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Right up front, let me say that Robert Rodriguez’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO ($29) is a must have DVD. Not only is ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO a highly entertaining action movie, it is also a great DVD that offers movie fans some truly worthwhile supplements that are not only entertaining in their own right, but actually tell you something about movie production and how this particular production came together- in explicit detail. One of the most fascinating aspects of the production of ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO is the fact that it was shot with high definition cameras, instead of on traditional film, which, according to director/writer/cinematographer/editor/composer Rodriguez, will revolutionize how movies are made in the future.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO is the epic conclusion to the film series that Rodriguez began with low budget miracle EL MARIACHI and continued with the explosive and enormously popular DESPERADO. Taking place after the events depicted in DESPERADO, ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO finds the musician/gunfighter known as El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) caught up in the Machiavellian plotting of a shady (and slightly psychotic) CIA agent named Sands (Johnny Depp). Sands tells El Mariachi that powerful drug lord Barillo (Willem Dafoe) is planning to assassinate the Mexican President (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) and replace him with power hungry General Marquez (Gerardo Vigil) in a coup d’état.

While Sands wants the assassination to go through as planned, even he knows a rabid dog like Marquez cannot be allowed to assume the presidency, so it will fall to El Mariachi to kill the General- a man against whom the guitar playing gunfighter already has a personal vendetta. To say any more would spoil all the complexities and surprises of the plot of ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO. As expected, Banderas is in top form as El Mariachi; however, it is Johnny Depp who turns in the film’s most memorable and complex performance as the corrupt CIA agent. The terrific cast of ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO also features Salma Hayek, Mickey Rourke, Eva Mendes, Danny Trejo, Enrique Iglesias, Marco Leonardi, Cheech Marin and Rubén Blades.

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment has made ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. As I mentioned above, ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO was shot with high definition cameras, which produce an image an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. However, theatrical prints of ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO were matted to 2.35:1, which leaves the question of the film’s intended aspect ratio up in the air, especially when one considers that Rodriguez was heavily involved with creation of this DVD. Still, compositions appear perfect at 1.78:1 and the down-converted high definition presentation looks incredible.

Sharpness and image detail are absolutely outstanding on this DVD. Since the image was created digital realm, there are no flaws that one would associate with the film medium, including any kind a blemishes or grain structure. Colors are wonderfully vivid and go beyond lifelike; additionally, flesh tones have a totally appealing appearance. The picture also produces inky blacks, clean whites and excellent detail in low light situations. Digital compression artifacts are usually well contained during the presentation.

..ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO features a very good Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack- that is at its best during the movie’s action sequences. The sound design is aggressive during the high-energy action moments and subdued during the quiet passages. Surrounds are very well deployed for active sound effects, as well as for filling out Rodriguez’s spaghetti western epic score. As for the music itself, it is rendered with excellent clarity and sonic impact. English dialogue is completely intelligible and the actors’ voices come across with a natural sounding timbre. The bass channel is very effective, but isn’t as gut-bustingly deep as some newer action movie tracks. A French 2.0 surround track is also provided on the DVD, as are English and French subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some excellent supplemental materials. Robert Rodriguez is on hand for a highly informative and very entertaining running audio commentary that covers every aspect of the production in tremendous detail. Rodriguez’s commentaries tend to make terrific listening for movie fans and this one is no exception to that particular rule. Rodriguez also provides comments on a second track that includes isolated music and effects in 5.1. The Ten Minute Flick School is a ten-minute feaurette in which Rodriguez extols the virtues of the shooting digitally on hi-def cameras, not to mention how quickly and easily he was able to achieve certain shots on the system. 10 Minute Cooking School features Rodriguez showing how to cook Puerco Pibil, the dish that Johnny Depp’s character couldn’t get enough of in the movie.

Inside Troublemaker Studios is a very cool eleven-minute program in which Rodriguez takes the viewer on a tour of his at home film production facilities- demonstrating all the postproduction moviemaking toys at his disposal. Film Is Dead: An Evening With Robert Rodriguez is a thirteen-minute Q&A session with the director in which he talks about working with the hi-def cameras and how they will revolutionize moviemaking. The Anti-Hero's Journey is an eighteen-minute look at El Mariachi trilogy with an emphasis on the making of ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO. The Good, The Bad & The Bloody: Inside KNB FX clocks in at nineteen minutes and focus on the prosthetic work of the KNB Effects Group. Also included are eight deleted scenes, with optional director commentary, plus two theatrical trailers for ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO and bonus trailers for DESPERADO, EL MARIACHI, BIG FISH, HELLBOY, IN THE CUT, THE MISSING, RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE, UNDERWORLD and YOU GOT SERVED.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO is an epic and exciting third act to the El Mariachi trilogy. Not only does the DVD look incredible and sound great, it offers absolutely terrific and totally worthwhile supplements- without an ounce of fluff. Very highly recommended.



Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2004 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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