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The Mask: Who Wore It Better?

There are more differences than similarities between The Mask movie and the graphic novel

Comic book movies are big business. Marvel’s The Avengers made $623 million at the box office. DC’s The Dark Knight made $534 million worldwide. It should come as no surprise that Hollywood execs look to the pages of popular comics for inspiration.

More films than you might think began life as comic books/graphic novels. Some are obvious comic book adaptations, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC’s Extended Universe. Others, you wouldn’t know without having first been exposed to the printed source material.

Here’s just a sampling of movies inspired by comics and graphic novels:
300
Constantine
The Crow
Ghost World
From Hell
Howard the Duck
Kick-Ass
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Mystery Men
Road to Perdition
The Rocketeer
Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Sin City
Tank Girl
Spawn
V for Vendetta
Wanted

In 1994, New Line Cinema turned Dark Horse’s The Mask into a film starring Jim Carrey. The premise of the film is simple. A lovable loser name Stanley Ipkiss finds a green mask. When he dons the jade mask, he gains extraordinary powers including shape-shifting, superhuman strength, and near invulnerability.

The Mask
The Mask

It’s Party Time! P! A! R! T! Y? Because I Gotta!

Along with the physical changes, Stanley undergoes a shift in personality. The mask takes away his inhibitions and pumps his Id into overdrive. He becomes a benevolent, mischievous sort of superhero. In the film, Ipkiss’ alter ego is referred to as The Mask. The backstory given is that the mask is a depiction of Loki, Norse god and trickster.

In the end of the film, Stanley gets the girl and ditches the mask in the river. The story ends up being a classic happily ever after, because Hollywood.

The comic book source material is much darker. “Big Head,” as The Mask’s main character is known in the early books, is based off black comedy characters like The Joker, The Creeper, and Mr. Hyde of Jekyl and Hyde. The movie is rated PG-13 for “stylized violence.” The comic is rated 14+ for comedic ultra-violence.

Don’t Put It On! Don’t Ever Put It On!!

“It doesn’t matter who you are. Once you put on the mask, you’re a homicidal lunatic with a bad taste for bad jokes and seriously deranged violence. And nothing–but nothing–can kill you!”

The comic book Ipkiss is a weak and neurotic character. He purchases the jade mask as an apology gift for his girlfriend. After the mask begins speaking to him, Ipkiss tries it on and transforms into Big Head. Stanley goes on a brutal killing spree, targeting people he believes have wronged him.

His nocturnal expeditions begin to take a toll on Ipkiss. He becomes verbally abusive to his girlfriend Kathy and she throws him out. Stanley breaks into her apartment and steals the mask, which she has kept. Technically, it belongs to her.

Later in the story, Kathy will shoot Stanley and take the mask, becoming the second Big Head. Later still, Lieutenant Kellaway will don the mask and become the third Big Head. After Kellaway, there are a string of other Big Heads. The mask itself is the character, regardless who is wearing it.

The Mask Returns
The Mask Returns

Which is Better?

Jim Carrey was an excellent choice to portray Ipkiss/Big Head/The Mask in the film adaptation. Many of the practical effects were created solely with prosthetics and Carrey’s ability to effortlessly twist his face inside out. The more spectacular effects were done with CGI that was cutting edge at the time the film was released. The CGI effects have aged, but not as badly as some of the other films from the same era.

With that being said, there are no restrictions on comic book effects. There are no budgetary constraints. There are no limits on how many explosions a sequence can have or how gory a sequence can be. There’s no struggle between using hokey practical effects or digital effects that look cool today, but may look awful in ten years. Technological advances in home entertainment are rarely kind to older effects.

The toned down horror elements in the movie allowed a larger audience to be exposed to the story. The movie evolved into a sort of violent comedy rather than a funny horror story. There are several scenes in the comic where Big Head appears to be wearing the skin of his victims as disguises. It’s hard to imagine Jim Carrey pulling off an Otis B. Driftwood (From The Devil’s Reject) on the silver screen.

Mediums are not Equal

Comparing mediums is difficult when talking about a movie adaptation of a comic. Fans who have read the book prior to seeing the film may be disappointed that their favorite scenes were condensed, changed, or simply omitted entirely. People who buy the book after seeing the film may be surprised by the darker tone and the hyped up violence.

The Mask Strikes Back
The Mask Strikes Back

It simply boils down to this: Movies aren’t books. It just isn’t possible to translate some material from graphic novel to live action. Conversely some of the material works better on screen than on the page.

So, the book is better. The book is always better. Except when it isn’t. But in the case of The Mask, the book is the winner.

JUDGE FOR YOURSELF AND READ THE MASK, THE MASK RETURNS, AND THE MASK STRIKES BACK

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Written by Brendan Allen

Brendan Allen has probably had more jobs than you would reasonably believe. Dog trainer? He’s done it. Flooring contractor? Yep! EMT? Army NBC specialist? Road dog for a Celtic rock band? Yes, yes, and och aye! Now he reads comics and writes about them. His kids think he's Batman, and he just may be.