An invigorating blend of derring-do and full-blooded, sword-swinging adventure, The Mask of Zorro, director Martin Campbell's 1998 rejuvenation of the Zorro franchise, is a great escapist piece of entertainment that's well worth revisiting, but not necessarily in this, the fourth (!) DVD release of the film (following an initial, bare bones disc in 2000, followed by a fairly loaded special edition with DTS in 2001 and a Superbit "deluxe collection" version in 2002).
Featuring a trio of terrific performances from Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones in her breakout role, The Mask of Zorro unfolds in early 19th century California, opening just as Spain concedes the territory to Mexican general Santa Ana. Don Diego de la Vega (Hopkins), who moonlights as Zorro, the crusading hero of the people, is unmasked and brought low by his enemy, the ruthless Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson) – Montero burns down de la Vega's house, accidentally murders his wife and kidnaps de la Vega's daughter, Elena, to raise as his own.
Fast forward 20 years. De la Vega escapes imprisonment, seeking revenge on the man who murdered his wife and tore apart his peaceful existence; de la Vega is also faced with training the impetuous Alejandro Murrieta (Banderas) to take up the cowl of Zorro and defend Mexico against Montero, who once again plans to make his fortune at the expense of the country's peasants. The duo prepares to do battle with Montero, just as de la Vega's daughter (Zeta-Jones) re-enters the picture, causing sparks to fly between her and Murrieta.
John Eskow, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio's screenplay is Saturday afternoon serial fun and actually manages to be thoroughly entertaining for much of its considerable 136-minute running time. Banderas, Hopkins and Zeta-Jones all display spark and an enjoyable chemistry, while Wilson and his henchman, Capt. Harrison Love (Matt Letscher) are deliciously hissable villains. Blinding scenes of dazzling swordplay and a believable, engaging romance are but on icing on this guilty pleasure cake. The Mask of Zorro doesn't break much new ground and it's appropriately open-ended enough to warrant some interest in the upcoming sequel, The Legend of Zorro (to which this release is predictably tied). Viva Zorro!
The Mask of Zorro: Deluxe Edition is presented in a surprisingly soft 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The case says the film was "mastered in high definition" but from what I can tell, this appears to be an image lacking high resolution. I don't have the Superbit version of this title to compare, but I can't imagine that this image, which tends to lack depth, clarity and crispness, is the Superbit version recycled for this fourth DVD version. From the difficult to read text opening to the prevalent soft edges, this is far from an ideal transfer – very surprising.
A robust, immersive Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, showcasing James Horner's flamenco-flavored score and several floor-rattling explosions near the climax, is likely ported over from the previous releases – Dolby 2.0 stereo is available in French, Spanish and Portuguese flavors. English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles are also on hand.
What will likely attract any new buyers to this release is the Legend of Zorro tie-in material: a coupon redeemable for a free movie ticket to The Legend of Zorro is contained in the case, a five minute The Legend of Zorro behind-the-scenes featurette and a one minute, 45 second scene from The Legend of Zorro presented in anamorphic widescreen. Carried over from the prior releases is a fairly dry yet informative commentary from Campbell, the 45 minute documentary "Unmasking Zorro," two deleted scenes, the Marc Anthony/Tina Arena "I Want To Spend My Lifetime Loving You" music video, photo galleries, the film's theatrical trailer and TV spots.
If you haven't picked up one of the three previous releases of The Mask of Zorro, then by all means, snag a copy of this latest edition but if you own one or two of the other versions, you're pretty much all set for swashbuckling action – I recommend this for those without Zorro in their collections and advise everyone else to skip this needless quadruple-dip (sorry, the sequel shilling doesn't add much value to the package and where's the DTS track?).