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THE MASK OF ZORRO: SPECIAL EDITION

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stuart Wilson
Director:  Martin Campbell
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Pan & Scan 1.33:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  137 Minutes
Release Date:  September 25, 2001

"You have passion, Alejendro, and your skill is growing.  But to enter Montero's world, I must give you something which is completely beyond your reach."

"And what is that?"

"Charm."

Film **1/2

The Mask of Zorro has about an equal number of things to like and dislike about it.  The favorable aspects are highlighted by a great cast that seems to be having a blast making the film.  Antonio Banderas is terrific as the young thief Alejandro who finds himself filling the shoes of his childhood hero.  Anthony Hopkins, as Diego/original Zorro is good, but kind of an unusual choice, considering he doesn't bother to mask (no pun intended) his English accent in playing the role of the legendary Spanish hero.  Catherine Zeta Jones, in her first mainstream movie role, was quite a find.  She's beautiful, strong, and pretty handy with a sword (she does her own fighting in the film).

The story itself is also quite good.  The original Zorro breaks from prison after 20 years to claim revenge on the Spanish governor (Wilson) who took everything, including his child, from him.  But, given his age, and the dawning of a new political conflict involving the gold mines of California, he knows it's time to pass the torch.  He molds and trains a reckless thief to become the new Zorro.

I said the story is good, but the problem is, it seems to be too much for the framework of a movie, even one that clocks in at two and a quarter hours.  It might have been better served as a miniseries.  The film seems to rush through some of the better parts, especially the training of Alejandro, which does draw a couple of good laughs, but goes by too quickly.  When Alejandro emerges as the new Zorro, I found it a little hard to accept his metamorphosis from the clumsy thief into the swashbuckling hero simply because we didn't get a good enough look at the process of change.

I also attribute to the watering down of the story the basic omission of the Mexican people.  What made Zorro so different from the comic book hero characters was that he was a hero for the simple, everyday person.  Zorro was all about protecting and giving a voice to the oppressed and suffering.  Although the film touches lightly on that aspect, we barely see these people except a little at the beginning, and a little at the end.  The film so centers around both Zorros' desire for revenge against their enemies that it's almost hard to see anything truly heroic in their motivations or actions.

The action in the film is a little too far and in between as well, but it's fantastic, swashbuckling fun when it happens.  The climax delivers plenty of thrills, and one topper after another.  Other highlights include a chase on horseback, and the younger Zorro's fight with the leading lady.  All three leads handle their swords well enough to believe.

Still, it's hard to overlook how simply and broadly these characters are drawn, and the fact that the script, despite some good laughs, plows too quickly through some important scenes and comes across as sheer melodrama.  There's some fun to be had, for sure, but I walked away from it wanting a little more.

Video ****

Columbia Tri Star has earned a reputation for stellar looking and sounding DVDs, and this one is no exception.  This is a remarkable anamorphic widescreen transfer, with a terrifically wide palate of warm, bright colors to draw from.  All images are sharp and clear throughout, and I noticed no grain, shimmer or break up throughout the viewing.  I didn't watch the pan & scan version myself, but it's included on a second disc for those who prefer it.

Audio ****

The great Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (DTS also included) helps make the filmís action scenes, with a broad, dynamic range that make the listening experience an enjoyable one.  Like the action itself, the audio will lay somewhat dormant for periods of time, but with clear dialogue and well layered ambient effects.  However, when the action starts, the full stage opens up, with terrific multi-channel crossovers and much more loudness.

Features ****

This new Special Edition double disc from Columbia Tri Star is packed with good extras. In place of the original short production featurette is a full 45 minute documentary "Unmasking of Zorro", which goes into more details about the origins of the character as well as the movie production itself.  There is also a decent commentary track by director Martin Campbell, who offers plenty of addition information and speaks with a certain relaxed humility that's pleasant to listen to.  There are two deleted scenes, a theatrical and teaser trailer, twelve TV spots, filmographies of the principals, costume design sketches, production notes, and a music video by Marc Anthony and Tina Arena.  If you haven't heard Ms. Arena sing before, you're in for quite a treat!

NOTE:  Most of the extras are found on disc one, the widescreen disc.  Martin Campbell's commentary track, however, appears on both discs.

Summary:

The Mask of Zorro has many things going for it, but overall, the ingredients just didnít gel into a quality film.  I found it entertaining enough to watch once, but nothing inspired me enough to want to see it again.  This new Special Edition disc, however, is a quality offering that should please fans a great deal.