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Zorro: The Complete Series

A&E Video // Unrated // January 25, 2011
List Price: $99.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted January 21, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The Show:
Without a doubt Zorro is one of the iconic heroes of the 20th Century.  He was created by writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 for a pulp magazine, but the following year mega-star Douglas Fairbanks brought the character to the silver screen in his famous film, The Mark of Zorro and he's been in the public's mind ever since.  Appearing in several movies, TV shows, comic books and more the Spanish American hero was revived once again in 1990 for a TV program that aired (in the US) on the Family Channel.  Simply titled Zorro (though it was also known as The New Zorro) the show ran for four seasons and has a solid following, which makes it a bit surprising that it hasn't arrived on DVD until now.  The wait is over however and all four seasons are available separately or in a nice collected set that includes an exclusive bonus disc of other Zorro appearances.

Back in the late 1700's- early 1800's when what is now California was controlled by Spain and Los Angeles was but a small pueblo, the town was ruled by the Commandant of Los Angeles, Alcalde Luis Ramone (Michael Tylo).  He treats the peasants cruelly and oppresses the citizens to such an extent that a local well-to-do land owner, Don Alejandro de la Vega (played by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. in season one and Henry Darrow for the rest of the series) recalls his son, Don Diego (Duncan Regehr) from Spain where he's studying to help combat the evil Commandant.
When Don Diego arrives however, he does not take up arms like his father had hoped.  Accompanied home by his mute teenage servant Felipe (Juan Diego Botto), Don Diego is only interested in conducting scientific experiments and playing music.  He has no interest in the local politics. 

Or so it would seem.  In reality Don Diego is outraged by what he sees.  He's smart enough to realize that if he attacked the Commandant with a head on assault his father and his friends would suffer.  Instead, he dons a mask and black caped outfit and rides as El Zorro (Spanish for The Fox), defender of the weak and champion of justice.  (Though this origin story isn't told until a third of the way through the first season, which makes things a little confusing if you don't know the characters already.)

This Zorro takes a lot from earlier incarnations, but it changes some things too.  The most significant alteration is that Don Diego really enjoys music and science.  That part isn't an act.  This Zorro also fills his secret lair with various chemicals and instruments and often uses science to steer him in the right direction.  Zorro also has a love interest, Victoria (Patrice Camhi Martinez).  She's madly in love with him, and he enjoys wooing her, but whenever things start to get hot Zorro Alcalde or his incompetent right-hand man Sgt. Mendoza (James Victor) manage to spy the masked man which causes him to flee.
This is an episodic show, and aside from a few multi-part stories (which are some of the best the series has to offer) little changes for show to show.  The biggest changes are actually with the cast.  After the first season Efrem Zimbalist Jr. leaves the role of Don Alejandro de la Vega and is replace with Henry Darrow who plays the same character.  After season two Michael Tylo who played Zorro's foil Alcalde Luis Ramone leaves the show and is replaced by J. G. Hertzler.  He plays a new Commandant, Alcalde Ignacio De Soto, who is just as villainous as his predecessor.

This lack of a larger story and the target audience of the show (it was shown in the US on the Family Channel), make each episode feel the similar to all the other installments so that the more you watch, the less you feel like going to the next episode.  It's a very formulistic show with the broad plot being just about the same:  Alcalde sets a trap for Zorro, it looks like he'll fall for it, and then the hero outsmarts the villain in the last moments of the show.  They really need to mix the formula up a bit.
In addition to that, this was promoted as a family show so the suspense is not to suspenseful, the action isn't very violent or exciting, and the romance (as mentioned earlier) is very tame.  The fight sequences, the highlight of any Zorro film or TV series, are very bland and poorly executed.  It's obvious when stunt doubles are being used and the choreography of the fights just isn't dynamic.  It comes across like the barroom brawls in 1930's B westerns more than a 90's TV show.  Honestly, Power Rangers has more convincing fights, and that's saying something. 

The acting is just average, with Duncan Regehr looking the part (though my wife insists he fails in the looks department when compared to Disney's Zorro, Guy Williams) but doesn't have the screen presence to really make the role his own.  Patrice Camhi Martinez is rather poor in her role as Victoria, her acting is weak and unconvincing, and the other main characters are passable, but only just.
The DVD:

All four seasons (four discs each except for the shortened final season which only has two) arrive in five single width keepcases (the last one contains a disc devoted to extras.)  These cases are housed in a nicely illustrated slipcase.
The DD stereo soundtrack is okay, but not more than that.  The dialog comes through clearly, but the background music lacks punch and the range isn't as wide as I was hoping.  It's not a bad mix, just adequate and not more than that.  Unfortunately, there are no subtitles provided.   
The full frame image is fine, but not spectacular.  The picture is fairly soft, especially for a show that was made in 1990, and there is some aliasing present, especially in the background.  It's never overt of distracting, but it is there.  The colors are fine and the black levels are adequate, but that's about all you can say about the presentation.
The seasons themselves don't have any extras, but the final disc is the set is devoted to bonus items. 
First off is the movie that propelled Zorro into the spotlight: The Mark of Zorro (1920) staring Douglas Fairbanks.  It's a great film, much better than the series in fact and well worth watching.  The print and transfer to this is only so-so, but it's watchable.  Next up is the first chapter of Zorro's Fighting Legion, a good Republic serial from 1939.  It has a lot of adventure and action though it strays from the original character more than a little.  The whole serial is available from several different companies and if you enjoy this chapter you should definitely seek out the rest.
The main bonus for fans of the show is the unreleased 22 minute pilot that was made to sell the show.  It's a lot like the show, not surprisingly, and interesting from a historical standpoint.
The extras are wrapped up with a series of trailers to Zorro serials and a photo gallery.
So, what's missing?  It's sad, but none of these extras included input from the cast and crew of the show.  No commentaries, no behind the scenes footage, no reminiscing on camera about the show.  Nothing.  That's too bad as fans of the program would undoubtedly liked to have heard what the stars had to say about the show.
Final Thoughts:
While there are some fun episodes, most of the installments are mediocre at best and won't appeal to anyone who is out of middle school.  The predictable and cookie cutter plots and timid action sequences leave this series wanting.  If you're a big Zorro fan, go ahead and rent it, but only after you're exhausted the other Zorro material available.
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