Alexandre Dumas’ “The Man in the Iron Mask” is based around one of the most interesting mysteries of all time. The man in the iron mask is an enduring mystery to this day left to whispers and heavy speculation, but the movie from Randall Wallace never actually broaches much of that mystery. In fact, “The Man in the Iron Mask” treads lightly among the 1851 novel’s themes and narrative, in place of what is a mediocre, unfocused movie that is much too long in the tooth.
In the mid eighteenth century, the petulant and murderous Louis XIV rules over France and takes little sympathy toward his people. When he gains attraction to young Christine, he sends her husband Raoul off to war. After dying in combat, his father Athos swears vengeance and he and his fellow Musketeers Porthos and Aramos come out of retirement to free his twin brother and help him overthrow Louis. But this creates conflict in the kingdom, especially with D’Artagnan who is sworn to protect the king, but also struggles with the loyalty to his old friends.
Randall Wallace’s big budget adaptation is star studded but it doesn’t really do much to live up to the novel. Even with the co-starring turn by Leonardo DiCaprio (fresh off his success in “Titanic”), Wallace’s film never can rise to the occasion and commit to a laser focused narrative. There are a slew of sub-plots and conflicts, all of which are left dangling in the air. There’s D’Artagnan’s connection to Louis, and Phillipe’s relationship with his mother, as well as small threads of sub-plots including Phillipe’s sudden hallucinations during a party, and Porthos’ confrontation with VD.
The latter becomes a recurring plot point, especially when in the throes of women, as it’s subtly hinted he might be dying from something, but it’s never quite explored. Much of the narrative threads feel half baked and only slightly explored, including Phillipe whose adjustment to civilization after years in darkness behind an iron mask is rushed. The whole plot with Christine also ends on a stunning anti-climax, leaving everything feeling as if it’s speeding to the final half, rather than coming to a natural close. All things said, Wallace does compile a great respective cast, with Gabriel Byrne giving the stand out performance among the collective. “The Man in the Iron Mask” is definitely not the best of its ilk; it’s long in the tooth and unfocused and wastes its bang up cast.
The 20th Anniversary Edition from Shout Factory packs an Audio Commentary by Writer/Director Randall Wallace, the original track from MGM’s Laser Disc and DVD releases in 1998. Wallace offers some great, informative tidbits about the production. There’s an all new eighteen minutes Interview with Producer Paul Hitchcock who recalls the firing of a French producer who he replaced on Iron Mask and how the cast/crew bonded together to support him. There’s an eight minutes Interview with Production Designer Anthony Pratt who talks about his career as a set decorator up through ’98 and discusses the budgetary challenges he faced in getting the appropriate sets built for eighteenth-century France.
Myth and the Musketeers is a seven minutes featurettes carried over from the previous Laser Disc/DVD/BD releases, and has been upscaled. Director’s Take is a twenty nine minutes extension of Randall Wallace’s audio commentary; Wallace guides the viewer through the phases of writing, directing, casting, and the production of Iron Mask. There’s the four minutes Original 1998 Behind-the-Scenes Featurette which is pretty much an extended promotional trailer for the film. There’s also the two minutes Alternate Mask Prototypes, where director Wallace distinguishes between the different masks that were considered for the titular character. Finally, there are the original Theatrical Trailers from the European Fox releases of Iron Mask.