The Mask of Zorro, starring Antonio Banderas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins, gets a long-overdue upgrade to 4K from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
The Production: 4/5
The Mask of Zorro is a throwback to the swashbuckling matinee serials from the 1950s, a film with a definite sense of fun, and as the late Roger Ebert noted in his review upon its initial theatrical release in 1998, a sense of honor. As war between Mexico and the United States is keeping Santa Anna pre-occupied, previously ousted and returning Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson) hatches a plan to buy California from Mexico using gold he is mining from the state using slave labor. Twenty years earlier, Montero was just as vile yet always under attack from Zorro, the defender of the people. When Montero discovers Zorro’s true identity is none other than Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins), he accidentally kills de la Vega’s wife (whom he had romantic interests in), abducts their baby daughter Elena, burns the estate to the ground, and throws de la Vega in prison. When Montero returns, de la Vega escapes from prison and runs into Alejandro Murrieta (Antonio Banderas), a thief who just witnessed the murder of his brother by U.S. Captain Harrison Love (Matt Letscher), who is in cahoots with Montero. With a common enemy, de la Vega takes Alejandro under his wing to train him as the next Zorro, hoping to rid California of Montero once and for all and reunite him with his grown daughter Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who believes Montero to be her real father.
Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment had been trying to get a Zorro movie off the ground for years. Robert Rodriguez was one of the first directors attached to the project, and that is likely how Antonio Banderas became attached as Zorro (the two had made a few movies together at that point). Although Rodriguez would leave the project before the start of production, Banderas would prove to be an excellent choice for the masked swashbuckler with his then-recent experience with action films and knack for comedy. Prior to The Mask of Zorro, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ biggest role was in the little-seen comic-book caper The Phantom, and it was her role as Elena that launched her career as a leading lady as she stood her own against Banderas while also displaying on-screen chemistry with the actor. Anthony Hopkins is good as always as the father figure vying for vengeance while training a new recruit. Director Martin Campbell, having just rebooted the James Bond franchise with GoldenEye, was also a good choice as director, giving the action scenes some real flair while also paying homage to many of the Zorro movies that came before. Screenwriters Ted Elliott & Terry Rosio (Disney’s Aladdin, Shrek) infuse the story with humor, with their script laying the groundwork for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies they would write five years later. The real treat, though, is James Horner’s Spanish-influenced score, using flamenco dance steps as a musical instrument.
3D Rating: NA
Since 4K UHD Blu-rays were unavailable to review due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, Sony did send me a code to redeem a digital UHD copy of the film on Movies Anywhere. Digital can be tricky to review, as there are several factors involved that can cause issues beyond the viewers control, such as internet traffic and bandwidth, the encode a particular digital retailer is using, and how that encode performs on that retailer’s app on various streaming devices. At the time I redeemed my code and screened the film, The Mask of Zorro was only available in UHD on the Movies Anywhere app, FandangoNow, and Amazon Prime Video (Vudu added UHD on May 12). I eventually screened the film on FandangoNow after realizing that the UHD version on Movies Anywhere was missing the opening prologue text. I do not usually screen content on FandangoNow, but I must say that I was definitely impressed with how much of an improvement this new 4K scan and UHD encode are over the previous HD encode and Blu-ray release. Detail is excellent, from the individual threads in the canvas of the tent in the opening shot to facial features and even that opening prologue text that I no longer feel eye-strain from attempting to read it. Colors are much more natural and vivid (thanks to HDR10 high dynamic range) than on previous releases. Contrast is greatly improved as well, highlighting the textures on Zorro’s black costume and providing deep blacks with no evidence of crushing and bright whites without blooming. I would be more inclined to offer up a perfect score if it weren’t for the fact that I had to hunt down which retailer had a UHD version available and the fact that Movies Anywhere currently has an encode missing burned-in text.
Although the physical 4K UHD Blu-ray includes a new Dolby Atmos mix, at the time of this release, none of the retailers offering the movie in digital UHD included the new mix, only the older Dolby Digital+ 5.1 track. This is still a very good track, with excellent dynamic range and surround presence from the moment opening title sequence begins (the cougar growl mixed into the explosion is still very prominent). Crowd noises and James Horner’s score often fill out the surrounds, with several instances of discrete voices and other sounds travelling rather seamlessly. LFE is strong, accentuating explosions and the like. Dialogue is clear and understandable throughout.
Special Features: 2.5/5
One of my big complaints regarding digital is the inconsistency between retailers of including extras. In the case of The Mask of Zorro, the only retailer offering access to any Special Features appears to be Movies Anywhere, as Vudu, FandangoNow, Google Play, Apple TV (via Roku’s app), and Amazon Prime Video are all movie-only at this time. Notably missing from this set of extras is Director Martin Campbell’s commentary track, music video, and the sneak previews for The Legend of Zorro from the original Blu-ray release.
Original Deleted Scenes (480i): Two scenes are included – The Wallet (1:21) and The Resolution (3:30).
**NEW** Unreleased Deleted Scenes (480i): Ten scenes, previously unavailable, have been included – Scene 50 – Into the Dungeon (0:43); Scene 66 – Pay a Visit to Santa Anna (1:45); Scene 76 – Trinkets (0:37); Scene 105 – More Champagne (1:07); Scene 113 – A Sultry Dance (Alternate Cut) (0:43); Scene 115 – You Should Have Told Me (1:30); Scene 134 – In Pursuit of the Map (0:47); Scene 151 – Searching for Zorro (0:27); Scene 159 – Is That Man My Father? (0:55); and Scene 159 (Original) (0:578).
Unmasking Zorro (480i; 45:05): The original “making-of” featurette from the movie’s DVD release.
**NEW** Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 1:16): I think this trailer and the first teaser were mislabeled.
**NEW** Teaser Trailer 1 (1080p; 3:07): This looks more like a full-blown trailer than a teaser.
**NEW** Teaser Trailer #2 (1080p; 4:46)
As much fun as The Mask of Zorro still plays today, I found the digital experience rather frustrating with limited special features, slow implementation of UHD versions by retailers, missing footage on at least one retailer, and no Dolby Atmos track on any retailer. Buyer beware.