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DVD Review Of The Legend Of Zorro

Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 8/12/06

 

  The Mask Of Zorro was a 1998 sleeper hit, directed by Martin Campbell, that saw Antonio Banderas in the role he was born to play, that of the 19th Century Mexican-American superhero Zorro, aka Don Alejandro de la Vega. The film was notable for two other reasons- first, it was a very good film, even considering it was in the action-superhero vein, and two, it was Americaís introduction to the almost flawlessly gorgeous Catherine Zeta-Jones, a co-winner of the female genetic perfection sweepstakes, along with Halle Berry.

  Since that film, Jones has become a household name with her films, marriage to Michael Douglas, and an Oscar nomination. The rest of the Zorro crowd has not fared as well, and this 2005 sequel, The Legend Of Zorro, set a decade after the first film, is only a so-so follow up. One can tell this from the very fact that, as is wont in these sorts of films, the lead characters have a child, Joaquin (Adrian Alonso), who is the typical onscreen brat. Whenever a film or television series adds a child into the original mix, one can smell the desperation. Another sign of such stink is when self-referential wisecracking replaces realistic dialogue. This screenplay, written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, reeks of desperation, as well as being far too long, at just over two hours. The original screenplay was penned by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossario. In concert with these facts is the fact that this film garnered a mere PG rating from the MPAA, while the original got a PG-13.

  In this film, Alejandro and Elena (Jones) are in a failing marriage, with a child. She is sick of his derring do and absences, and not really knowing their son. She says, ĎYou are missing your sonís entire life.í This sort of PC approach to the film contrasts with the swashbuckling original, which relied heavily on stunts. In this film, the stunts are rather standard issue, and the special effects are not nearly up to modern standards, especially in the climactic scenes of a train crash, which are obviously miniatures. Cinematographer Phil Meheux and editor Stuart Baird may be to blame for these flaws, but the real culprit is the script. Set in 1850, before Californiaís entry into the Union, Zorro has been working for this goal for a decade.

  Yet, heís also a drunk, and Elenaís old flame from school, a French aristocrat named Armand (Rufus Sewell), puts the moves on her. The kid, as is telegraphed, becomes a wiseass punk. Meanwhile, a bad guy named Jacob McGivens (Nick Chinlund) hatches a plot to destroy the U.S., using bars of soap, in order to facilitate the dominance of Dixie in the coming Civil War (perhaps the only reason for a late cameo appearance by an actor portraying Abe Lincoln). How it all plays out is predictable, so details are not needed: the bad guys are thwarted, because Zorro gets his act together, saves his son, and re-woos Elena. Letís face it, though, this film is not the sort one turns to for great character development. Itís a thrill ride, and despite the special effects lapses, it mostly succeeds, and does take advantage of its two greatest assets- the great looks of Bandera and Jones. Hell, a film could just pan around Jonesí face and figure for a couple of hours and itíd be worth watching, so this film is not as bad as many critics claimed it was. Also, the very fact that the film is a PG-13 says that itís for children, anyway, and in some ways one could argue that this film is merely a parody of its predecessor.

  The DVD features are of a much higher quality, overall, than the film. The commentary track, by director Campbell and cinematographer Meheux, is actually quite informative, and not the usual fellatio-fest that most Hollywood filmsí commentaries are. There are also four solid featurettes on various aspects of making the film, a trailer, and some multi-angle scene deconstructions that are informative.

  If only the film had taken more advantage of the seven year hiatus. After all, itís not like they rushed a sequel into production. Yet, thatís exactly what this film feels like, despite its good fun. Overall, I can give this film a marginal recommendation, especially as family fare, but I suspect that there will be no more sequels, at least not with Banderas and Jones, in this franchiseís future.

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