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The Man in the Iron Mask [1998] (DVD)

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Genre: Action & Adventure / Theatrical Release: 1998 / Suitable for 12 years and over / Director: Randall Wallace / Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gérard Depardieu, Gabriel Byrne ... / DVD released 2000-02-01 at MGM Entertainment / Features of the DVD: Dubbed, PAL, Widescreen

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      19.03.2013 13:56
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      Not awful by any means, just meh...

      The ritual Spring clean is under way at chez Decanus, and all sorts of things are resurfacing; an old Sting album, a Tower of London bookmark, and among the banished dvd's, 'The Man in the Iron Mask', which I will review here. I had vague memories of not liking this much, which was a shame as I liked the original book, but thought it fun to fire it up again and see what I thought now...(and obviously, being a man, before I can throw anything away I have to watch/ listen/ read/ play with it one more time...)

      The Man in the Iron Mask came out in 1998, and was very much the baby of Randall Wallace, who not only directed it, but also produced it and wrote the script/ adaptation. I would imagine it was greenlight almost solely on the basis the headline star would be Leonardo Di Caprio, this being his first film since Titanic and he being at the top of his fame. The support cast was pretty darn fine too -

      Leonardo DiCaprio as King Louis XIV/Philippe
      Jeremy Irons as Aramis
      John Malkovich as Athos
      Gabriel Byrne as D'Artagnan
      Gérard Depardieu as Porthos
      Anne Parillaud as Queen Mother Anne of Austria
      Judith Godrèche as Christine
      Peter Sarsgaard as Raoul
      Edward Atterton as Lieutenant Andre
      Hugh Laurie as Pierre, Advisor to King
      David Lowe as Advisor to King Louis XIV

      On paper, this had all the right elements to succeed. So what's it about?

      Well, despite the title, huge liberties are taken with the original book by Alexandre Dumas, with story elements being used from other books in the 'Dumas Universe'; as has also been pointed out, the film nicks a few ideas from early film adaptations too, notably the Douglas Fairbanks 1929 verson. The film version sees the decadent King Louis IV in charge of a France of the wealthy and the very poor, and we know very early on he's a bad one as he steals someone's girlfriend by sending the partner off to war and making sure he doesn't come back. Unfortunately for him, it was the son of Athos, one of the (now retired) Three Musketeers; Athos gets the gang back together again (Aramis and Porthos), but find themsleves in conflict against old friend D'Artagnan, who is still loyal to the King.
      The Musketeers plan to replace the nasty king with his brother, who is held prisoner as 'the Man in the Iron Mask'. After freeing Philippe from prison, the switch is accomplished at a fancy dress ball. It doesn't last long however as Philippe is just too nice, and stands out too much. Louis is restored, Philippe captured and sent to the Bastille, despite the pleadings of D'Artagnan.

      The Three Musketeers, now joined by D'Artagnan, decide to storm the Bastille to free Phillipe, and lots of swashbuckling ensues. When the dust settles D'Artagnan is dead, and Louis and Philippe have their clothes swapped, so now the nasty Louis is the 'Man in the Iron Mask' and Philippe is the King. Phew...
      Happy endings all round, as 'King Louis IV/ Philippe' goes on to become France's greatest ruler.

      Did I enjoy it more this time round? not really. I still really like the cast, who perform pretty well in their roles across the board, and Irons, Malkovitch, and Depardieu ham it up admirably as the Musketeers. I just felt that, apart from the set piece fights/ escapes/ plot exposition there wasn't a whole lot here. DiCaprio was pantomime villain bad as Louis, pantomime angelic as Philippe (suitably podgy as the dissolute king, but why podgy as the prisoner?). I know it is a movie, and there must be artistic licence, but the historical inaccuracies, and the literary ones, are just too many for me to forgive.

      Ultimately, its a bit of popcorn movie viewing that will kill an afternoon. It will insult your intelligence a little, but do it in such a nice way you'll probably forgive it. Would I watch it again...nah. But I've thanked it for stopping by.

      The DVD has two extras on it; there is a directors commentary, which is perfectly fine, and a trailer.

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