhaps in more veteran hands this could have worked better, or maybe the work of Randall Wallace isn’t for me (None of the remainder of his directed or written works am I a fan of).

Things are working well for it. The production design on the film is off the hook. Its very natural and never stage-like. There are some beautiful and landscapes, buildings and towns on display. Ditto on the costume design as well. Especially in this new Blu-ray transfer, colors and texture really begin to pop and show off the overall beauty and craftsmanship of the outfits in the film. At a core level, if anything, this film is quite a beauty to just peer around the frame and appreciate.

Also to appreciate is the cast that’s been assembled here. John Malkovich is never a bore to watch and he delivers as one would expect here. The mesh of he with Gabriel Byrne and Gerard Depardieu can help to delight and get the movie to move along. DiCaprio may be the selling point of the film and he’s fine here, but there’s a great disparity here how good he is between this and Titanic. He almost comes across monotone and slightly bored compared to where he’d go. Also, be on the lookout for a very young Peter Sarsgaard early on in the film.

This film has itself some mighty fans and I wish I was one of them. There are many things I think work well for this film, but its pretty overlong and plods along too slowly. I suppose my 1990s Three Musketeers movie was the one that had Keifer Sutherland, Oliver Platt and…ahem…Charlie Sheen. I guess this one sorta falls in to the “just all right” category for me. No real harm, but no real lasting expression for me either.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: This new 20th Anniversary Edition of The Man In The Iron Mask boasts a brand new 4K scan from the original camera negative. And it looks LOVELY. There is a nice layer of complimentary grain in the picture that helps to keep a more pristine and crisp mage intact. Depth and color are strong suits here in the picture as well. Details are quite strong, from the intricacies of a feather cap to the texture of a neck garment, you’ll be able to easily discern the little nooks and crannies of the film with ease.

Depth:  There is a nice very open feel to every setting of this film. The scale of every hall in the castle feels open, pushed back and multidimensional. There are times where someone is just standing in the center of a room that looks mightily impressive. Movements is very cinematic and natural with no distortion issues abound.

Black Levels: Blacks are really deep and at times a little too consuming. Details can be lost in merely the shadows of someone standing over another. Its probably all part of an intended look as dark hair features many textures and tints of hair in any bit of a look. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors can be dingy and grim, but even carry so many shades and nuances to them. Clothing is the highligh here with reds and blues just lovingly bursting on the scene with great saturation to it all. Whenever there is a celebration or ballroom type scene, your eyes with feast on the color candy on display.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent in every sequence of the film. Facial features like makeup lines, lip texture, moles, blush, stubble and more are on an impressive display here and visible from any given distance in the frame from a reasonable perspective.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: The Man In The Iron Mask carries a 5.1 track that i’d wager is the same as the previously released Blu-ray of the film. its a nice track, though fills out more from the front. The score sounds absolutely lovely through it, tying in nicely with a good blend of the sound effects and vocals. Its a precise track and features some nice ranging in its sound design and depth.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: Carriages rummaging through, musical beats, some sword contact and other expect battle damage gets a nice little bump from the subwoofer.

Surround Sound Presentation: This is a pretty front-heavy track, but includes moments from the rear channel to fill out the room or an action sequence. Rear speakers do fill some neat ambiance in a lot of areas too. Sound travel is accurate to screen.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are loud, clear and crisp, audible at every turn no matter how pronounced the score or banging the action is.

Extras 

Audio Commentary

  • By Writer/Director Randall Wallace

Interview With Producer Paul Hitchcock (HD, 18:41) – He answers many subjects listed as a title card with which acts as if almost prompting a quesiton; The Latecomer, The Cast, Working Conditions, The Design, Costumes, The Budget, Writer/Director Randall Wallace, Final Thoughts.

Interview With Production Desinger Anthony Pratt (HD, 8:09) –  There are onscreen prompts which he goes over and discusses as if questioned about them in particular; Getting The Job, Historical Accuracy, Dungeons, The Palace, Producer Paul Hitchcock, The Cast, Locations, Writer/Director Randall Wallace.

Myth And Musketeers (SD, 7:34) – Many talking heads, including Michael York, discuss the importance, interpretations and everlasting legacy of the Three Musketeers. The playback on this one is a bit studdery/strobe-y/choppy.

“Director’s Take” Featurette (SD, 29:11) – Randall Wallace sits down to discuss where he went following his acclaim on Braveheart and takes us through his insight, motivations and execution with Man In The Iron Mask. Split into multiple sections; Writing, Directing, Casting, Production, Afterthoughts. The playback on this is choppy.

Original Behind The Scenes Featureette (SD, 4:45) – Plays a little bit choppy as well. Its a fluffy, EPK promotional featurette from around the film’s release.

Alternate Mask Prototypes (SD, 2:01) – Features a little voice over discussing the goals and obstacles that came with coming up with and designing the mask.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 3:04)

Summary 

The Man In The Iron Mask is pretty average but the new Blu-ray transfer from Shout! Factory via their Shout Select line is anything but. The new 4K scan really opens things up and makes the film a beauty to just gaze at. It has some new extras in the form of two almost sleep inducing interviews (No fault on Shout, these guys just aren’t the most engaging speakers). If you’re a fan of the film, get it just for the new look to it and definitely upgrade upon your old one as this looks marvelous.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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