BIONICLE: MASK OF LIGHT REVIEW

“Wuh?! But this movie came out in like, 2003. Why are you reviewing something so old dude?” Quite simple: I have nothing better to do than remind you of a piece of your childhood you’ve probably forgotten. So let’s take a trip back in time to 2002, shall we?

2002 seems like a long time ago for me. Many of the people who’ll be reading this were probably barely out the crib in that year, but I was 9 years old and a huge LEGO and Bionicle fan, and one thing I’d always been wondering was why no one had ever made a LEGO movie. Seemed a pretty obvious gap in the film market to my 9 year old brain, which believe it or not was not much less developed back then than it is now.

So when I heard there was going to be a full length movie that would not only be LEGO related, but also a Bionicle film, to say I was excited  is the biggest understatement since George Lucas famously quipped “I may have gone a bit far in a few places” after viewing the rough cut of The Phantom Menace.

Now this may not seem like a big deal to a lot of you, after all what with The Adventures of Clutch Powers and now FOUR Bionicle movies, you’re probably thinking I was a fairly disturbed kid to be making such a big deal over a LEGO movie. And you’re absolutely right, but trust me when I say, back then; this movie was my generation’s Lord of the Rings. Or it would be if Return of the King hadn’t come out at the end of that year.

Finally the day came when the movie was released. On video not in the cinema, though that was a carefree time when I didn’t understand the difference between a feature film and a straight-to-video release. Unfortunately I didn’t see the film for a fair while, by which time most of my friends had seen it and ruined it for me. Then when we finally got the film, my younger brother watched it first and ruined it for me all over again.

But despite these multiple spoiler waves, I finally sat down one afternoon after school to watch the film, only to have it ruined all over again when I discovered my brother hadn’t been kind enough to rewind the video. So the first time I technically watched the film it was in reverse sped up. Again, you’re probably all scratching your heads wondering what this concept of “Rewind” is. Ah, the era of videotape. Thank God for DVDs getting rid of that crap.

All joking aside, I did eventually get round to watching the movie, in the right order, having done my best to purge the spoilers from my cerebral cortex. How was it? Well, I don’t really remember what I thought.

Sorry if you were expecting disappointment, joy or something from my 9 year old mind, but in all honesty I didn’t really have any strong feelings about the movie at the time. I guess I liked it, because I ended up watching it multiple times, but this was an age where I wasn’t particularly opinionated about films the same way I am now. I sat through The Cat in Hat with a smile on my face back then. Please don’t judge me.

In fact, all I really remember when I think about my first viewing of the film opinion wise is stuff my mind designated “cool”. It was cool to see the Bionicles in action, it was awesome to hear how they talked and what they sounded like (something I’d always wondered while playing with the toys and reading the comic), and it was just awesome that someone had actually made a LEGO film at last. And that’s probably why I ended up rewatching the film so many times.

Well, the years war on and after several hundred rewatchings of Mask of Light I finally got bored of it and allowed it to simply float around the house, always aware of its presence, but never really acknowledging it, and pretty soon it was largely forgotten, replaced by The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and Attack of the Clones (seriously guys, don’t judge me, I was a stupid kid).

Now I’ve mucked you guys around for the last several hundred words with that lame story to give you some context I can actually get into commenting on the film properly. But first, a special treat: MORE context!

I actually rewatched the film again very recently, about a month ago to be exact. I never got around to watching the third Bionicle film Web of Shadows as a kid, so I decided to check it out and found it on YouTube. After watching it, I thought it’d be fun to go back and give Mask of Light another whirl and see what I thought of it as a more mature film viewer. Okay, maybe not mature, but experienced. Okay, maybe not that either, but… ah, screw it.

So what did I think of the film nine years on? Well, to be perfectly honest I felt pretty much the same way I did back then. I didn’t have any particularly strong feelings about it.

Okay, after that cop out answer you probably want more, so I think it’s probably best to think about what this film did right and what it did wrong.

In terms of right, the film still looks pretty good. Despite being a fairly low budget video release, the animation was surprisingly impressive. The characters all have expressive faces, the environments look good and there’s a real sense of scale and epicness to the whole affair.

Secondly, the voice acting in the film’s also very good. A cast of well-established and mostly Canadian voice actors round out the cast, and while you may not recognise any of their names (shame on you!) believe me when I say they’re pretty huge in the VO industry. Veteran voice artists like Scott McNeil (of Beast Wars fame), Kathleen Barr (Ed, Edd n Eddy) and Michael Dobson (Transformers: Armada’s Starscream) all turn in great performances as various Toa and Matoran and Lee Tockar (Eugene from Johnny Test… seriously, I’m not kidding, look it up) gives a truly menacing performance as Makuta. Interestingly, he also voiced Pewku the Crab. Now that’s talent.

However, arguably one of the most remarkable things about the film is something I don’t usually pay much attention to in movies, and that’s the musical score. Nathan Furst, the composer, did a really great job here and I still find myself humming some of the more epic tracks from the film. Sad, isn’t it?

The message of the film isn’t too bad either, if not very original. It’s the usual fluff about always being true to oneself and always having hope: nothing too taxing, but serviceable enough.

Now I’ve talked about all the stuff the film got right, it’s time to talk about some of the less successful aspects. First and foremost is the story. It’s not bad, but the film seems to demand that the audience have an intricate knowledge of the storyline of the Bionicle comics. Now, granted you can argue you should only watch the film if you’re a Bionicle fan in the first place, but movies are supposed to be for everyone, and if you haven’t ever looked at a Bionicle comic you’ll be left scratching your head and wondering if you missed a movie. It’s not quite as baffling as the Star Wars prequels, but I can imagine it being pretty impenetrable to the uninitiated.

I was also surprised by just how derivative some scenes in the film were. The scene where Takua hops across the lava to retrieve the totem and the subsequent action is a blatant mirroring of the famous opening scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Also, two small Matoran heading off on a quest with an important, potentially world-ending MacGuffin while being pursued by six shadowy assassins… is it just me or does that sound a little like The Lord of the Rings to anyone?

The main character, Takua is also a bit of a problem. Again, he’s not bad per se, but he does some pretty questionable things. Passing off the responsibility of his quest on to Jaller because he’s too scared to it himself? Hm… that doesn’t sit quite right with me. Granted you can say he didn’t think things through and goes through redemption in the end, but the film’s pretty murky about the whole issue.

The final problem is the animation. I know I said it was very good for this standard of film, and I stand by that statement, but there are some areas where it’s a bit shonky. Some examples include the beginning of the destruction of Onu-Koro, and the fight scene at the end where there’s some rather obvious recycling of stock footage.

But overall, how do I rate Mask of Light? Well there are certainly worse films out there to watch. I personally think this film is more worthy of your time than any of the Michael Bay Transformers films or the Star Wars Prequels. It’s by no means a perfect film, but for what it is, it’s pretty good entertainment. As direct-to-video films go it’s miles ahead of most of the garbage Disney Toon Studios used to crank out to turn a profit.

So go on, why not give it a viewing? The film’s available in its entirety on YouTube, so now you have no excuse. Treat yourself to some nostalgia.

Final Verdict: 3/5

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