Once Upon A Time In Mexico
R4 - Australia - Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (20th August 2004).
The Film

In 1992 independent filmmaker Robert Rodriguez created a sensation around the world with his film El Mariachi, the film itself was a generic action film with a Latino flavour, but it stood out largely because of how it was made for a minuscule budget or $7,000 and how the director raised those funds by subjecting himself to experimental drug tests. He originally made the film on 16mm for the Mexican video market. Upon completing El Mariachi the video was shopped around the studios until Columbia Tristar picked it up and invested some more money in a 35mm film print and an updated soundtrack, soon enough the film was unleashed to the general public after gaining some notoriety on the film festival circuit that included Sundance.
El Mariachi became an instant fan favourite, the film made some money at the box office and secured a sequel, 1995's Desperado armed with a slightly larger budget ($7 million) and two great stars Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek the film did well at the box office making a profit, combined with video and DVD sales these two films' popularity had grown over the years to a larger audience. Initially Rodriguez never planned to do a Mariachi trilogy, but it was the words of friend Quentin Tarantino that convinced him to expand the series into three films. That's where Once Upon a Time in Mexico fits in. Mexico's journey from concept to completion was a long road, it had been six years since Rodriguez had done anything with his Mariachi character, but once the green light was given the project fell together rather quickly. The script, pre-production and production of the film all took place in-between the production of Spy Kids and Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams in 2001. To save time, money and general efficiency reasons he chose to shoot the entire film on High-Definition Digital, utilizing the same cameras used for Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Having assembled an all-star ensemble cast that included the return of Banderas and Hayek but that also included Johnny Depp as a corrupt CIA operative Agent Sands, Mickey Rourke as ex-patriot criminal Billy, Eva Mendes as a tough Mexican police officer Ajedrez, Enrique Iglesias as a fellow Mariachi hit man Lorenzo and Willem Dafoe as the drug overload Barillo.
Having completed the film shoot in a matter of months it would be two years before the film was to be released. In that time the second the third Spy Kids instalments where released. But finally in 2003, one of my most anticipated films was finally unleashed to the public.
The story follows Desperado only in flashbacks, which is interwoven within the plot of this film. The flashbacks reveal that, after the end of Desperado, Carolina and the Mariachi marry and are expecting a baby, but their chances for a normal family life are put to end when a crazed general murders the Mariachi's wife and yet to be born baby. Cut to present day and Mariachi is a broken man who has put his killing ways behind him but when approached by a loose canon CIA Agent Sands (Depp) he's put back to work and given an assignment to murder the current Mexican President. It's not really clear whether Agent Sands' agenda is that of the CIA or his own. Eventually it is discovered that the man that Sands wants placed as the new President is the same crazed General that long ago murdered the Mariachi's child bearing wife. Having collected his guitar case of weapons and commissioned the help of his two Mariachi friends it's time to make things right and take out this general who he though was once dead.
Throughout this entire fiasco, Sands influences ex-FBI agent Jorge into going back in the field secretly to investigate what the drug lord Barillo is up to, we eventually discover that he too has an agenda that is dependent upon a successful coup.
From the first frame it was evident that this film was going to be something different than what we've seen in the two previous Mariachi films. The feel was much more epic and the scale of the production value and musical score aided to that epic feel. Mexico had a lot of good things going for it, the witty banter between characters was amusing, the over-the-top action was fun to watch and Johnny Depp's scene stealing Agent Sands character was fantastic, additionally the technical aspects of the film where also impressive. The digital cinematography looked breathtaking capturing the bold gold, brown and black colours of Mexico creating a richness not often seen, matched with fast-paced editing and a musical score that is reminiscent of the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns that where scored by the great Ennio Morricone. If one thing is clear it's that Rodriguez knows how to get as much bang for your buck and this film is a testament to that. However there are some aspects of the film that didn't quite deliver, first of all the script, it felt as if the plot itself was a last minute addition to fill space in between the action and was occasionally forgotten or slightly diverted throughout the action but would occasionally come back into play when Rodriguez deemed necessary. There are also many cameo players and characters in this film, many of which underused like Dafoe for example, the inclusion of so many characters to follow was at times confusing.
Apart from these inherent problems Mexico is at the end of the day a popcorn action film and things like plot just get in the way. If you're looking for a good time with babes, guns and explosions then this is a ride you might want to take.

Video

During filming the shooting ratio was 1.78:1, but when projected in cinemas the director chose to exhibit it in a matted 2.35:1 cinemascope ratio. This DVD presents the film the way it was shot in it's open matted 1.78:1 widescreen ratio. This anamorphic transfer is beautiful, transferred directly from it's digital source the image is sharp, colours are bold and well represented. There is wonderful detail in shadow and the blacks are well balanced and accurate. This is one of the best DVD transfers I've seen, a top-notch job.

Audio

This DVD includes two soundtracks in Dolby Digital 5.1, the first in English and the second in Russian. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its original English soundtrack. Although the dialogue is always clear, atmospheric surrounds are placed wonderfully and make you feel as if you're right in Mexico additionally the score is vibrant and makes its presence known without drowning out whatever else is happening onscreen, This aside this is not where the soundtrack shines, in case you missed it this is an action flick and once you've made to choice to pop this disc into your player your surround system will thank you in spades. The 5.1 separation is utilised wonderfully gun shots, explosions, crashes and the awesome coup sequence near the end of the film will rock your house, the subwoofer will literally sweat from the exercise this soundtrack will give it, it compliments the excellent transfer well. The only thing that could make this any better is if it was a DTS track, so in that case bring on the superbit version!
This DVD also features subtitle options in English, English captions, Hindi and Russian.

Extras

The first is an audio commentary by writer/director Robert Rodriguez, in this commentary the director reveals every secret in the making of this film, more specifically the tricks in creating high gloss entertainment on a smaller budget. Rodriguez provides an entertaining and informative commentary without any quite moments for the entire 97-minute duration of this film you'll learn a lot about it and about the complexities and challenges of filmmaking in general.

Following that are a series of six featurettes. The first of which is entitled 10 Minute Flick School just about every Rodriguez DVD includes this feature and is an insightful piece for emerging and independent filmmakers. Here we have the director discussing the ways you can get the most out of a limited budget, despite the title this featurette runs at 9 minutes 3 seconds and includes clips from the film and behind-the-scenes material edited into the piece.

The second featurette is entitled Inside Troublemaker Studios this 11 minute 21 second featurette is a tour of Rodriguez's home studio located in his garage, where the post-production of each of his films takes place. The tour includes a look at what equipment he uses and some of the people that he collaborates with on each project.

Up next is the 10 Minute Cooking School and despite the title this featurette only runs for a brief 5 minutes 47 seconds. Here we have Rodriguez showing us how to cook Agent Sands' favourite dish from the film Puerco Pibil.

One of the better featurettes is the Film is Dead: An Evening with Robert Rodriguez running at 13 minutes 17 seconds this featurette is more of a highlights reel from his appearance at the Sony Pictures Studios Cary Grant Theatre on July 17, 2003. Here Rodriguez discusses how he learned of HD-Digital cameras and his reasoning why he chose to shoot this film on this format, in the discussion he demonstrated the practicality and previewed some shots from the film. Additionally we have some Q&As as well.

The next featurette The Anti-Heroes Journey is 18 minute 1 second EPK style featurette that interviews the cast and crew of this film and also chronicles the Mariachi character's progression throughout the three films. This piece features some behind-the-scenes footage, photographs and clips from the films incorporated with the interviews.

Finally we have the last featurette entitled The Good, The Bad and The Bloody: Inside KNB EFX running at 19 minutes 1 second piece takes a look at the special effects group that created the effects for this film, in it we see the creation and application of Agent Sands' third arm, the Cheech Marin dummy and the bull fight dummy.

Following the featurettes we have a series of eight deleted scenes all of which can be viewed with optional commentary by writer/director Robert Rodriguez, in his commentary he discusses the reasons why these scenes where dropped. The scenes include:

- Sands phones dead man: a cut scene where Sands is trying to contact Cucuy and is forced to have to listen to his demise over the phone.
- Mariachi in the Desert: this cut scene shows the Mariachi after he escaped from Barillo's compound. He collapses in the desert and has another hallucination about Carolina.
- Sands Outside Restaurant: this cut scene shows Sands as he tries to get into a restaurant, which has not yet opened for the day.
- Goat Milk, Cold: this amusing cut scene shows Cucuy talking with Barillo's main man Billy in a seedy Mexican bar.
- Sands on the Internet: Sands visits a local Internet cafe.
- One Arm: this is an alternate take with different dialogue of the scene where Sands is at the Bull fighting arena.
- Jorge: a cut scene showing ex-FBI agent Jorge doing some more snooping at a hospital.
- Spy Dog: this cut scene shows Billy with his dog as he releases it towards Barillo with the hidden microphone.

The DVD also includes a theatrical trailer for the film plus bonus trailers for Desperado, El Mariachi and The Mask of Zorro. Additionally we also have filmographies for Robert Rodriguez, Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Johnny Depp. And to top it all off we have two interactive DVD-ROM features a Lottery plus a Shooting Gallery entitled Trio Al Blanco.

Packaging

The package states this DVD to be region 4 encoded, but it is actually region 2, 4 & 5 encoded.

Overall

Once Upon a Time in Mexico is a great piece of popcorn entertainment, packed to the rim with fast-paced gun battles and explosions that would shake your roof, it's worthy a check up if only for the great performance by Depp. The DVD presents the film exceptionally well with a great audio and video transfer, the extras are also plentiful. The only thing that could make this DVD set any better is perhaps a DTS track and a proper making-of documentary. Also for some reason the score and sound effects isolated Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack with audio commentary by Robert Rodriguez that appears on the Region 1 release has been dropped from this release. Apart from these minor issues this a great disc and is recommended

The Film: B Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: A Overall: A

 


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