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Blu-ray Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Barrie Maxwell of The Digital Bits

The Mask of Zorro

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The Mask of Zorro
1998 (2009) - TriStar (Sony)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on December 1st, 2009
Also available on DVD


Film Rating: A
Video (1-20): 18
Audio (1-20): 18.5
Extras: B+

The Zorro character has been a staple of the movies since the silent era when Douglas Fairbanks played the character with much success in two films in the early 1920s. Various sound theatrical films and serials, and an entertaining TV series with Guy Williams kept Zorro alive for much of the succeeding half century.

After somewhat of a hiatus in the latter part of the 20th century, the character was resurrected for The Mask of Zorro in 1998, a production fostered by Steven Spielberg's production company, Amblin Entertainment.

The story this time finds an aging Zorro (Anthony Hopkins) forced back into action by the desire of a power-hungry ex-governor of California (Stuart Wilson) to buy California from Mexico in hopes of controlling it and its resources himself. Although the ex-governor's actions are Zorro's immediate concern, his ultimate goal is revenge on the despot for killing his wife, kidnapping his daughter (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and holding him prisoner for 20 years. Zorro enlists the aid of Alejandro Murrieta (Antonio Banderas), a young man with a score to settle with the governor's chief henchman (Matt Letscher) who had caused the death of the young man's brother - tutoring Murrieta in all the skills and manners of a young Zorro.

The Mask of Zorro is certainly a worthy addition to the Zorro canon. It's an exciting tale well told that is much in the best tradition of the Zorro legend. Anthony Hopkins is an inspired choice for the older Zorro while Banderas looks and acts every inch the part of the young Zorro apprentice. As one might expect from a modern film, the emphasis is on action with less attention paid to the effete mannerisms that Zorro traditionally effects as a way of hiding his true character. In this latter respect, the film improves on 1940's The Mark of Zorro in which one wishes that Tyrone Power's Zorro was not quite so overdone in that regard. Banderas's acrobatics as the young Zorro and his playful rather than effete character are actually more reminiscent of the approach taken by Douglas Fairbanks in 1920's The Mark of Zorro. One area in which the new film does not improve on the 1940 film is in its chief villain. Basil Rathbone was an inspired choice then and he easily outshines Stuart Wilson's rather faceless antagonist. Catherine Zeta-Jones' generally brash character is also a breath of fresh air, particularly exemplified by the playful sword duel she engages in with Banderas. As mentioned, The Mask of Zorro offers everything one could hope for in terms of action - from large set-pieces to more intimate dueling ones. The film was shot on location in Mexico and its art direction and set design are particularly well executed too. One could only have wished that closer attention had been paid to excising some modern character mannerisms and choice of words that seem particularly jarring at times (the two young brothers high-fiving each other, for example).

Sony's 2.40:1 Blu-ray presentation is another typically fine effort from the company. It offers deep black levels and a colour palette that beautifully replicates both the rich colours of many of the interior scenes and the more subdued ones of the earthy exteriors. Image detail is very good and aside from a few soft sequences, sharpness is pleasing. There is mild grain evident and no indication of digital manipulation resulting in a nice film-like look. There's no artificially induced pop here, just satisfyingly faithful reproduction of the theatrical experience. What more can one ask for?

The impact of the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is even slightly greater than the video, delivering a very alive and enveloping surround experience that handles the driving action sequences equally as well as more subtle ambient effects. The clashes of swords and cracks of whips echo around the room delightfully and James Horner's fine score surrounds one warmly throughout.

Aside from access to a MovieIQ cast, music and trivia track, the disc supplementary content basically replicates that of the previous DVD version, which appeared four years ago. The highlight is the three-quarter-hour Unmasking Zorro documentary that traces the Zorro story from its origins and then settles into a detailed account of the current production. There's plenty of interesting detail brought to light and the program just zips by. Also included is an entertaining audio commentary by director Martin Campbell, deleted scenes, a music video by Marc Anthony and Tina Arena, and scenes from the sequel, The Legend of Zorro.

The Mask of Zorro is a very entertaining film and a worthy addition to the extensive list of Zorro films, serials, and TV series. In its latest Blu-ray incarnation, it is highly recommended.

Barrie Maxwell


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2008 (2009) - Recorded Picture Co. et al. (Image in U.S./E1 in Canada)
Released on Blu-ray disc on November 17th, 2009
Also available on DVD


Film Rating: B+
Video (1-20): 17
Audio (1-20): 15
Extras: C-

Franklyn is the first feature film for U.K. director Gerald McMorrow and it's an impressive debut for the most part. Expanded from a short film concept, the film presents a variation on the recently popular theme of presenting several apparently disparate story threads and gradually showing how they converge over the running time of the film.

Franklyn has four such threads, three of which take place in contemporary London and a fourth that is set in a futuristic metropolis known as Meanwhile City. The latter is a place where belief is the central credo; belief in anything, not just religion but even the mundane such as the inner workings of a dishwasher will suffice. In Meanwhile City we are introduced to a masked figure (Ryan Philippe) who is an atheist, but one tasked by the authorities with a killing. In contemporary London, the film's three threads involve a father's (Bernard Hill) search for his son, a young man's (Sam Riley) attempt to reconcile a lost romance, and an art student (Eva Green) with a self-destructive bent.

It takes a while to make sense of what's going on as the stories are presented in an intertwined fashion and characters in each of them seem to resemble the look if not the nature of characters in the others. The stories do coalesce in a satisfying fashion for the most part although there is some contrivance in the ending that lessens the impact somewhat. The most interesting of the four threads are the Meanwhile City one (particularly the way in which it eventually meshes with the others) and that of art student Eva Green. McMorrow's images of Meanwhile City are visually impressive and effectively evoke an alternative London although there are no overt images to link the two conclusively. Eva Green's work in her thread is the most impressive in the cast, partly because her character is the best developed of all.

The 2.35:1 Blu-ray presentation is fairly impressive as it delivers good sharpness while dealing with the variety of different lighting styles that are used to distinguish each story thread. Particularly well handled is Eva Green's character who is at times bathed in vibrant colour and at others shown in an almost desaturated colour environment. Black levels are noticeably deep for the most part and shadow detail is strong though not uniformly so. The image does not have a startling degree of dimensionality, but facial close-ups and clothing texture are nicely detailed.

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio certainly delivers a decent audio experience, but there's nothing particularly remarkable about it. Most of the audio is strongly rooted in the fronts with only occasional and usually subtle surround activity. The use of LFE is very limited. Dialogue is clear and well balanced with the other sound effects.

The only supplement of consequence is a collection of interviews with various cast and crew members which taken together (about 30 minutes) provides a reasonable overview of the various production components. Also included are a redundant and short EPK, three deleted scenes, and the film's trailer.

Franklyn is a thoughtful and visually arresting experience on the whole that provides enough food for thought that multiple viewings are well rewarded. The Blu-ray presentation is at least visually impressive. Recommended.

Barrie Maxwell
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