Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: El Mariachi/Desperado

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Richard Gallagher, Jan 3, 2011.

  1. Richard Gallagher

    Reviewer

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    El Mariachi/Desperado

    Studio: Sony/Columbia


    Year: El Mariachi: 1992
             Desperado: 1995


    Rated: R


    Program Length: El Mariachi: 85 minutes
                              Desperado: 104 minutes


    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p


    Languages: El Mariachi: Spanish, English, French 2.0 DTS-HD MA
                      Desperado: English, French 5.1 DTS-HD MA; Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital


    Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish

    The Program

    El Mariachi is the film which brought director Robert Rodriguez to the attention of Hollywood. While El Mariachi is certainly an entertaining film, its major claim to fame may be that it was made on a miniscule budget, reportedly a mere $7,000 (several sources report that the final cost was about $220,000 after post-production costs are factored in). Rodriguez says that the film was made with the direct-to-video market in Mexico in mind, but it came to the attention of Columbia Pictures and was given wide release. The surprising success of El Mariachi convinced Columbia to give Rodriguez a real budget ($7 million) that he used to make Desperado, which is partially a re-working of and partially a sequel to El Mariachi. Sony has now released both films as a Blu-ray double feature which is available at a bargain price.

    El Mariachi tells the story of a musician (Carlos Gallardo) who arrives in a dusty Mexican town with just his clothes and his guitar. He only wants to be a mariachi, like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, but he is mistaken for a guitar-toting murderer named Azul (Reinol Martinez). El Mariachi has no choice but to take up arms against an assortment of banditos who are determined to kill him. The film combines a minimum of dialogue with nearly non-stop action and violence. Rodriguez did his own filming and utilized a cast of unknowns to produce a very engrossing movie which belies its humble origins.

    Desperado is a more ambitious film. Rodriguez used his relatively generous budget to hire some real actors. This time El Mariachi is played by Antonio Banderas, who by that time had already made a name for himself in the United States after appearing in such films as The Mambo Kings and Philadelphia. The able supporting cast includes Steve Buscemi and Cheech Marin, and there is even a cameo appearance by Rodriguez' friend Quentin Tarantino. There is no issue of mistaken identity in Desperado. This time El Mariachi is out for revenge, determined to kill those who are responsible for the murder of his girlfriend. He arrives in town in search of Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida), the local drug lord whose henchmen committed the murder. Following a bloody, beautifully-choreographed shoot-out in a bar, El Mariachi befriends Carolina (Salma Hayek), the gorgeous owner of a bookstore which holds many books but has few customers. El Mariachi learns that the entire town has been corrupted by Bucho, a realization which only redoubles his determination to have his revenge.

    Robert Rodriguez makes it clear that neither film is intended to be taken seriously. He considers them to be parodies of the western genre, and indeed they seem to take the spaghetti westerns of the sixties and seventies to new and sometimes outrageous extremes (try firing a machine gun behind your back and see how well it works out). Simply put, these films are not about realism, they are about style. This is no better exemplified than in the scene in Desperado where El Mariachi battles the knife-wielding Navajas (Danny Trejo). The scene is ludicrously improbable, yet it works within the confines of the director's vision and style.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
    The Video

    Both films are presented in 1.85:1 1080p, and it is doubtful that they have ever looked better. That said, visually they are very different creatures. El Mariachi was shot in 16mm and was blown up to 35mm for its theatrical release. The result is a grainy presentation, and Sony has thankfully resisted any temptation the studio may have had to clean up the grain with a heavy dose of DNR. In spite of its technical limitations, El Mariachi is reasonably sharp and displays accurate colors. Some sources indicate that El Mariachi was intended to be projected at 1.66:1, but the 1.85:1 framing looks fine to my eyes.

    It should come as no surprise that Desperado has a more impressive look. It was filmed with high-quality 35mm equipment, and the Blu-ray transfer is exceptionally sharp and detailed. Rodriguez uses many close-ups for dramatic effect, and those shots benefit greatly from the enhanced detail. It appears that Rodriguez' visual style was heavily influenced by Sergio Leone. There is no evidence of excessive DNR and Desperado has a satisfying film-like appearance. 

    The Audio

    As is the case with the video, there are distinct differences between the two audio presentations. El Mariachi has limited audio range, and it is presented here in two-channel stereo DTS HD-MA. While there is nothing which will blow the viewer away, the audio is clear and intelligible.

    The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack for Desperado is extremely impressive. The surround channels are used to great effect during the numerous gunfight scenes, as bullets and knives seem to fly from all sides through the viewing area. The musical soundtrack by Los Lobos also is given a wide and pleasing soundstage. Dialogue is mostly confined to the center channel and is clear and understandable. The various audio tracks allow the viewer to view the films in English, Spanish or French and with or without subtitles.

    The Supplements

    There are some entertaining and informative extras on this Blu-ray set. The extras are presented in standard definition.

    Both films include audio commentaries by the director, who provides an extraordinary amount of detail about how he made the movies. Anyone interested in low-budget filmmaking will want to pay close attention to what Rodriguez says about how El Mariachi was made, but he also made many cost-saving decisions during the filming of Desperado.

    Also included is the Robert Rodriguez featurette "10 Minute Film School," which actually runs for about 15 minutes. The director reveals a number of editing tricks he used to compensate for his limited resources. For example, the guns which were used in El Mariachi jammed after one shot when loaded with blanks, but with clever editing and cutting he was able to make it appear that they were firing continuous rounds.

    "10 More Minutes: Anatomy of a Shootout" is a featurette which shows how the bloody bar shootout was rehearsed and choreographed. The director notes that he recorded the rehearsal with a video camera, which allowed him to confirm that he would be able to capture the exact images that he wanted when it came time to film the scene.

    Other extras include an amusing and quirky student film made by Rodriguez, "Bed Head," and two music videos for Desperado.

    Aspiring filmmakers may want to use "The Cutting Room" feature, which allows the user to edit scenes into a video which can be uploaded to BD-Live. I have no interest in such features, but others may find them more appealing. The films can be viewed with MovieIQ enabled, and BD-Live features will be available on the release date.

    The Packaging

    Both films are on a single Blu-ray disc, which is packaged in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

    The Final Analysis

    Fans of El Mariachi and Desperado will certainly want to pick up this Blu-ray release. At a list price of $10 per film, it would be a bargain even if it were of average quality. Fortunately, Sony has done a typically fine job in bringing these films to Blu-ray.

    Equipment used for this review:

    Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
    Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
    Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
    BIC Acoustech speakers
    Interconnects: Monster Cable

    Release Date: January 4, 2011
     

     
  2. fresk

    fresk Auditioning

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    that is what we called superb action flick,this maxician film is amazing,this site is perfect place to Download movies in blu ray format.
     
  3. Cees Alons

    Cees Alons Moderator
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    Thanks, Richard for a very nice review.



    These films are fun indeed. I'm happy they look as good as you tell us they do.

    Personally I don't understand why they didn't bring out the whole trilogy in one box set as well, because as it is now, we must buy Once Upon a Time in Mexico on BD separately. It will be released in this same week, if I'm not mistaken.



    Cees
     
  4. Ron Reda

    Ron Reda Cinematographer

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    Thanks for the review, Richard.


    Nice to see that Desperado looks/sounds great but I didn't have much of a doubt as the Superbit version was one of my reference DVDs back in the day. The video looked very good but the audio track rocked the house back then and I suspect it still will.
     
  5. Richard Gallagher

    Reviewer

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    They arrived on Christmas Eve and then I was in Colorado for five days so I didn't have time to view Once Upon a Time in Mexico and write a review, but I'll take a quick look at it and let you know how it looks and sounds. It is weird that they didn't package them together because they put out just one press release for all three. At first I though that they might have just forgetten to send me the box, but I checked and Once Upon a Time in Mexico is being sold separately.
     
  6. Ron Reda

    Ron Reda Cinematographer

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    I've read some reviews that say that it looks and sounds pretty dang good.
     

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