WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
You might compare Robert Rodriguez's Desperado to his original El Mariachi in the same way you might compare Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2 to his original Evil Dead. Each second film is a strange hybrid of remake and sequel, throwing Hollywood dollars at the premise of the original film and filling it, for better or for worse, with special effects and gonzo style.
In the case of Desperado, the Hollywood cash has taken the general ideas of El Mariachi and has stripped away its original language, added beautiful stars, and plumped it even more full of explosive energy. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Desperado is an extremely fun exercise in stylistic violence, and the filmmaking gifts that Rodriguez boasted in his original film are very much in evidence here. And though the film is perhaps a bit too long and doesn't quite know how to end, it also pumps up the sly humor only glimpsed in El Mariachi—another echo of Evil Dead 2.
The mariachi (now played byAntonio Banderas) has returned to town, and this time his guitar case is actually filled with artillery. That's right, this time out, he's a genuine killer, perhaps because of the events of the first film, or perhaps because of the events of a strange alternate-universe El Mariachi, in which the crime boss is no longer named Roco but rather Bucho. Strangely, Desperado never truly follows El Mariachi as a true sequel, but rather considers the original film as a vague stepping-off point.
Welcome to the Tarasco Bar, an operations front for crime boss Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida). Thanks to an entertaining sequence between the aptly named Buscemi (Steve Buscemi) and bartender Cheech Marin, the plot gets moving, and the mariachi is on a quest for revenge against the sadistic Bucho for the events that took place at the end of the original film. Bucho counters with an army of gunfighters (and a fantastically evil knife-thrower in the person of Danny Trejo), and the mariachi hides out in the bookstore owned by Carolina (Salma Hayek). But, as in El Mariachi, their relationship only complicates his quest.
Desperado is a wonderfully violent and loud film, but in a comic-book way that you can't help but be wowed by. Rodriguez is a masterful choreographer of gunplay and badass coolness. Obviously influenced by John Woo, he fills Desperado to brimming with slow-motion gunplay and Mexican standoffs. The film boasts a polish that El Mariachi obviously can't match—you be the judge as to whether that's to Desperado's credit or disadvantage. Me, I love both films.
That being said, this DVD release is almost completely superfluous. There's practically no reason for it to exist. We've seen three (yes, three) separate versions of Desperado before this one, including a special edition that contained nearly all the supplements that this one offers, and a Superbit edition that offered peerless video and audio quality. Read on for details...
HOW'S IT LOOK?
I compared the image on this new disc with those of the original El Mariachi/Desperado double-feature DVD and the Desperado Superbit presentation. All three contain above-average image quality, with the edge obviously going to the Superbit disc. All three 1.85:1 anamorphic-widescreen transfers offer excellent detail, with well-saturated colors, deep black levels, and good flesh tones. While the original release suffered from a certain flatness and perhaps a bit too much pink, the Superbit fixed those problems with wonderful depth and clarity.
This new image boasts quality that comes very close to matching that of the Superbit presentation, which should make you suspect—even more so—that the Superbit line in general is pretty gimmicky. I performed back-to-back comparisons between this new version and the Superbit on my 65" monitor and came away with only the most minor of differences. I doubt I would have been able to tell any difference at all in a blind test. This is a fine video presentation.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound presentation seems to be the same as the one on the double-feature DVD. This is a great track, full of pounding gunfire and booming explosions. Surround activity is aggressive, and the subwoofer gets a thorough workout. Dialog comes across cleanly and naturally. We don't get the superb DTS track that graced the Superbit disc.
Interestingly, the older DVD contained the film's original Dolby 2.0 track. This one ditches that track, perhaps to make room for a fluffy featurette (see below).
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) and the same 10 More Minutes 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 Filmographies for the major players, as well as Trailers for Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Desperado, and Love and a Bullet.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
No need to upgrade this one, if you've got the previous special edition. But if you have yet to purchase this film on DVD, this is the version to buy.