The Mask completes 25 years: Chuck Russell's film championed VFX, propelled Jim Carrey to superstardom
The Mask was a rare 'superhero' film that did not carry the burden of saving the entire civilisaton.
Chuck Russell's 1994 'superhero' movie The Mask completes 25 years today on 29 July. On revisiting the film many years later, it is clear that through his maverick filmmaking and path-breaking VFX technology, Russell provided an outlet to the audiences' deepest darkest desires. As a character enunciates in the film, "everybody is wearing a mask."
In the film, a hilarious yet vulnerable Jim Carrey plays Stanley Ipkis, an average bank official who believe he is a social failure until he discovers the Mask. As soon as he puts it on, he starts dishing out pranks and pop culture references (to his landlady, passers-by, and a gang of street thieves). The symbolism turns literal when all Stanley needs is a mask to channel his innermost desire. He claims that with this incredible newfound power, he can protect the world from all evils and prove to be a superhero. The next morning, Stanley conveniently forgets about his transformation and thinks the last night was just a dream. But the damages are real. His landlady has witnessed The Mask, as per the police. The street thieves have fled, save one, who is being taken to a medical facility because The Mask fired at him the previous night from his Tommy gun, which prompted him to take refuge in a community dustbin the whole night.
He is the superhero the world desperately needs but genuinely does not deserve.
It is never clear whether Stanley actually transformed into The Mask or whether he merely visualised the idea in his head. Nevertheless, the creative call to not clarify worked in the favour of the audience, who consider Stanley/The Mask as aspirational. He's able to break out of the monotony of a regular job to say things he desperately need to say, to do the things he desperately wants to do. His alter ego of The Mask governs his choices.
Stanley gradually becomes funnier, more daring, more desperate, and more vengeful owing to The Mask's influence at night. In an interesting scene, when Stanley finds it difficult to confess his love to Cameron Diaz's character Tina, he becomes The Mask to gain confidence. Tina, completely in awe of The Mask's unbelievably forward gestures, does not give in till the climax when Stanley reveals to her that he is, in fact, The Mask and kisses her moments after throwing the Mask in the river, back where he first discovered it.
Stanley's resolve to become more The Mask-like in his daily life without the aid of the actual instrument is not misplaced at all. This is not only because The Mask rubs off on Stanley but because his gestures as The Mask often encourage others to drop their guard around him. Russell shows us through the film that everyone has a real, fun side to them but circumstances force them to develop a guard for themselves.
Russell introduced VFX as a storytelling tool to project The Mask's horseplay and dominated pop-culture of the time, much before VFX and superhero films became synonymous. In an exclusive interview with Firstpost, he said, "When they couldn't create water and a furry dog, I told them I'll get them a dog with short hair so that they can get it done." Whatever gaps the CGI department left owing to budget constraints, Russell filled those with real yet supportive elements. He mentioned the primary reason he cast Carrey as the protagonist was because "his already cartoonish ability to twist his face into odd shapes suited the role perfectly." Thus, it saved the production company a lot of money in terms of VFX. It worked out well for both parties since The Mask pushed Carrey to super-stardom in the 1990s.
It is a pity then that The Mask lost the Academy Award for the Best Special Effects to Forrest Gump the next year.
In the same interview to Firstpost, Russell said, "It was a rare superhero film that did not carry the burden of saving the civilisation. Rather, it was more a coming-of-age film that made the audience feel liberated at least at the thought of acting like a buffoon whenever they wanted to. Back then, CGI was just a tool to make the experience of watching a film more immersive, it has now become a tacky tool of exhibitionism in every superhero or adventure film now. "
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