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El Mariachi / Desperado

Sony Pictures // R // January 4, 2011
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted December 28, 2010 | E-mail the Author
The Movies:

Columbia/Tri-Star originally released the first two films in Robert Rodriguez's 'Mariachi Trilogy' on a double feature disc that left something to be desired in terms of quality. They'd later release them on separate DVDs in much improved editions, and eventually in a three pack with a special edition release of Once Upon A Time In Mexico as well. Now the first two films are once again a double feature, though this time on Blu-ray - Once Upon A Time In Mexico is scheduled to be released on its own for some reason. Got all that? Good. At any rate, here's a look a the first two films in Robert Rodriguez's way too fun 'Mariachi Trilogy'...

El Mariachi:

Made fast and cheap for amazingly low sum of only $7,000.00, El Mariachi is the movie that made people start paying attention to the young up and coming director. It was shot fast and cheap on 16mm film stock and ended up earning a selection at the Sundance Film Festival which in turn skyrocketed him into Hollywood far faster than anyone could really have imagined.

The movie borrows a little bit from Sergio Leone in that the lead is a mariachi without a name (played by Carlos Gallordo) needs to find a paying gig and as such, he wanders into a town looking for somewhere that he can play. Things start to move when a crime lord named Roco (Peter Marquardt) hears word that his arch-enemy, Azul (Reinol Martinez) has busted out of the big-house and is gunning for him. Unfortunately for the mariachi, he's a dead ringer for the escaped convict who is out for blood, and soon Roco's men are planning a pre-emptive strike on him.

The only person in town who the mariachi even knows is the grungy bartender, Domino (Consuelo Gomez), but there's more to that than he realizes and it won't be long before the mariachi has to put down his guitar and pick up some guns if he wants to make it out of town alive...

There are a few interesting twists in the story along the way but at its heart, El Mariachi is a rather simple tale, but a very effective one. The story of how Rodriguez put all of this together for less than the cost of a good used car has become something of a filmmaking legend (check out the commentary for more details on that) but what matters is that not only did he finish the film but he delivered something special, something worth watching. Originally made for the Spanish speaking market the film was thought to have only limited appeal but the story of the mariachi fighting for his life proved to be a lot more popular than anyone ever initially thought not because of the acting or the story but because of the editing and the action choreography. Rodriguez has a knack for staging shoot outs and fights and even here at a young age in his feature film debut, he shows ability above and beyond a lot of what we see in big budgeted Hollywood productions.

The film isn't a literal masterpiece and it does have its flaws in the acting department. There are times when the low budget shines through in a few spots but overall, El Mariachi is a pretty amazing accomplishment and one that would set the director up nicely to move on to bigger and better things. Which brings us to...


If Rodriguez was able to turn in a good movie with a seven thousand dollar budget, imagine what he'd be able to do with seven million dollars! This time out, the mariachi's dirty boots were filled by Antonio Banderas, in one of the best roles of his career. While the film tells a story very similar to that of El Mariachi, it's not quite a remake as it throws a few different twists into the mix. The film again beings with the lone mariachi with no name wanders into town looking for work.

A crime lord named Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida) runs his business out of a bar (where Cheech Marin works behind the counter) and we find out that the mariachi is here looking for him to get revenge. Crime lords don't tend to take that type of thing laying down, however, and when he finds out that the mariachi is here, he wastes no time assembling an army of hit-men to take him down first.

Luckily, or so it would seem, for the mariachi, the beautiful Caroline (Selma Hayek) is willing to hide him in the confines of her small bookstore. With this safe haven, he wages his war against Bucho to exact his revenge, and gets some help from a few friends along the way.

The biggest difference here is that the mariachi character doesn't walk into things by accident this time out. He's a cold blooded killer out for revenge, his guitar case a cache of hidden weapons. With a great supporting cast made up of Steve Buscemi, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo and Quentin Tarantino, Rodriguez's second voyage into the world of guitar playing gunslingers is a highly polished and incredibly entertaining affair choke full of bloody violence and black humor. Banderas plays the role perfectly, he's suave and slick and just over the top enough to fit the bill, while Hayek brings some very welcome sex appeal to the movie. Their chemistry together works well and is a lot of fun, but the real reason to check this one out is for the action and the gun play.

From the opening scene where Banderas struts across the bar playing his guitar to the grand finale where his mariachi brethren show up to help him out, there's tension in the air of the movie and where there's tension, there's violence. Stealing a page or two from John Woo and another page or two from Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone, Rodriguez crafts one of the most enjoyable shoot'em ups of the nineties. Again, it's not all that original and in fact some scenes are downright derivative but it's fast moving and well made and completely enjoyable.

The Blu-ray:


El Mariachi arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.85.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer that looks pretty decent considering the film's low budget origins. There's a whole lot of grain here but that's to be expected and it wouldn't like El Marichi if it were all scrubbed away. Some mild print damage is here in the form of the specks and scratches throughout, but none of it is so heavy duty that it's going to bother anyone familiar with how this film has always looked - and that right there is key. This should be a gritty grainy presentation and you need to keep that in mind as you watch it. The occasional shift in color tones is evident and some shots definitely look softer than others but this has a lot more to do with the source material than the authoring. Black levels are fine and color reproduction is, for the most part at least, pretty good. There's a pretty noticeable upgrade in detail over the standard definition versions that have been available and while this will never be a showcase reference quality film, it looks about as good as you could probably expect it to on Blu-ray.

Desperado is also a fairly grainy affair though not to the extent that the first picture is and it doesn't show nearly the same amount of print damage as that earlier film. Detail is better, the image is more stable and consistent and the picture generally looks pretty good. There's a bit of shimmer here and there but no heavy edge enhancement or obvious digital scrubbing to complain about. Detail is considerably stronger than standard definition offerings have provided and black levels are pretty deep though there are a few spots where shadow detail gets a little less than perfect. Skin tones lean towards the hot side of things, looking a little orange-ish in spots, but this is in keeping with the film's aesthetic. Like El Mariachi this isn't a transfer that you're going to use to show off your HDTV but it's not a bad upgrade from the DVD.


El Mariachi gets DTS-HD 2.0 tracks in English, French and Spanish with subtitles in English, English SDH, French, and Spanish. The levels are stabled throughout and well balanced and the score sounds good. Dialogue is easy enough to understand and follow and the low end has some decent punch to it, though not on the same level as a big time Hollywood blockbuster might offer. Some rear channel action would have made the shoot out scenes more fun than they are but there's some good left to right channel separation evident when the movie calls for it and what we have here is a pretty solid track that's does a fine job of replicating the movie's low budget roots. It won't blow the doors of your house, but it gets the job done without any major issues.

Desperado gets English and French DTS-HD 5.1 Mater Audio tracks and a Spanish language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix with subtitles in English, French and Spanish with subtitles in English, English SDH, French, and Spanish. Desperado's lossless surround mix is a fairly active one with some good surround usage and rear channel activity there to spread out both the score and the sound effects. Bass response is good while dialogue stays clean and clear throughout. There are some spots where there's a bit less surround activity than you might necessarily expect there to be but overall things sound pretty good here, from the musical number early in the picture to the chaos and carnage that play out in the last third of the film.


El Mariachi:

First up is a full length commentary with writer/director Robert Rodriguez. This track makes for a fantastic extra, as Rodriguez more or less takes us through the entire making of the film in one lively discussion. He covers the budget problems he ran into, a lot of money saving techniques he employed, some of the aspects of the effects and stunt work that was done for the film and some of the incidents he ran into while shooting this one on such a shoe string budget. Rodriguez is very entertaining on this track, making some entertaining jokes while he educates us at the same time.

Also included There's also a ten minute short film on here, directed by Rodriguez, entitled Bedhead. This quick little comedic short tells the story of a little girl named Rebecca who gains psychic powers after a squabble with her older brother lands her on her head.

The Tne Minute Film School featurette is a fourteen minute (!) comparison that shows us what his raw footage looked like versus the finished versions of the scenes that made it into the final cut of the film. It gives us a nice idea of how the post-production process can make such a huge difference in a movie and it's really interesting to see the truly creative methods he used to spice up his film.

Rounding out the extra features for the first film are n El Mariachi/Desperado Cutting Room Floor interactive featurette that allows you to re-edit parts of the two films if, for some reason, you wanted to do that. You can't do it on a standalone player as you need to be able to store your edits, but for those with hard drive equipped machines, it's here if you want it. There's also a MovieIQ option that allows you to play back the film with some pop up trivia alongside it. All of El Mariachi's extras are in standard definition.


Once again, we get a commentary track with director Robert Rodriguez, who fills us in on the making of the movie. What's interesting about this track is just how very different the experience was compared to what he went through making El Mariachi. This time out, while he was still making his movie, he did so from safely within the confines of the Hollywood studio system and he points out some advantages and some disadvantages of both ways of working. He also details the casting, how his working relationship was with Banderas, Hayek, and even Cheech, and how Quentin Tarantino ended up in the movie. It's an interesting commentary and a lot of fun to listen to.

A follow up to the film school featurette from the El Mariachi DVD is also included, entitled Ten More Minutes: Anatomy Of A Shoot Out, which again is a look at how the footage goes through various stages of polishing and editing and post production to the version we see up there on the big screen or on home video. There are also some music videos included for two songs - Los Lobos with Antonio Banderas doing Morena De Mi Corazon and Tito & Tarantula doing Back To The House That Love Built. You can also watch this second feature with the MovieIQ feature enabled to access trivia and information about it. All of Desperado's extra features are also in standard definition.

The disc is Blu-ray Live enabled so those who have their Blu-ray players connected to the web can access other Sony related content such as a trailer for the Karate Kid remake. Animated menus and chapter stops are provided for both features.

Final Thoughts:

While most fans would have probably preferred to see each of the two films on this disc get their own single disc special edition release rather than see them packaged as a double feature like they are here, this isn't a bad release at all. There's a decent amount of supplemental material even if pretty much all of it is recycled from the standard definition releases and while the audio and video quality isn't stunning the way some transfers are, they definitely offer a nice upgrade from standard definition. As to the movies themselves? They're both a whole lot of action packed fun with loads of style, sex appeal, and a good sense of humor behind them and this double feature Blu-ray release of El Mariachi/Desperado comes recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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