"Our love is like a red, red rose,
And I'm a little thorny."
When the audio-video industry first announced high-definition discs several years ago, one of the first movies I thought of was "The Mask." I figured it had enough colorful CGI tomfoolery in it to please the most demanding videophile, and that lossless sound like TrueHD and DTS-Master Audio would just be icing on the cake. It took a while for "The Mask" to arrive on Blu-ray, and even though it isn't quite the superspectacular demo disc I had hoped for, it's still worth one's time and money.
Although it would take several more years for Jim Carrey to prove to the world that he could do more than make funny faces, one can see evidence of his acting skills in this highly entertaining 1994 comedy-fantasy. Playing a character similar to the one in James Thurber's short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," Carrey plays Stanley Ipkiss, a milquetoast bank clerk who discovers a superhuman alter ego when he puts on an ancient, magical mask. It's a mask supposedly designed by Loki, the Norse god of mischief, and when anyone puts it on, it brings to life his or her innermost desires. Stanley's transformation from a timid, reticent character to the heroic, outgoing superhero known as "The Mask" is a pleasure to watch. Besides which, the computer graphics, sound effects, and musical numbers show up better than ever on Blu-ray.
The story concerns Stanley's finding the mysterious mask, learning its secret, and becoming everything he ever wanted to be and more, a man with supernatural powers, albeit a man with a green face and huge, glistening white teeth; well, nobody's perfect. The film is a combination of Forties' film noir and Looney Tunes cartoons, with Stanley assuming all the personas of his favorite old cartoon characters.
But every story needs a plot, so in Stanley's case he gets involved with a sexy femme-fatale gangster's moll, played by Cameron Diaz; the gangster himself, played by Peter Green; and a couple of Green's gangster cronies. Further along the way, Stanley meets a police lieutenant, played by Peter Reigert, who thinks Stanley has robbed a bank; the lieutenant's wonderfully dense partner, played by Jim Doughan; and then a pretty, young reporter, played by Amy Yasbeck, who provides a potential romantic interest. Richard Jeni plays Stanley's best friend and fellow bank employee; and even Ben Stein ("Anyone, anyone?") makes a brief appearance as an expert specializing in the figurative psychology of masks. The scene stealer, however, is Stanley's loyal mutt, Milo, a true wonder dog.
With the exception of a few minor lapses here and there, occasional dead spots, it's all pretty funny and sustains repeat viewing, just one of the reasons for buying the movie on Blu-ray. To be honest, even the slow stretches went by pretty quickly, so I can't complain.
Interestingly, it was the movie's several musical numbers that the studio initially wanted to cut. But preview audiences loved them, common sense prevailed, and the music stayed in as some of the best material in the film. For demo fare, go to the Coco Bongo Club or "Cuban Pete" numbers. Great stuff, especially in high def picture and sound. The other highlights are the aforementioned acting of Jim Carrey and, of course, the special computer graphics, designed and implemented by Industrial Light and Magic. When in the guise of "The Mask," Carrey becomes, in almost every sense of the term, a cartoon superhero. He looks like a cartoon character, he behaves like a cartoon character, and he has the invincibility and super powers of a cartoon character. This is all no doubt attributable to The Mask's origins as a comic-book character.
The cartoonish graphics, done relatively early in the evolution of CGI and unthought of just a few years earlier, stand the test of time and remain a pleasure unto themselves. I enjoyed "The Mask" better than ever on BD, even if the picture and sound didn't exactly knock me out as some other high-def movies have done. Believe it, though: The movie has never looked or sounded better, except maybe in a theater.
WB/New Line offer up a VC-1, 1080p video presentation using a single-layer BD25. The 1.85:1 ratio HD picture comes out OK, but not spectacularly so. I suspect it's probably as good as the source, but the source shows some small degree of fade and noise, not helped by whatever filtering the studio applied. Black levels are fine, although not as deep as I have seen; definition is average by Blu-ray standards; but colors are fairly realistic and natural appearing. The CGI effects come off best, with the real-life shots, particularly close-ups, looking somewhat soft yet gritty.
For sound in English we get lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and regular Dolby Digital 5.1, although in switching back and forth between them, I didn't perceive a great deal of difference. It's only in a few instances that the TrueHD shows any serious improvement, namely in the cartoony action sequences, especially the "Cuban Pete" musical number and the final shoot-out. Here, the surrounds come to life, and the bass and dynamic range kick in. It's as though the soundtrack had two lives just like Stanley. When Stanley is himself, there is nothing special about the audio; when Stanley puts on the mask, everything about the sound comes to life.
There is a good assortment of bonuses on the Blu-ray disc, most of them produced for the 2005 DVD rerelease. Things begin with a pair of audio commentaries, the first by director Chuck Russell, New Line Cinema co-chairman 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; and the second, an older commentary, by director Chuck Russell alone. The second commentary was, as I remember, the first commentary I ever listened to completely through, and I found it fascinating. It's good that New Line retained it.
In addition, we find a set of featurettes. The first is a retrospective examination of the film, "Return To Edge City," about twenty-seven minutes long, taking a look behind the scenes with the producers, director, and filmmakers as they discuss everything from the movie's comic-book origins to the casting to the shooting to the ILM computer graphics. After that is "Introducing Cameron Diaz," a thirteen-minute look at the choice of Ms. Diaz for her first big-screen role. Then, there are two more featurettes, "Cartoon Logic," thirteen minutes on the legendary Hollywood cartoon director Tex Avery, who inspired much of "The Mask," and "What Makes Fido Run," eleven minutes on the training of animals for motion pictures.
The extras wrap up with two additional scenes: an alternate opening, "The Viking Scene," and "The Death of Peggy"; a widescreen theatrical trailer; twenty-five scene selections; and English and German spoken languages and captions for the hearing impaired.
"The Mask" is my favorite Jim Carrey film, and it's probably his best acting prior to getting serious in "The Truman Show." "The Mask" confirmed that Carrey was a versatile performer and more than just a poor man's latter-day imitation of Jerry Lewis. I enjoyed the movie's humor and I enjoyed its visual shenanigans, a kind of "Roger Rabbit" on steroids that still holds up well after all these years.