Sometimes movies can catch you in the weirdest moods, and you can have sometimes wildly different reactions about a film when you see it again. Such is the case for The Mask of Zorro. I recall seeing it when it first came to video shelves, and it left me completely underwhelmed and a little insulted. The casting of Antonio Banderas (Assassins) in the title role was predictable, but the dearth of accents from the Anglo performers in the film was at Costner or Bridges levels at times. I was glad to be done with it.
But now as I grow older and develop an appreciation for history, The Mask of Zorro has my respect and admiration. It is less for the actual movie than as a nod to the Johnston McCulley serials that Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford later appeared in for cinema. Perhaps that is what Randall Jahnson (The Doors), Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (Shrek) were thinking when they wrote the screenplay. With a director like Martin Campbell (Goldeneye) at the helm, you're certainly going to get action by the bushel to boot.
In a twist for the film, Banderas plays the second coming of Zorro; growing up as young Alejandro Murrieta who, with his brother Joaquin, passionately follow Zorro's life and work as he tries to prevent Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson, Hot Fuzz). What the people don't know is that Zorro is really Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins, Silence of the Lambs). He lives with his wife and infant daughter quietly in Mexico, but when Montero finds out his vigilante alter ego, he takes an army, kills de la Vega's wife and takes his daughter, but not before burning his house to the ground and throwing him in jail for life.
Meanwhile, the Murrietas grow up to be petty criminals, but an American military officer (played by Matt Letscher of Eli Stone fame) kills Joaquin, leaving Alejandro vowing revenge. Don Diego breaks out of prison and the two eventually cross paths, with de la Vega thinking that there is some potential to the man. In the meantime, de la Vega is trying to enact vengeance on Montero, but when he meets his now grown-up daughter (Catherine Zeta Jones, Chicago), he's unsure of whether to kill Montero or stop him from selling land to the Americans.
Now it may seem link the story is a little involved, but it transpires much more conventionally. At the core of the film are two individuals whose life has lost its respective way. In Zorro, they find hope and (in Don Diego's case) some grounding, as portraying the masked man gives them a newfound sense of purpose, one where they feel that preventing Montero's business dealings will both liberate the people and, for Don Diego, finally serve as settling a long-deserved personal score. Campbell's direction helps "serialize" the action sequences and keeps the story moving along. And that's the main goal he appears to be aiming for; things like casting British actors for Latino roles and letting them not speak with a Spanish accent weren't so important.
While the lack of authenticity (or the attempt for it) is annoying, it's all part of the same, lighthearted notion that Campbell must have been trying to accomplish. To that end, The Mask of Zorro is a two-hour long serial, with two actors who are not Fairbanks, and a love interest who is definitely not Pickford. They are aware of it, so proceeding accordingly was perhaps the best thing they could have done. Who'd have thought?
The Blu-ray Disc:
The Mask of Zorro has been a small point of pride for Sony, to the point where they even included it as part of their "Superbit" series of standard-definition discs. By extension, the AVC-encoded 2.40:1 widescreen presentation of the film in high definition is outstanding. Campbell is a fan of Peckinpah, and like The Wild Bunch, Zorro makes you feel and almost taste the dirt and dust of the Old West. In the interiors, blacks are solid and there is nice shadow delineation, and flesh tones are reproduced accurately, along with a fairly rich color palette. Image detail is consistent through most of the film and the overall result is enjoyable to watch.
This is the first Sony catalog release that I can recall getting the DTS-HD Master Audio treatment, and the 5.1 lossless track is awesome. The film has a lot of action and swordplay, which shines on all speakers with clarity and effective panning. Gunfire possesses a small punch of bass, but larger explosions bring a subwoofer "whomp" or two when called upon. Rear speakers are involved frequently, like in de la Vega's prison break or when Montero speaks to the peasants. You are put in the middle of the action throughout, to the point where you could even point out a sound effect or two used in the final battle. For a film of this relative age, it was an excellent soundtrack, worthy of upgrading if you have the standard-def copy and enjoy it.
Most of the extras from the previous standard-definition editions have been brought over to Blu-ray, starting with a commentary from Campbell. He is always an active commentary participant, and this is no different here. He explains some of the inspirations for the film and has a great deal of recollection about the production, having a lot of effusive praise for the crew who worked in the 108 degree Mexican heat. He points out what was shot practically and what was enhanced via computer. He discusses working with the actors and even spends some time addressing their "accents." It's definitely worth listening to if you're a fan of the film.
The next big extra is "Unmasking Zorro" (45:05), which covers the history and mythology of the character and story, and examines things like the allure to the story for Fairbanks before they even discuss the film. Campbell discusses his approach for the film and his casting ideas for it, and the stars recall what drew them to the role and what they liked about the characters they portrayed. The production and costume design for the film is touched upon, along with the swordplay the actors had to undertake, and Campbell recalls a few additional production headaches not mentioned in the commentary. The piece even spends time on post-production, featuring the sound design and scoring sessions, along with some interview footage from Jason Horner, who handled the latter. It's a quick spanning yet somewhat topical piece.
Two deleted scenes (4:50) are next, including an alternate ending that is quite unnecessary, and a sneak peek for The Legend of Zorro (5:02) hosts interviews with Jones, Banderas and Campbell as they discuss the sequel. There's even a scene from said sequel as the next bonus (1:45). A music video for the song "I Want to Spend my Lifetime Loving You" by Marc Anthony (4:51) follows, and a BD-Live exclusive, the subtitled "MovieIQ" track, includes real-time access to cast and music in a particular scene, along with the occasional nugget of trivia. It's a nice first effort from Sony, but definitely could use work.
The Mask of Zorro serves as lighthearted fare for more dedicated folk, but for older followers of the serials, the film serves as a worthy compliment. Technically, the Blu-ray disc is a winner and from a bonus perspective it's OK, so feel free to double-dip or buy this disc if you're an ardent fan of the franchise. New fans should strongly consider purchasing it for an entertaining film and demo material.