The year is 1989. Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’ is released, starring Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton and Kim Bassinger. The film is overwhelmingly successful, taking in $411.5 Million worldwide at the box office and receiving praise from critics and fans of the comics. Fellow studios take notice of the success of ‘Batman’ and so plan their own film adaptations of popular comic books.
Slasher films became a dying breed towards the end of the 80’s and thus ending their reign as box office dominators, comic book superhero films were on the way in for the 90’s.
In the meantime, there was New Line Cinema. Also released in 1989 was the fifth instalment in the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ franchise with ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child’ which was not well received by fans and critics. This left New Line Cinema with a dying franchise and a need for a new intellectual property that could potentially be turned into a franchise.
Also, in the meantime, a certain comic book character had been doing the rounds since 1989 although the character was conceived in 1982 by Mike Richardson who would start a publisher called ‘Dark Horse Comics’ in 1986. The character of the Mask (then released as ‘The Masque’) appeared as a strip in early issues of ‘Dark Horse Presents’. Designed and written by writer and artist, Mark Badger, Richardson ended the strip as the content was becoming too political and wanted the character to remain closer to his original vision. Richardson brought in artist, Chris Warner to reissue the character which would be closer in concept to a sketch that Richardson issued to an amateur press publication, ‘APA-5’ in 1985.
The year is 1989. Wait. We’ve been here before. It’s OK, though. This is good. In 1989, Mike Richardson, writer, John Arcudi and artist, Doug Mahnke came together to bring the Dark Horse ‘Mayhem’ anthology series which saw the character of ‘The Mask’ come to life. It was said that this series of ‘The Mask’ was seen as a combination of Tex Avery and The Terminator. The success was short-lived as ‘Mayhem’ was cancelled after 4 issues.
However, the stories involving ‘The Mask’ from the four issues of ‘Mayhem’ were collected and re-distributed in the form of ‘The Mask #0’ in 1991.
Here is the basic background of the comics.
The story follows an everyman, Stanley Ipkiss who is portrayed to be a weak and neurotic man. One day, he’s in an antique store and buys a present for his girlfriend, Kathy. The present is am old ‘jade’ mask but in time, the mask begins to speak to Stanley and once Stanley puts the mask on, he is transformed into a supernatural being with a large, green head and absurdly large teeth. Stanley begins to take revenge on the people who have wronged him as this character and his antics earn him the nickname of ‘Big Head’.
That’s the basics and the comic book explores various people wearing the mask and committing various acts of mischief, revenge and just plain horrific murder.
Richardson and Todd Moyer (Executive Vice President) first approached New Line Cinema with the film adaptation of ‘The Mask’ in 1989. Originally, New Line Cinema wanted to create a new horror franchise with The Mask as the central antagonist and approached Director, Chuck Russell with the task of directing. Russell’s most successful work to date had been directing and co-writing ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors’.
Russell like the idea of ‘The Mask’ but wanted to change it from a horror film into more of a romantic comedy with cartoon elements, live-action crossed with full 3D animation and more of a noir setting. You can imagine how New Line felt about that. They didn’t like it.
Nevertheless, Russell brought in screenwriter, Mike Werb and his first draft of ‘The Mask’ was greenlit for production less than two months after finishing it.
Russell immediately wanted Jim Carrey for the role of Stanley Ipkiss and ultimately the character of The Mask having seen his stand-up on the sketch show, ‘In Living Colour’. Carrey was presented with the script and accepted. It isn’t known if Carrey knew that Russell had told Mike Werb to write the character of Stanley with Jim Carrey in mind.
Then came time to cast the role of Tina Carlyle. The casting crew saw a lot of actresses and models for the role under instruction from Russell that he wanted a cast of complete unknowns. In the same building where they were casting for the film was the ‘Elite’ modelling agency and they were approached by the production, asking if they had anyone on their books who fit the role of Tina. The agency put for the name of a 19 year old who wasn’t really interesting in acting but might it a go.
That name was Cameron Diaz.
Russell wanted her for the role but New Line weren’t so enthusiastic. To cut a long story short, Diaz auditioned 12 times for the part, on her own and with Jim Carrey to show their chemistry and to try and convince the producers to hire her. New Line weren’t budging and so in the end, Russell put his own job on the line and threatened to walk away from the production if Cameron Diaz wasn’t hired. New Line caved and Diaz was hired just seven days before filming started.
Here’s a basic outline of the plot for ‘The Mask’.
Stanley Ipkiss is a single bank employee in Edge City. He is repeatedly trounced, stepped on and humiliated by everyone except his own friend at work, Charlie (Richard Jeni). Stanley meets Tina at the bank and One night, Stanley notices a body floating in a river and dives in to save them but the ‘body’ is just a load of trash. In the river, he finds a mask and takes it home with him. Back in his apartment, Stanley puts on the mask and transforms into a wacky, charismatic, mischievous, smart-mouthed and above all, invulnerable being.
It’s suggested that The Mask brings to the surface the wearers desired emotions and doing so in a way that also appeals to the wearer. For example, Stanley has a love of cartoons and so when he becomes The Mask, he can manipulate the world around him so it becomes more ‘cartoon like’. The Mask’s method of movement is a whirl-wind like the Tazmanian Devil and the scene where The Mask tries to seduce Tina in Landfill Park is in the style of Pepe LePew.
To become The Mask, and series of 17 Latex pieces were purposefully placed over the muscles of Carrey’s face to amplify his facial features and expressions. The whole process took about four hours and was completed by a giant set of teeth. Originally, when Carrey was wearing the teeth, he would mouth his lines and they would go back and dub his voice in later, but Carrey learned how to talk with them in so that process wasn’t needed. You’ll notice when watching that when Carrey has the teeth in, they affect his speech. His ‘S’s are not fully pronounced and that’s because of the teeth.
Even more money was saved on digital effects when it came to Carrey’s movements. Such as the first time Stanley puts on the mask, there’s a shot of Stanley looking up at the camera with the not yet fully formed mask on and his face is stretched in a rather cartoonish way. The ‘stretching’ was not achieving digitally, rather Carrey already had the ability to stretch and contort his face as he’d had much practise during his stand-up routine. The shot of the mask of his face whilst looking up at the camera was placed on digitally.
The film does go against its source material. Milo the dog wasn’t in the comics but created for the film. Milo was played the Jack Russell Terrier, Max. The film’s main antagonist and Tina’s boyfriend, Dorian Tyrell was also a creation for the film. Dorian is player by the very underrated and underused, Peter Greene. Dorian has his own gang of criminals but Dorian himself answers to crime boss, Niko (Orestes Matacena) who Dorian plans on removing and putting himself as the new boss of the crime syndicate. Dorian is portrayed to be selfish, psychotic, manipulative and arrogant but he’s also very charismatic and stunningly handsome.
One other character who is from the comics is Lt Kellaway. In the comics, Kellaway receives the mask and becomes ‘Big Head’ where he starts killing crime bosses. Although he has good intentions, the mask makes him become the very thing he’s fighting against.
In the film, Lt Kellaway is played by Peter Reigert and the character is more of a thorn in Stanley’s side. He’s on the trail of The Mask and has Stanley pinned from day one.
There’s much more of an emotional side to the film as well. It’s more to do with Stanley as a character. When he’s plain old Stanley, he’s seen as a loser who works in a bank. He hates confrontation and accepts all the misery that happens to him only to go home to his one room bedsit and his only joys in life are Milo and cartoons.
However, when he becomes The Mask, he’s suddenly all powerful and confident and popular. When he’s given a newspaper clipping of Tina performing at the Coco Bongo, he has a dream where he’s able to win over Tina by being cool and charismatic. When he wakes up, he sees the clipping and realises that the only way to become the person that would win over Tina, is to put on the mask.
He does so and The Mask sets off the Coco Bongo.
The voice of Tina singing is not Cameron Diaz’s voice. Singer, Susan Boyd recorded the song ‘Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You’ and her voice was dubbed in over Diaz’s performance. In preparation for the dance sequence at the Coco Bongo with Tina and The Mask, both Diaz and Carrey took dancing lessons but if you look closely, you can see that some of the more complicated moves were performed by professional dancers.
One of the famed sequences in the movie is the ‘Cuban Pete’ song and dance number which sees The Mask cornered by dozens of armed police and, in need of a distraction, changes into a ‘mariachi’ style singer with maracas and everything. He gets the police involved and by the end, he’s got the whole police force in a massive conga until Kellaway interrupts and The Mask slips away.
The producers hated the addition, saying that it dragged on, it wasn’t funny and insisted the scene be cut. However, when the film was shown to test audiences, they polled that the ‘Cuban Pete’ sequence was the best in the movie. With this insight, the producers allowed the scene to remain. I like the sequence. I think it’s great. Jim Carrey’s a good singer.
Stanley ends up being rescued by Peggy (Amy Yasbeck) who is a nice reporter that Stanley met earlier on. She seems to really like Stanley but ends up double crossing him by claimed the reward put out by Dorian to hand over The Mask. Dorian takes the mask and puts it on, becoming a hulking, demonic like figure. In an uncredited appearance, American actor, Garret Sato portrayed Dorian whilst wearing the mask.
The finale at the Coco Bongo is an elaborate affair. It consists of Masked Dorian showing up with his crew and killing Niko in a shootout that had to be cut down to keep the film PG-13. Dorian ties up Tina and sets a timer on a bomb. Stanley was given to the police by Dorian’s crew and soon breaks out with the help of Milo. He takes Kellaway hostage and goes after Tina but he’s soon caught and taken to Dorian. Tina tricks Dorian into removing the mask and giving her one last kiss and Dorian obliges but Tina kicks the mask away wear it’s found and then worn by Milo. Stanley grabs Milo and gets the mask back wear he turns into our green-faced troublemaker, swallows the bomb, kills Dorian and rescues Tina. Dorian is considered to have been The Mask all along and Stanley is not only in the clear but revered as a hero.
The very end is quite sweet.
As the sun rises, Stanley, Tina, Charlie and Milo stop at the bridge where Stanley found the mask at the start. Stanley and Tina head out to the edge and Stanley asks Tina if she’ll miss ‘this guy’ because all that will be left is him. Tina takes the mask and throws it into the river clearly showing that all she needs is Stanley.
Charlie ends up jumping into the river as Stanley and Tina kiss and the original ending showed Charlie getting the mask, but the test audience hated that ending. The crew ended up going back and filming Milo getting the mask.
In post-production, there was still a lot of work that needed to be done. New Line had been watching the dailies that didn’t have all the effects in and so didn’t understand what was happening. Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) and Dream Quest Images were brought in to do the visual effects. Bear in mind that full 3D effects had never been used in comedies before and so they had a lot of work to do. ILM even created new software to be able to achieve the cartoonish style of the gags. The work of the visual effects team was so stunning that ‘The Mask’ was nominated for an Oscar for ‘Best Visual Effects’ but lost to ‘Forrest Gump’.
Even with the completion of the film, New Line were still uneasy. This film was going to need a lot of marketing since all the actors were unknown and so there were no draws. The film had a production budget of $18 Million which was the largest budget New Line Cinema had ever put into a film at that point.
In early 1994, New Line got the miracle they needed. On February 4th, 1994, ‘Ace Ventura: Pet Detective’ was released and became an instant hit. As a response, New Line took full advantage and the now iconic poster with Jim Carrey’s face as The Mask and his name above it was circulated, knowing that crowds would flock to see a film starring the new comedy sensation. AND BOY DID THEY FLOCK!
‘The Mask’ opened at #1 and grossed $119 Million domestically and another $232 Million internationally. In total, ‘The Mask’ took in a spectacular $351.6 Million worldwide against an £18 Million budget, making it the second highest grossing superhero movie at the time. ‘Batman (1989)’ still held the record which stood at $411.5 Million. That record has since been broken many times by the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ who are now pretty much just competing with themselves.
Naturally, the idea of a sequel was tossed around and initially, Jim Carrey was interested in returning but after ‘Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls’ was not very well received, Carrey became apprehensive about doing a sequel to ‘The Mask’ and so turned it down. A sequel did eventually get made and that came in the form of ‘Son of The Mask’ in 2005 but since it didn’t star Jim Carrey or Cameron Diaz, it bombed… big time. Critical and financial failure.
New Line didn’t know how much of a great deal they got for Jim Carrey. Reportedly, Carrey had received a $450,000 salary for working on ‘The Mask’ since he signed on before ‘Ace Ventura: Pet Detective’ was released and he became a star. Also reportedly, since ‘Ace Ventura’ was so successful, Carrey signed a $7 Million deal with New Line to star in ‘Dumb and Dumber’ before ‘The Mask’ was released.
Of ‘The Jim Carrey 3’, ‘The Mask’ was the most successful both critically and financially. That’s two hit films in a row… but it’s only July. There’s still a lot of year left to squeeze in one more film.
You should be.
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