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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Mask of Zorro (Superbit Deluxe) (1998)

Don Diego de la Vega: Do you know how to use that thing?
Alejandro Murrieta: Yes. The pointy end goes into the other man.

- Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas

Review By: Brian Calhoun  
Published: October 23, 2002

Stars: Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stuart Wilson
Other Stars: Matt Letscher, Tony Amendola, Julieta Rosen, José María de Tavira, Raúl Martínez, Victor Rivers, L.Q. Jones
Director: Martin Campbell

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense action and violence
Run Time: 02h:17m:28s
Release Date: September 17, 2002
UPC: 043396094178
Genre: adventure


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+A-A B-

DVD Review

After sitting through countless films that rely on computer-generated effects and generic one-liners in lieu of a good story, I had all but given up on the majestic splendor that action epics of old had to offer. I was thrilled to find that The Mask of Zorro honors both the wit and excitement that is dreadfully lacking in modern day action pictures. It is a keen throwback to the olden days, an adventure picture that dazzles the senses and enchants the mind. Armed with spirited adventure, deftly timed humor, and a bold sense of intelligence, Zorro is reminiscent of one of my favorite action pictures, Raiders of the Lost Ark. This is no doubt thanks to the influence of its executive producer, Steven Spielberg, who was heavily involved in this project from its initial conception to its theatrical release.

The cinematic legend of Zorro dates all the way back to the silent film era, when Douglas Fairbanks Sr. played the masked avenger, astonishing filmgoers with his athleticism. Through the years, Zorro became a household name, appearing in countless comic books, a multitude of motion pictures, and several television series. The Mask of Zorro could be considered the definitive Zorro film, offering both long standing fans as well as casual film goers an up close view of the charm and allure of this classic "super" hero. Taking place in 19th century Mexico, the film begins with a fantastic setup that introduces Zorro as the injustice-fighting "hero of the people." When the evil Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson) orders the senseless execution of three local peasants, Zorro swoops in to save the day, safeguarding the townspeople and impeding Montero's plan. After a tiring day of lifesaving, Zorro returns home, where we learn his true identity as Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins), a family man with undying devotion to his wife, Esperanza (Julieta Rosen), and baby girl, Elena. Don Diego realizes that he is getting too old for the role of Zorro, and tells Esperanza that he has donned the black outfit for the last time. However, Don Diego's plans for a common life are shattered when Don Rafael Montero invades the couple's home, revealing his knowledge of Zorro's true identity, murdering Esperanza, and stealing Elena to raise as his own child.

Flash forward twenty years: Don Diego has been rotting in a dank Mexican prison until he finds a clever means of escape. Once on the outside, his only desire is to exact revenge on the man who robbed him of his life. Things become complicated, however, when Don Diego encounters Elena in her adulthood (played by Catherine-Zeta Jones), and discovers her dedication to the man whom she believes is her true father, Don Rafael Montero. Don Diego then befriends a bandit named Alejandro (Antonio Banderas), whom he discovers was the boy who saved his life so long ago. Alejandro and Don Diego walk a similar path; Alejandro's brother has been murdered by one of Don Rafael Montero's henchmen. Empathizing with Alejandro's situation, Don Diego decides to train Alejandro in the arts of horsemanship and fencing in hope that he will inherit the legend of Zorro, and one day too, inflict revenge upon his enemy.

The success of the film lies predominately in the screenplay, an intelligently-crafted work that ennobles characters and their dialogue rather than simply using them as cardboard cutouts for technically proficient yet emotionally dull action sequences. This is not meant to imply that the action in The Mask of Zorro is dull. Quite the contrary, these sequences are as viscerally exciting as they come, but they also serve as a part of the story rather than the all too common practice of impressing the thrill no!seekers in the audience. Most awe-inspiring are the moments that involve swashbuckling swordplay, honorably displayed as a great art form, not unlike a beautiful and articulate dance. Of course, in addition to the thrilling sword fights and mind-boggling stunt work, the film is full of action clichés that defy reality. I had to laugh during moments when the bad guys backed down just long enough for the hero to devise a way to thwart them. Improbability aside, this is all executed in a tongue-in-cheek fashion that proves so fun and entertaining, I doubt anyone will be bothered by such minutiae.

Every good action picture must possess an exciting soundtrack, and The Mask of Zorro delivers a fantastic auditory experience. The Oscar®-nominated sound designers have laboriously recreated the tones of each whoosh, clang, and whiz of every sword with results that sound as realistic as they do sensational. James Horner has also composed a fitting musical score, filled with sweeping crescendos that blend in seamlessly with the onscreen visuals. However, Horner is notorious for reusing music from his other films. The same four-note trumpet warning found in The Mask of Zorro has also been used in two other films scored by Horner, and for me, this proves to be a major distraction. I greatly encourage the use of themes throughout a composer's film score, but when these themes cross over to separate films it only conveys a lack of originality. This is a major disappointment for what is otherwise a moving score.

The icing on the cake comes from the terrific performances. The always brilliant Sir Anthony Hopkins finds a perfect balance between the emotional strength and vulnerability of Don Diego de la Vega, while also impressing me with his strong physical prowess. Antonio Banderas is perfect in the leading role, displaying great exuberance without overacting. Catherine Zeta-Jones proves she is more than just a pretty face with her delicate yet tumultuous performance as Elena. Particularly exciting is the chemistry between Zeta-Jones and Banderas, ideally demonstrated in a well-choreographed fencing duel that serves as both an exhilarating action sequence and a hint of foreplay leading towards an inevitable romance.

When it comes to action/adventure pictures, most everything about The Mask of Zorro was done well. Though I had my doubts about director Martin Campbell after the silly James Bond romp, Goldeneye, he proved himself an inspired choice, molding all of the elements together with just the right amount of flair. In addition to basking in its sheer entertainment value, I found myself feeling somewhat nostalgic after watching the film. It possesses a charismatic appeal not often found in movies today. With a fine balance between carefree excitement and intelligent verve, The Mask of Zorro fulfilled all of my cinematic needs.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The Superbit version marks the third time that The Mask of Zorro has been released on DVD. The burning question is—does the improvement in image quality seem worth the effort? Yes, but just barely. The 2.35:1 anamorphically enhanced image looks fantastic, but not quite up to par with Superbit standards. Most distracting is the visible amount of edge enhancement, which frequently lends a harsh characteristic to the picture. Though the image does appear slightly soft in several scenes, the level of detail is consistently stunning. Colors are beautifully saturated throughout, exhibiting eye-popping vibrancy; I only detected the slightest amount of blooming in fluorescent reds and oranges. Brightness and contrast are perfectly balanced with deep, thick blacks and remarkable shadow detail in the darker scenes. The overall cleanliness of the print is immaculate with no distracting artifacts. Though there are downsides to this transfer, the positive elements provide a striking visual experience.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes
DTSEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: In keeping with the Superbit tradition, The Mask of Zorro offers both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS soundtracks. On the audio benchmark, the DTS revealed a slightly more expansive presence and tighter bottom end, although both tracks are clear winners. It has been a while since I have heard such a tastefully aggressive soundtrack; this mix was obviously created by a sound team that knows exactly when to assault the viewer and when to use a more subtle approach. The surrounds are fully active during the action sequences, immersing the viewer with pounding hoof beats, whizzing gunshots, and clinking swords. During more quiescent moments, the soundtrack sacrifices the multi-channel palette and utilizes a more appropriate mono-centric mix. Dialogue remains locked in the center channel with an up front yet smooth sonic characteristic. Bass is also powerful and deep, but never inflated or overbearing. The Oscar®-nominated sound effects prove to be a crucial element of the film's success. The uniquely created tones of each sword are particularly crisp and wholly realistic. James Horner's music score is a wonderfully warm presentation, soaring through all six channels with a fluid enveloping quality. This convincing soundtrack is a large credit to the overall impact of The Mask of Zorro.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
12 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Documentaries
Storyboard
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray Double
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:09m:02s

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Galleries
  2. Music Video
Extras Review: This Superbit Deluxe version features a second disc containing all of the special features found on the previous special edition, with the exception of the audio commentary. The first and only worthwhile extra is the exclusive documentary, Unmasking Zorro. Clocking in at around 45 minutes, this is the type of all-encompassing documentary that I wish all DVDs would offer. We learn about the production step by step, beginning with the history of Zorro and moving on to the inspired casting. Also included are sections on the costume and production design, complete with storyboard comparisons. The most fascinating section covers the extensive choreography of the sword fighting. Here, we see footage of the actors exhaustively train in this demanding art. The chapter on sound features an excellent demonstration on the incorporation of sound effects, as well as a conversation with composer James Horner. Unmasking Zorro is a fully comprehensive analysis on the making of Zorro, and truly one of the best documentaries that I have ever seen. If all documentaries were this good, there would hardly be any need for additional special features.

After the fascinating documentary, not much else proves worthwhile. The section of deleted scenes offers one brief scene and an alternate ending. I have to express my disappointment in the brevity of this section, seeing as I was teased with footage from many more deleted scenes in the documentary.

In the section marked Advertising Materials, the viewer will find both the teaser and full theatrical trailers, as well as 12 TV spots. The theatrical trailers are terrific presentations with anamorphic enhancement and 5.1 sound, though I was quite surprised to find that even the teaser trailer gave too much away. Even worse, I believe every trailer and TV spot ended with the silliest shot in the movie. The Advertising Materials section also contains a brief collection of photo portraits. Though I do not typically like photo galleries, I found this one to be especially dreadful.

In an enjoyable stills gallery, the costume designs are presented in their original concept sketches, which are shown next to a scene from the film that features the finished costumes worn by the actors. These are lovely comparisons, but in addition to being too short, the scenes chosen from the film often feature stark lighting that does not always provide the best look at how the finished costume truly appears.

For those who like pop ballads, also included is the music video for I Want To Spend My Lifetime Loving You, sung by Marc Anthony and Tina Arena. While I found James Horner's orchestral version featured in the film to be quite moving, this lyrical reworking undermines the impact of the piece.

Rounding out the special features are biographies and filmographies for the cast and crew.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

It is nice to finally see such a well-deserving film receive the Superbit treatment. Complete with a second disc dedicated to special features, adventure fans who do not yet own The Mask of Zorro should consider this version the one to buy. Home theater enthusiasts who already own the prior special edition may also want to think about an upgrade, if only for the slightly improved image transfer.

 


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