Dir: Terry Shakespeare, David Molina
Jason Michas, Andrew Francis
Lee Tockar, Christopher Gaze
Scott McNeil, Kathleen Barr
In the time before time, the great
spirit known as Mata Nui visited an island, bringing with him the
race known as the Matoran. Mata Nui bestowed this race with the
three virtues - Unity, Duty and Destiny - and in return, the
Matoran named the island paradise after their great spirit. But
Mata Nui's brother, the master of shadows, the Makuta, grew
jealous of these virtues, and cast a spell on him, plunging him
into a deep slumber, that allowed the Makuta to spread his evil
across Mata Nui. In response, came the Toa... six mighty warriors
of unknown origin, adorned with the great Kanohi Masks which give
them their elemental powers. United, they would perform their
duty, and fulfil their destiny to defeat the Makuta and his
So goes the story of Lego's "Bionicle" toyline, which began in the 90's as their attempt to break into the world of action figures. And it was a runaway success, too - in the intervening years, the Toa have battled the Makuta's Rahi, Bohrok, mutated Bohrok-Kal, and been evolved into even more powerful forms, those of the Toa Nuva. So the stage is set for "Bionicle: Mask of Light," the direct-to-video/DVD that represents the line's first foray into the world of animation.
Each threat the Makuta has sent against the Toa has been summarily defeated, and the island of Mata Nui is adjusting to the new state of peace. In celebration, a game of the traditional sport of Kohli is arranged, but just before participating in it, Takua (Michas), the chronicler of the island, and Jaller (Francis), captain of the guards of the village of Ta-Koro, discover the fabled Mask of Light. When this is revealed to the village at the Kohli game, Turaga Vakama (Gaze), realises that a great prophecy is coming true, and that Takua and Jaller must set out in search of the seventh Toa. Takua, as the one who discovered the mask, is the true herald of the Toa, but the irresponsible youth isn't willing to accept the duty, and tricks everyone into believe Jaller is the herald. As the duo set out across Mata-Nui, guided by the light of the mask, deep beneath the island's surface, the Makuta (Tockar) learns of their quest, and knows that he must unleash the most deadly of his creations - the Rahkshi. And now, as Jaller and Takua race to accomplish their quest, Takua plagued by the doubts within himself that the Makuta can exploit, the estranged Toa, led by Toa Tahu (McNeil) and mediated by Toa Gali (Barr), must overcome their differences and unite to stop the Rahkshi before they can prevent the coming of the seventh Toa, and the awakening of Mata Nui himself...
"Mask of Light" is a fully CGI affair, and it's an impressive-looking one. When something goes direct to video or DVD, it's generally a tendency for it to lack lustre, but this movie is bright and full of life, with intelligent, thought-out redesigns of the existing toys to make them work in animated form (most notably, they've got mouths and fingers now, which they would obviously need). This quality extends to the writing and general treatment of the movie by its creators - it's treated with a very real sense of respect, which keeps the story mature but fully accessibly to all ages, without slipping into childishness to try and hold the attentions of the younger crowd. However, I must confess to feeling a bit disappointed when they cheaped out and brought characters back to life after their deaths, clearly for the sake of the kids at home. Nevertheless, I've read several reviews by parents who bought the title for their kids, and wound up being glued to it along with them. Of course, as a toy tie-in, there are some parts of the movie where you can see the commercial aspect at work, notably the way in which Takua and Jaller travel all over the island and just happen to get to meet every Toa (of course, the movie even makes this part of the story, as bringing the six Toa together in this way is part of the prophecy - the writer of this really knew what he was doing!).
The characters in the movie are surprisingly well-defined and fleshed out, given its fairly short running time, particularly Takua, as he the is star, and really gets to mature in ways you won't expect. The actors chosen for the roles are a big part of this - the "making of" in the extras details how Michas and Francis had the roles they auditioned for swapped over because their own personalities fitted them better. The cast is comprised of Canadian voice actors, many of whom work with the popular Ocean Group. The popular (but overrated) Scott McNeil does double duty as both Toa Tahu and Toa Onua, and I'm rather glad they didn't give him any more roles, because he's simply not as talented as everyone presents him to be (fangirls who want Duo Maxwell to talk dirty to them, for example, or Transformers fans, as McNeil voiced four characters in the Beast Wars series, using his talents to their extremes). Christopher Gaze puts his marvellous Shakespearean voice to work as Turaga Vakama, with a move narration that gives me a little tingle. Toa Lewa, however, seems to be a sticking point for Bionicle fans, who disliked the way Dale Wilson performed the character, and the dialogue written for him, presenting him to be... well, a tree-hugging hippie. It's a sticking point because the dialogue and tone don't match with his previous portrayal in the Bionicle comic books, but I'm not versed in those, so it didn't bother me, and my brother and I both enjoyed the portrayal and got a chuckle out of the character.
"Bionicle: Mask of Light" has a little something for everyone - an intelligent plot with some surprises, lots of cool, super-powered action and well-crafted and likeable characters voiced by a talented cast. You may feel slightly irritated, however, that it ends on a cliff-hanger of sorts - the plot of the movie is resolved, but the ending is VERY open, setting up the next year of the Bionicle story. But if that means we can get another movie of this quality, I'm all for it!
Rating: 4 out of 5
Specifications for the R2 disc are:
Aspect Ratio - 1.78:1 (Anamorphic widescreen)
Audio - 5.1 English (why is there a language selection menu when there's only one?)
Scene Selection - Twelve chapter points (needs more!)
Subtitles - English, English for the hearing impaired
The Making of "Bionicle: Mask of Light" - a ten-minute documentary on bringing the Bionicle toyline to the small screen.
Mata Nui Explorer - an interactive map that allows the viewer to select different regions of the island of Mata Nui, to learn about it's villages, their Toa, Turaga and other inhabitants, and also the Rahkshi. It's all narrated by Takua and is particularly useful and informative for those who aren't fully up to speed on the Bionicle universe (like me!). However, there are some deliberate yet glaring omissions, namely Turaga Vakama, the most important Turaga in the movie and its frickin' narrator (the other two Turaga are included in this feature), and half of the Rahkshi - for no other reason, it would seem, than the fact they couldn't fit them into one page. Second page, boys? No?
Wall of History - best described as a text commentary, when you turn this option on while watching the movie, text captions pop up throughout the feature, giving information and back story on the Bionicle universe. Anyone who knows their Bionicle will presumably know it all already, though, but for people like me, it's useful and interesting - although from the arrival at Onu-Koro onward, the number of captions takes a very sharp decline.
Filmmaker Commentary - Terry Shakespeare and David Molina deliver a full-length commentary throughout the film. They take a little while to get into the swing of it, starting out a bit hesitantly, not helped by the fact they've got kinda boring voices, but once they get going, they provide some interesting insight into the making of the film. It's also further evidence of what I said before - these guys respected this project.
Sneak Peek - a brief, minute-long segment with Executive Producer Bob Thompson, who gives us a few hints as to what is in store for the Bionicle storyline and characters in 2004.
Cutting Room Floor - two minutes and thirty seconds of deleted scenes that didn't make it into the movie. You can see why, as they're all very inconsequential little snippets, aside from an alternate version of the Makuta's first scene. They can also be viewed with commentary from Shakespeare and Molina - consequently, to facilitate this, they're all strung together without any division in between them, so it can be a bit of a blur.
Storyboard to Film Comparison - watch a scene from the movie (Gali observing as the Rahkshi emerge), with either scrolling storyboard illustrations or raw greyscale CGI running alongside it, pressing Angle to toggle between the two.
Publicity and Advertising - a series of commercials for the movie and related merchandise, specifically: a teaser trailer, a full trailer, ads for each individual Rahkshi toy (that's six in all), and an ad for the Bionicle video game.
I was surprised and impressed by the sheer volume of extra features on this disc, as it puts to shame many other single-disc releases of movies, made all the more respectable by the fact that the movie is 'just' a direct-to-video/DVD toyline tie-in. It shows, as I've stated before, that the creators treated the movie with respect and took it seriously. If the fairly short running time of the movie had you questioning the value for money at work on this disc, this wealth of extras will allay your fears.
Extras Rating: 4 out of 5