Background: The new high definition video formats have proven once again the market for action flicks as the scores of re-releases hit the shelves to take advantage of our collective desire to see them in all their glory. One that made it my way recently was The Legend of Zorro in the Blu-ray format, a sequel to a fun flick that many people enjoyed. Having heard how lame this one was by the critics, I skipped seeing it in the theatres during its short stay back in a few years ago; copies of the standard definition version found in bargain bins all over the place supporting my original premise that it probably sucked but when I saw it languishing on our pick list of screeners for an extended amount of time, curiosity got the best of me and I caved in just to see how it panned out. Here's what I found:
Movie: The Legend of Zorro is the second outing in the franchise by Antonio Banderas and lovely Catherine Zeta Jones. Having been raised watching the exploits of Guy Williams as Zorro in his television series, I have long appreciated the concept of a hero of the people not gifted by super powers so much as a desire to see justice done; displaying learned skills with the sword and a passion for daring do. Not everyone is born on Krypton, genetically gifted, or the recipient of extensive experimentation so this makes sense, right? Well, back in 1998 the current franchise began with The Mask of Zorro, starring Anthony Hopkins as an aging Zorro finding Banderas as a suitable replacement for his legend. One thing leads to another and they save the day, Zeta-Jones ending up with the protagonist who lives to fight again. Legend takes place ten years after that version, somewhat exaggerated given the timeline but close enough to allow them to both look a bit older and seem a bit wiser in the process. Banderas reprising his role as Alejandro Murrieta with Zeta-Jones as Elena is a no-brainer; the movie made huge sums of money and landed both of them numerous other roles. This time though, ten years of putting up with an alter ego has Elena on edge about a promise Alejandro made to her years prior to quit the hero business and spend more time with his youthful son Joaquin; a troublesome youth much like the proverbial chip off the old block.
I admit I wasn't enthusiastic about the introduction of a kid into the mix since they tend to dumb down even the best of movies but I set that aside for the moment while I focused on the task at hand of exploring the movie's merits as a whole. The bliss of matrimony has worn off and while the couple love each other more than a little bit, their fiery tempers get the best of them and they divorce (yeah, divorce was so common in 1850 among the nobles!) while Zorro prepares for the coming statehood of California. The idea that joining the Union in 1850 will somehow resolve all the troubles of the state struck me as peculiar but hindsight is 20/20 so I let it slide along with scores of other politically correct digs tossed in for the modern audience.
Okay, it seems as though some faceless evil men are trying to stop progress and Zorro stops them; saving the ballot box and apparently the entire vote that must have hinged on his one small community. He makes enemies of the gang and his secret identity is revealed to some scheming secret agents (technically, Pinkerton Security forces that seek all the right outcomes too). They use this tidbit of knowledge to push a wedge between Elena and Alejandro, resulting not only in their divorce but Elena working undercover for them. The leaps in logic aside, she is used to spy on an old school hood chum of hers, Armand (Rufus Sewell, playing yet another maniacal despot wannabe as he has done so often in the past); a French nobleman setting up shop in the area. He wines her and dines her, the two getting engaged much to the dismay of a now commonly drunken Alejandro, with plenty of opportunities for the trio to engage in childish behavior.
Her character is whittled down to a cartoonish spoof of what it was in the first movie and his is such that he wasn't the only one hitting the bottle mighty hard as far as I was concerned, but enough about the screenwriters and director for the moment. Armand is in league with those mean old Confederate soldiers, you know, the ones that didn't even exist until years after the time line offered up in the movie, to provide a super powerful new explosive called nitroglycerin, a chemical that existed in very limited quantities until the 1860's but at least plausible as the gimmick of the movie. The majority of the movie, probably at least half of the running time, was wasted on the romance angle of the triangle established; a bad move compounded by the exploits of Joaquin ditching class and otherwise getting into trouble. The pacing was sluggish all too often with the leads mechanically going through the motions as often as not.
This being a feel good family flick of sorts, you already know the outcome of the major battles and that the family will end up together as they are "destined" to do so it ends up in a case of whether or not the roller coaster ride will be enough for you to appreciate the movie as a whole. Especially on Blu-ray, this is a major selling point since the sword fights and train ride at the end made up the majority of the action sequences. Sadly enough, the stunt choreography on the fights seemed lackluster and more of a dance than providing any sense of danger as in the previous outing. The special effects laden parts were okay too but both lacked any passion or suspense, indicative of the players cashing in on their roles rather than doing anything with them. My biggest concern now is the possibility of a third even weaker outing by the principles; furthering the idea that the movie might as well have been attached to the Spy Kids franchise given the direction it was going. In all then, I found the one time thrills offered up by the best sequences to merit a rating of Rent It (at best) though the technical areas did seem to be among the best of recent releases in high definition formats. Why so much effort gets poured into the marginal releases like this one while truly interesting movies languish in vaults is the mystery of the day though so consider yourselves warned that this is eye candy more than anything you'll appreciate the day after.
Picture: The Legend of Zorro was presented in the 2.35:1 widescreen color format it was shot in by director Martin Campbell using the MPEG-4 codec and having a 1080p resolution. To sum it up quickly, I'd say that it looked really impressive as a piece of eye candy with lots of detail, few visual elements looking out of place, no grain worth noting and only a hint of aliasing on rare occasion. The blacks were rich and free of problems, the fleshtones accurate, and the biggest problem of the show were some limited sequences that appeared to have been shot by a second unit on lesser equipment, adding in some softness to an otherwise crisp picture. I wouldn't exactly call this one reference quality but it did look high end so if you enjoy the series as a guilty pleasure, by all means impress your friends with the way the CGI blended so well with the live action; among the better works of the day to be sure.
Sound: The main audio track was a 5.1 Dolby Digital TrueHD track in English or French. I listened to the English track and it sounded very appealing with a lot of separation between the channels, extensive use of the headspace aspects of the surround set up, thundering bass, and a pleasing mix of vocals, effects, and the score. The rear speakers came into play during more than a few action sequences and it sounded like whoever was in charge of the audio capacities of the production really knew what they were doing. The movie also had a weaker 5.1 Dolby Digital track in Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai; as well as subtitles in scores of languages but aside from the English versions looking very close to the spoken tracks, I really did not find fault with them. In total then, the audio was definitely a highlight of the show worth exploring.
Extras: The first extra was the audio commentary by director Martin Campbell and Cinematographer Phil Meheux; his principle assistant as DP. The discussion they had during the movie was largely limited to technical matters and I only wished some of the lead actors could have jumped in from time to time or maybe even the screen writers to interject some of the reasoning behind various creative liberties taken to advance the story. If you like dry talk about technical stuff, this will appeal to you more than it did to me, but I fell asleep the first time I tried making it through so your mileage may well vary. There deleted scenes with optional commentary were up next and they were all best left off the final film from what I could see, the polishing up needed to add them into the final cut far too great for what they offered. There was then an extensive set of production features that showed the filming of the movie and special effects, adding in tidbits of the cast at times but serving more as a means of showing the wonders of modern film making more than adding a lot of entertainment value. There was a trailer for CE3K and a couple of multi-angle looks at scenes being shot that were more interesting then the final results too but having watched the movie with limited interest, it was tough stirring up any additional appeal by this point in time (the train footage of the crash sequence and the reconstruction of it were the two best extras overall).
Final Thoughts: The Legend of Zorro showed better than most recent examples what the term "Sophomore Slump" refers to. The fight scenes looked generic, the plot was so politically correct as to gag a maggot, and the many aspects of what made the original flick so appealing seemed tossed aside to make a dumbed down version for the kiddy crowd. The political posturing masquerading as plot wore thin early on and I had to admit that despite the well done technical aspects, The Legend of Zorro proved the professional critics right this time unless you are seeking out a dumbed down version of the original that dipped too often into the well of tired jokes the first barely made work almost ten years ago. If you really enjoyed this one, I'm sure you'll be amazed to find that a great many better films are currently on blue ray that will astonish your sensibilities but I sincerely hope this was the last volume in the series unless they revamp the whole thing completely.