The Man in the Iron Mask

Reviewed by Van T. Tran

Special Edition DVD

MGM, widescreen 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced, pan&scan, languages: English (DD 5.1), French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French, Spanish, single layer, scene selections-36 chapters, rated PG-13, 132 min., $24.99, street date 8/11/98.
Extras: audio commentary by writer/director Randall Wallace, alternate mask concepts, storyboards, trailer, booklet.

Studio Line

Directed by Randall Wallace. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gerard Depardieu, Gabriel Byrne.

It has been many years since Aramis, Athos, Porthos and d'Artagnan fought together as the bravest and best of the King's Royal Guards, the Musketeers, with a passion and valor that has become legend.

Athos (John Malkovich) lives a simple life raising his son Raoul. Porthos (Gerard Depardieu), though thicker and older, still eats lustily of life, though he misses the great battles of the past. Aramis (Jeremy Irons) has followed his faith and become a priest.

Only d'Artagnan still serves the King as Captain of the Musketeers.

It is 1660 and France is starving. Louis XIII, the great King whose throne the Musketeers served has died and been succeeded by his arrogant and cruel heir, King Louis XIV (Leonardo DiCaprio) ... while at the Bastille a mysterious prisoner has lived for nearly a decade encased in an iron mask.

To save a nation, the Musketeers must reunite and embark on their most dangerous mission ever: to free the prisoner and unlock the secret of his identity. Only through this act of mercy will they realize their dream of finding and serving one great king -- for the enigmatic prisoner, for the kingdom that was and will be again, and for each other.

One for all, all for one.

Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Randall Wallace (Braveheart) makes his directorial debut with The Man In The Iron Mask, which he also scripted inspired by the daring escapades of the Three Musketeers as conceived in the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas.

Picture/Sound/Extras (B+/B+/C)

What the film lacks in story, it more than made up by an elaborate production that is a feast for the eyes. The widescreen transfer of the DVD is matted at the ratio of 1.85:1 for a well-balanced presentation. Watching this film in widescreen is essential in appreciating the magnificent palaces and opulent wardrobes. While the transfer is generally excellent, there are a few flaws. On the review disc, digital artifacts were a major problem in one particular sequence. Prior to the hostages swap scene, there are two minutes in which the images exhibited extreme pixelation. The problem got so bad that Iíve to conclude that the disc is defective. If your disc exhibits the same behavior, I suggest exchanging it for a new copy. Without the defect, I would have rated the picture higher. Besides that, I also find the picture to be a tad soft. Otherwise, the visual aspects are very engaging.

The interior and exterior settings provide for a constant delight. The interior palace has huge oil paintings, towering marble columns, rich tapestries, and other luxurious decor. The exterior is highlighted by fanciful gardens and water fountains, romantic countryside, and other scenic locales. Colors of gold, red, blue and yellow are striking on the opulent wardrobes with glittering decorations, elegant patterns, and fine fabrics. In contrast to the bright settings are sub-human dungeons, grotesque prisoners, starving citizens, and filthy alleys. The lighting for the picture is gorgeous. In the audio commentary, the director revealed that he is much influenced by Vermeer paintings and wanted to reflect the same lighting for the picture. The interior night scenes seem to be lit up entirely with candles for a very rich and inviting glow. Blacks and shadow details are superb on the transfer, as with contrast and brightness.

Thinking that this is a Three Musketeers film, I was disappointed by the lack of swordplay and action. Not much occur until two third of the way, at which point the movie is rather dull. What the encoded Dolby Digital soundtrack does have is a marvelous score composed by Nick Glennie-Smith whose credits include The Rock and Home Alone 3. Nickís classical background training is a major asset to the composition. The Baroque music fills the Kingís palace with sweet and festive melodies. The airy strings, soft woodwinds, and resonating organs are fully enveloped and spatially integrated with rich clarity and fidelity on the Dolby Digital soundtrack. The ballroom dance provides the best demonstration of a large soundstage. But not all is well and sweet in the chambers of the King. There are moments of grieve, sorrow and tragedy that the score beautifully expresses. On the action side, the score is fully adventurous, energetic, and exciting. It also contains stirring elements of patriotism and loyalty. The discrete effects such as galloping horses, eerie dungeon noises, firing muskets, and swordplay are precise in directionality and imaging. If only there are more action to take advantage of.

Like the film, the bonus features is equally dull. I was very much intrigued by the audio commentary of director Randall Wallace, after all, he is the screenwriter of Braveheart. However, his commentary put me to sleep after half-an-hour. It is rather dry and straightforward. Also include is a brief sequence explaining the mask concepts and designs, a storyboards of seven sketch images, and a trailer.

The Man in the Iron Mask makes for a good rental. Despite Randallís best efforts and a talented cast, the film failed in the adaptation of Alexandre Dumasí classic novel. What is more embarrassing is the lame ending. Finding no escape, the famous musketeers decide to charge the firing squad, and when the smoke clear, the result is so corny that left me totally flabbergasted. However, for fans of his Leoness, you are getting double the pleasures. What more can you ask?

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