WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Robert Rodriguez burst onto the filmmaking scene in 1992 with his $7000 El Mariachi, a decidedly gritty and low-budget crime thriller that nevertheless packed a wallop and announced the arrival of Rodriguez's talent in no uncertain terms. Using cheap 16mm cameras, selling his body to science, enlisting the aid of passersby, and coming up with cheap but effective special effects on the fly, Rodriguez filmed El Mariachi in the ultimate guerilla style, and against all odds produced a kick-ass action flick that shamed a lot of Hollywood's big-budget efforts.
Carlos Gallardo plays the black-clad El Mariachi, a down-on-his-luck musician who wanders from town to town in Mexico seeking employment in grungy bars. The plot is kickstarted when the local crime boss Roco (Peter Marquardt) receives the news that baddie Azul (Reinol Martinez) has just broken out of prison and plans to kill Roco. Azul's description? He dresses in black and carries a guitar case—except that Azul's case is filled with artillery. On the run, the mariachi manages to befriend bar-owner Domino (Consuelo Gómez), but that relationship brings only more trouble. El Mariachi is a surprisingly effective tale of mistaken identity, made all the more striking because of Rodriguez's sense of style on an exceedingly thin budget.
This special edition of El Mariachi comes in anticipation of Robert Rodriguez's new film Once Upon a Time in Mexico, which will conclude a vague trilogy of film that includes his El Mariachi remake/sequel Desperado. It's an interesting threesome: El Mariachi showed the filmmaker at his genius genesis; Desperado showed what he can do with a budget, still young but within the Hollywood machine; and Once Upon a Time in Mexico will show us, for better or worse, how Rodriguez has matured.
But is this special-edition rerelease of El Mariachi truly necessary? More a marketing ploy than a new feature-packed edition, the new DVD does offer the benefit of a cleaner transfer, and it offers a short sneak peek at Rodriguez's new film. But there's just not that much here. Read on for the specific details...
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Here's the sole reason to buy this DVD. Columbia/TriStar has dramatically improved the image quality of El Mariachi in this anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's 1.66:1 theatrical presentation.
The previous DVD, also an anamorphic presentation, showed significant (though mostly inevitable) grain, minor ringing, and—most heinously—a washed-out appearance that drained the film of color and gave the film a foggy, indistinct look. The image was very unstable and hard on the eyes.
On this new DVD, the image is much improved, offering far better and more defined colors, a more stable image, and a pleasing reduction of grain. This is not to say the film is without grain. Considering that the film was blown up from 16mm to 35mm, grain is simply a part of the film's look. No getting around it. But I'm amazed by how this film has been sharpened and cleaned up. This is a more natural presentation, with more depth and detail. Nice job.
On the minus side, I couldn't help but notice—in a direct comparison with the original disc—that the transfer as a whole has a zoomed-in feel. The original disc appeared to be windowboxed to preserve a more accurate 1.66:1 aspect ratio, but this transfer seems to drop the windowboxing and instead crop information at the top and bottom of the frame.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
Whereas the original disc offered three language choices—Spanish, Portuguese, and French—this new disc drops the Portuguese track, perhaps to make room for a fluffy featurette (see below). I listened to the Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 track, and it seems to be the same presentation of the previous release. This is a low-budget sound presentation, and it ain't terribly dynamic, but you do get some minor surround activity. Separation across the front is vague, but at least dialog is clear. The entire track has a fun recorded-on-amateur-tape-recorders feel that makes Rodriguez's comments in the commentary all the more educational.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
In a somewhat cheesy marketing move, Columbia/TriStar has simply ported all the supplements of the previous edition onto this disc and added just a fluffy 4.5-minute look at Robert Rodriguez's next film. So, you get the same Director Commentary (which is a damn good one, I admit), the same Robert Rodriguez short film Bedhead, and the same 10-Minute Film School featurette.
The new Sneak Peek: Once Upon a Time in Mexico is a short collection of behind-the-scenes shots, as well as talking-head interviews with cast members Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Salma Hayek, Cheech Marin, Willem Dafoe, Enrique Iglesias, Danny Trejo, Pedro Armendariz, Eva Mendes (yummy), Marco Leonardi, and Julio Mechosa...but oddly, no participation from the usually talkative Rodriguez.
You also get Trailers for Once Upon a Time in Mexico, El Mariachi, Desperado, The Mask of Zorro, and Love and a Bullet.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
To upgrade or not to upgrade? That is the question. In my opinion, the upgrade in image quality is worth the purchase. But then, I'm somewhat insane in that respect. If you don't already own an edition of El Mariachi, this is definitely the one to get. If you do own the older DVD, and you want to own the best-possible presentation of Robert Rodriguez's wild career-starter, you're looking at an upgrade. But there's not much more to this DVD than the improved image.