The Mask of Zorro
Program Length: 137 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 1080p
Languages: English, French, Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA; Spanish 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish
The iconic character Zorro (Spanish for “fox”) was created 90 years ago by pulp writer Johnston McCulley for a story called The Curse of Capistrano. McCulley's story, which was serialized in a pulp magazine, caught the eyes of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, who decided to make a film version for their fledgling studio, United Artists. Over the years Zorro has been depicted, worldwide, in 38 feature films and five serials. In addition to Fairbanks, Zorro has been played by Tyrone Power, Alain Delon, Frank Langella, and many others. In addition, Zorro was played on television for Disney by Guy Williams (the complete Disney series was recently released on DVD). At least one feature film about Zorro has been made every decade since the 1920s.
The Mask of Zorro, now being released by Sony in a superb Blu-ray edition, actually has two Zorros. Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins) is a Spanish nobleman in California who has, as Zorro, been a thorn in the side of the corrupt and tyrannical governor, Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson). It is 1820 and Mexico is in the process of achieving independence from Spain. The Mexican Army is approaching and Spain has ordered Montero to leave California. However, the governor ignores the order because he is determined that he will not leave until he has captured Zorro. A trap which Montero sets for Zorro backfires, thanks in part to assistance given to Zorro by two young boys, the Murrieta brothers. However, the governor discovers Zorro’s true identity and leads his soldiers to the de la Vega hacienda to arrest his nemesis. In the ensuing fight de la Vega’s wife Esperanza is killed and de la Vega is taken into custody. Montero, who had wanted Esperanza to be his wife, takes his ultimate revenge by kidnapping de la Vega’s baby daughter, Elena. As de la Vega is taken away he warns Montero that he has not heard the last of Zorro.
Now twenty years have passed, and Montero returns to California with the idea of creating a republic which will be independent of Mexico. With him is Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who has been raised to believe that Montero is her father. Montero visits the prison to search for de la Vega, but comes away convinced that his rival has died. In fact de la Vega has used his long hair and beard to obscure his identify, and he cleverly manages to escape. In the meantime, the two Murrieta brothers who had helped Zorro two decades earlier are now grown men and professional thieves. After a robbery one of the brothers is shot and beheaded by soldiers, but Alejandro Murrieta (Antonio Banderas) escapes. As Alejandro drowns his sorrow in drink, he has a chance encounter with de la Vega, who recalls their previous meeting when Alejandro and his brother were boys. Don Diego de la Vega realizes that he is too old to resume the role of Zorro, but he believes that he can train Alejandro to don the black mask and help both of them to get their revenge.
The Mask of Zorro is a grand, epic swashbuckling adventure which carries on the tradition established decades earlier by Douglas Fairbanks and Tyrone Power. Anthony Hopkins is excellent as the older Zorro, and Banderas demonstrates charisma and athleticism as the younger Zorro (incidentally, Banderas is the first Spaniard to play the title character in an English-language Zorro film). This was a breakthrough role for Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose prior credits were mostly in television. Here she is both beautiful and spirited, as evidenced by her vigorous and humorous swordfight with Banderas’ Zorro. The supporting cast also is quite good, particularly L.Q. Jones as the bandit Three-Fingered Jack. The action scenes, filmed with panache by director Martin Campbell, are expertly choreographed and quite thrilling. Anyone looking for a couple of hours of adventure and romance will not be disappointed by The Mask of Zorro.
The 2.40:1 1080p widescreen transfer is flat-out gorgeous. The Mask of Zorro was filmed entirely on location in Mexico, and Phil Meheux’s spectacular cinematography could hardly look better. Colors are solid and vivid, shadow detail is superb, and blacks are rich and deep. This is a reference-quality Blu-ray disc which you will want to show off to friends and guests. Our resident expert, Robert Harris, reports that he considered the SuperBit DVD of The Mask of Zorro to be outstanding, but in his words, “The new Blu-ray takes that SuperBit and stands it firmly on its ear.”
Living up to the standard set by the video transfer had to have been a challenge, but the 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is up to the task. From the opening credits the audience is immersed in the sounds of clashing swords, gunfire, cannon blasts, fires and explosions which will give your surround speakers and subwoofer plenty to do. The evocative score by James Horner (which is built around the music to his song “I Want to Spend My Lifetime Loving You”) is the beneficiary of an expansive soundstage. Dialogue is clear and understandable, and the occasional Spanish dialogue is accompanied by English subtitles.
Other than the BD-Live features, the extras here have been ported over from the Deluxe Edition DVD which was released in 2005. They include:
Audio commentary by director Martin Campbell
A 45-minute “making of” featurette, “Unmasking Zorro”
Two deleted scenes, including the original closing scene which fared poorly in test showings and was changed
The music video for “I Want to Spend My Lifetime Loving You” by Marc Anthony and Tina Arena (the full song also is heard over the closing credits)
A promo featurette for and a scene from the sequel, The Legend of Zorro
Viewers who have their Blu-ray players connected to the Internet can utilize Sony’s proprietary movieIQ feature, which enables pop-up trivia, cast information, etc. while watching the feature.
The single disc comes in a standard Blu-ray keep case.
The Final Analysis
The Mask of Zorro is a fun and exciting way to spend an evening, and this Blu-ray presentation is nothing short of spectacular. Sony also is releasing a Blu-ray box set which includes the BD of The Legend of Zorro.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specification by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable