|Mask of Zorro, The (Special Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 25 September 2001|
Three years ago, big-screen movie heroes in general were doing well – they always do – but legendary do-gooders were suffering. Is there anyone, anywhere, for whom Kevin Costner was the ideal (or even a remotely possible) Robin Hood? Was Charlie Sheen really anybody’s idea of a French Musketeer?
In the 1998 "The Mask of Zorro," Antonio Banderas restores honor to the form, along with dash, charm and excitingly good swordsmanship. This new take on the Mexican Robin Hood figure in fact gives us two Zorros – Banderas’ novice and the aristocratic original, Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins), who when we meet him is busy saving California peasants from the evil landowners. Alas, Don Diego has earned the wrath of the cruel governor Montero (Stuart Wilson), who locks the hero away to rot and kidnaps Diego’s infant daughter to raise at his own (the child’s mother, Diego’s wife whom Montero covets, is accidentally killed). In 1841, 20 years later, Montero returns to California from Spain, "his" now-grown beautiful daughter Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) in tow. Diego finally escapes from jail, but he’s a little old for daredevil tactics and reluctant to personally kill the man his daughter believes is her loving parent. Instead, he finds a protégé – Alejandro Murrieta (Banderas), a peasant bandit angrily grieving the murder of his brother at the hands of the heartless U.S. Army Capt. Love (Matt Letscher). Despite Alejandro’s humble origins and lack of experience with the sword, Diego concludes he’s the man for the job of re-igniting the Zorro legend and unmasking a particularly nasty plot by Montero.
"The Mask of Zorro" is charming and deft, with an ever-so-slightly old-fashioned feel to it. It’s utterly enjoyable and beautifully made, although it doesn’t quite have the kinetic spark found in movies like "Raiders of the Lost Ark." It does, however, have Banderas, who plays Alejandro as a man passionate about everything – whether it’s Elena’s beauty or his frustration when he can’t get a sword to do what he wants. Everything about him is alive and electric, but never overdone because none of it seems forced. Banderas lets Alejandro get a kick out of the hero business – his performance is not tongue-in-cheek but rather genuinely joyous.
Hopkins has a much more melancholy, wistful demeanor – although his Don Diego clearly gets a kick out of seeing justice done and likes keeping a hand in the fray – but he and Banderas, both actors and they characters they play, complement one another well. Zeta-Jones is sultry, full of mischief and handles a blade very well in a role that shot her to stardom (and no wonder). Lescher’s restraint gives Love’s psychosis an intriguing edge and Wilson is fine as the casually smug aristocrat who really does think he’s always in the right.
The script by John Eskow and Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, from a story by Elliott, Rossio and Randall Jahnson, is very well-constructed, although the story is so complicated that it seems to lack time for little riffs – it all moves smoothly ahead under Martin Campbell’s straightforward, handsome direction.
"The Mask of Zorro" special edition is a two-disc set, but this is a little misleading, as Disc 1 has all the extra goodies. Disc 2 just has the full-frame version of the film, for viewers who want to see action sequences with characters entering and leaving frames at the wrong moments due to part of the shot being cut out. (This reviewer has nothing against 1.33:1 framing – for material that was filmed for 1.33:1 framing in the first place.) Campbell’s commentary is friendly and full of interesting details, and there’s a nice and long – if fairly talky (as opposed to footage-oriented) – making-of documentary.
The DTS sound is very good, although on occasion, it has an unusual problem – elements located in specific speakers are directionally at odds with the location of the sound’s onscreen source (and, yes, my speakers are plugged in correctly). For example, in Chapter 3, a horse on our left gives a very realistic whinny – in the right rear speaker. Most of the surround effects when we’re surrounded are very lifelike, with great crowd noise in Chapter 1 and a handsome directional barroom brawl in Chapter 13. Delicate noises are handled well, such as a tossed sword sheath hitting the ground behind us with just the right weight in Chapter 8. Explosions are large and fulfill their purpose, although they are not especially detailed. Gunfire is better, especially a huge rifle shot in Chapter 5 that’s positively jolting. The dialogue, primarily in the center channel, holds up beautifully, never swamped by music or effects.
Colors are clear and sharp, with ultra-white whites that don’t bleed and lovely contrasts. In Chapter 5, there’s a gorgeous, painting-like shot of a beach in slate-blue darkness, interrupted by bright orange watch-fires. The hues of brilliantly colored costumes in a party sequence get visual justice in Chapters 15 and 16, and the lines of the moving swords are always clean.
"The Mask of Zorro" is tremendously entertaining and Banderas will surely impress viewers as the quintessential Zorro, no matter how many other versions they’ve seen before or may see afterwards.