Sony // 1995 // 113 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // November 12th, 2001
Just a simple guitar player...in a pig's eye.
Director Robert Rodriguez made his mark on Hollywood by directing, writing, producing, and doing just about everything else in the self made El Mariachi, a $7000 opus that won prizes at Sundance and became the lowest budget feature film ever released by a major studio. With a multi-movie contract from Columbia under his belt, he went on to remake the film with a bigger budget and a lot more bells and whistles. That movie became Desperado and its $7 million budget went on to amass $25 million at the box office and much more in home video and DVD. This is the third release of the film, this time under the "Superbit" label, and is the best example of the product line released thus far. Will it replace the other releases of the film in your collection? Yes and no.
The plotline for Desperado is so similar to El Mariachi that it is a virtual remake. That said, the plethora of explosions, gun battles, and faster action, along with as much production value as any director can squeeze into a $7 million action picture, makes it an enjoyable pastime even if you've already seen the original. Antonio Banderas plays the Mariachi, a wandering man with a guitar case full of guns who kills drug dealers. He does this during his search for Bucho, a bad Mexican whose men killed the love of his life. A beautiful woman takes him in, in the form of the lovely Salma Hayek, for whom this was her first real exposure to American audiences. Expect a lot of mayhem before the final confrontation.
This is an action movie with very little within to take seriously. Comic relief is provided early with Steve Buscemi and Cheech Marin, and the violence reaches gratuitous levels quickly. There is a now-famous love scene with both Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas nude, but is short, tasteful, and not gratuitous. It is a popcorn movie, plain and simple, but it works very well. I've watched it several times over the years when I don't want to put on my thinking cap. It doesn't go stale even over repeated viewings, which is a keystone for a film to belong in a collection.
The only problem was I already had the film in my collection, from the fine double feature El Mariachi/Desperado disc, with its excellent collection of extra features. I've had a fair bit of skepticism about the Superbit line in general. In my mind, there has to be a significant improvement in picture and sound to warrant buying a film-only disc vs. a feature packed special edition. Fortunately, at least in the case of Desperado, Columbia really delivered. The old double feature disc suffered from a hazy transfer and a golden/amber color palette that was overly reinforced. Simply put, the Superbit anamorphic transfer is vastly better than the other releases. Gone is the haze, the orange tint, and now has a high degree of clarity and detail, outstanding sharpness, and better black levels and color. This is how the film was supposed to look. The sound quality on the double feature disc was already quite good, but now we have a DTS track to compare it to, and once again, DTS wins out with better punch, imaging, and clarity. This is a soundtrack meant to rock your theater room, and isn't a film to watch while the kids are asleep and the neighbors are cranky. The mix is aggressive with frequent use of the discrete rear surrounds, liberal use of the LFE channel, and a warmer, fuller sound from the music and well integrated dialogue. In the technical areas that Superbit wanted to improve on, they've come through with flying colors.
On the other hand, the extras are gone. Marketing the absence of something is a tricky proposition, and making you pay for less isn't always the wise way to go. Now I still have to have two versions of the film in my collection, because the extra content on the double feature disc is so well done and represents what I feel most consumers want when spending their hard earned cash. Making them both a two disc set or just including El Mariachi and the extra content from that release on a separate disc would have been the best of both worlds. This is a title that has already been triple-dipped, but I'd welcome an "Ultimate Edition" (bet you won't hear me say that often) that does it all right.
If you're a fan of the film, it's worth ponying up for yet another version of Desperado in the Superbit release because of the exceptionally better picture and sound. Don't throw away that double feature disc though.
Guilty of triple dipping a title and not giving us what the consumer asks for, great picture and sound with extras. However, the improvement of the technical aspects of the disc allow for a suspended sentence in this case.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Rated R