Sony // 1993 // 81 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // October 7th, 2003
He didn't come looking for trouble, but trouble came looking for him.
El Mariachi is the stunning breakthrough film from director Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids, From Dusk Till Dawn, Desperado). Most of you are very familiar with his story, his rise to fame, and his works in general; therefore, I won't go into all of the details to bore you. Further, Rodriguez's "Mariachi" movies have been ported to disc on several occasions thus far, with this "special edition" presumably the last reissue we should probably see. As such, former Judge Norman Short has previously reviewed the movie, and I have included a link to his original review on the right. Judge Short has already recited all the specifics you need to know, so I shall attempt to not cover the same ground.
As succinctly as possible, here's the story of El Mariachi. A down on his luck mariachi player is traveling from town to town in Mexico. He arrives in a new city believing it'll be his big break, but he is wrong. This town is the center of a feud between two bitter adversaries who are exacting revenge upon each other. Unfortunately, the mariachi is quickly confused as one of those two men, and he has to find a way to stay alive. Along the way, he meets a beautiful woman and falls deeply in love.
El Mariachi is simply an outstanding first effort from Rodriguez. Telling the story of a man who, because of mistaken identity, becomes embroiled in a quest for revenge, El Mariachi is a clever, fresh, and immensely enjoyable tale. Still grounded in realism, unlike its sequels, this film is arguably the best of the bunch. With a cast of unknowns, a limited budget, but tons of energy, the movie works because of the story and the compelling drama. There aren't any fancy effects, you won't find any stunning cinematography, and you won't be yelling how Oscar snubbed this film. Nonetheless, everything works because of the lack of pretension and its raw portrayal at the loss of innocence. All the mariachi player wanted to do was to be like his father, his grandfather, and his great grandfather before him, but fate did not unfold as he had hoped. Simple yet engrossing.
As I watched this disc, I was extremely surprised to realize that this was the first time I had seen this film -- for some reason I was under the distinct impression that I had seen the film before. It must have been the way people always talk of Desperado as being a sequel/remake that led me astray. At first, I was dismayed that the film's audio track was only available with the original Spanish track. It was just a fleeting moment, and then I realized that it is best to view a "foreign" film in its native language. It pulls you in and allows you to immerse yourself in the environment. From the opening shot through to the climactic gun battle, you will be constantly impressed at how Rodriguez was able to make such a good movie on such a shoestring budget. The film belies its independent roots, and it still stands the test of time, becoming a classic (even if "just" a cult classic).
This latest version of El Mariachi claims that it sports a "new film transfer from original negatives supervised by Robert Rodriguez." I cannot personally attest to the difference, but based on Judge Short's video score of 70, I will believe this is a new transfer; for my personal score would be a 90. Yes, it's improved that much. While obviously not utilizing the biggest and best cameras around, the film looks great today. I was thoroughly impressed by the accurate colors, nice detail, and solid contrast. More importantly are the blacks, which are very well defined here -- and that's important considering the varied use of black throughout the film. Of course the video isn't perfect, as some scenes truly explode with grain, but they are quite infrequent and do not ruin your viewing experience. For the audio, I've already mentioned it's the "original" Spanish track, which is now a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. I found it very pleasing with no distortion and minimal hiss.
This "special edition," aside from the new transfer, is pretty much the same disc as before, and it thus has pretty much the same bonus materials as before. First up is a lively audio commentary with Robert Rodriguez. It's a very good commentary track that shares a lot of great information about the movie. Second is a short film by Rodriguez called "Bedhead." It's a cute story about a little girl who develops telekinesis after fighting with her brother. With these new powers, she gets her revenge! (Quite the theme in Rodriguez's works.) Next is the excellent "10-Minute Film School" featurette, which covers a broad range of topics of how Rodriguez made this film. Very enjoyable! Last up is the reason this disc is a "special edition" and different from its previous incarnations: a sneak peek at Rodriguez's final (?) installment of the Mariachi trilogy, Once Upon a Time in Mexico. It's nothing "special" and is pretty much just a fluff piece.
With so many versions of El Mariachi on the market, what is a fan of this film to do?
* If you do not own any copy of El Mariachi, then this is your best
bet. It has all the bonus materials and improved transfers.
* If you already own a previous copy of El Mariachi, then you need to determine how important it is to get a better transfer on the film.
Seeing as the retail price of this movie is only $14.99 (and available in a two-pack with Desperado for only $19.99), there's quite simply no reason for you not to own a copy of this enormously pleasing film.
Review content copyright © 2003 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish, original language)
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio Commentary by Director Robert Rodriguez
* Short Film "Bedhead"
* "10-Minute Film School"
* Sneak Peak: Once Upon a Time in Mexico
* DVD Verdict's Original Review