Updated: Mar 17
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / NEW HDR FRAME SHOTS
(1&2) Zorro (Antonio Banderas) is not just a great swordsman but has amazing acrobatic skills, as he battles Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson).
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“THE MASK OF ZORRO: 25th ANNIVERSARY EDITION”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1998; PG-13 for some intense action and violence; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: Ported-over documentary “Unmasking Zorro”
SONY PICTURES, the leader in TRUE 4K restoration, continues its Dolby Vision remastering program with 4K Ultra HD titles previously released. The new discs are encoded onto 100-gigabit discs giving more breathing room for higher video bitrates and packaged in high glossy anniversary Steelbook Editions.
Titles that have received the 4K upgrade include “Cliffhanger: 30th Anniversary” scheduled May 30, “Groundhog Day: 30th Anniversary” (1/10/23), “Starship Troopers: 25th Anniversary Edition” (11/1/22), “Bram Stoker’s Dracula: 30th Anniversary” (10/4/22), “Men in Black: 25th Anniversary” (7/19/22), “The Bridge on the River Kwai: 65th Anniversary” (7/7/22), and “Lawrence of Arabia: 60th Anniversary” (7/7/22). Released this month are “Air Force One: 25th Anniversary” and the ‘90s swashbuckling adventure, “The Mask of Zorro: 25th Anniversary Edition.”
“The Mask of Zorro” is a fabulous 4K watch – just like its predecessor’s release in 2020, which made our Highdefwatch.com Top 10 – 4K Ultra HDs of 2020. The restored picture, with striking clarity, and refined natural film grain, and perhaps the brightest 4K imagery going, still with deep dark shadows and even mid-tones, hitting an HDR10 peak level of 9978 nits and averaging 5364 nits. Those numbers far exceed the brightness output of any of today’s top 4K setups, which makes it future-proof and surpasses the 2179 nit average of the previous 4K. The average video bitrate runs around 10 Megabits per second more.
The Spanish hero is played by Antonio Banderas, who grew up pretending to be the Robin Hood of Mexico. Director Martin Campbell (“Casino Royale,” 2006) relays on his commentary track how co-star Anthony Hopkins first turned down the role of the elder Zorro – a.k.a. Don Diego de la Vega – because of a bad back, and how producer Steven Spielberg spotted Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones while he was watching the TV mini-series “The Titanic.” She plays Elena, the kidnapped daughter of Don Diego, whom the evil Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson) kidnaps as a baby after killing her mother, then ends up raising her while imprisoning her father for two decades.
Fray Felipe (William Marquez) orders brothers Alejandro (José María de Tavira) and Joaquín (Diego Sieres) back to the mission. (2&3) The Mexican peasants are protesting the soon to be killing of three random people by the evil Don Rafael Montero. (4) Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson) the corrupt governor of the region and his advisor Don Luiz (Tony Amendola). (5) Zorro - a.k.a. Don Diego de la Vega - surprises the two brothers.
Set in early 19th century Mexico and California, Montero rules the land with a wicked hand, killing peasants with firing squads. Fast forward 20 years later, and the film becomes the tale of the “old master and the young kid,” Hopkins says. Don Diego meets former street urchin Alejandro (Banderas), and trains him in the way of the legendary Zorro, from fencing to horsemanship. The chemistry between Banderas and Zeta-Jones is just right, eventually leading to a sequel, “Legend of Zorro” (2005). Campbell would direct, but that storyline doesn’t hold up as well, its box office half of “The Mask of Zorro,” which topped $250 million worldwide. Sony has also released “Legend of Zorro” on 4K, but only on digital platforms.
Sourced from the original 35mm camera negative (2.39:1 aspect ratio) captured by cinematographer Phil Meheux (“GoldenEye,” “Casino Royale”) the 4K scan is top-notch with its standard HDR10 and new Dolby Vision grading controlling the highlights during bright daylight scenes to deep blacks during night scenes and dark interiors. The colors are natural from facial toning in a warm palette. The only issue we found was a slight flicker in the darkest areas of the frame in wide shots inside Don Diego’s training cave. You can also see it by selecting frame-by-frame via the remote. The Blu-ray is not sourced from the 4K master, and os only worth watching for the bonus features.
The Oscar-nominated sound continues to provide a deep bass response, with the eight-channel Atmos soundtrack. Explosions, pounding dance steps, and the clash of sword fights choreographed by Bob Anderson (“The Princess Bride”) ring throughout the sound system – along with James Horner’s active orchestrated score.
(1&2) Zorro leaves his mark on Don Rafael Montero while defending the peasants and commoners of Las Californias. (3&4) Alejandro and Joaquín get a necklace from Zorro. (5) A composite shot of Zorro and the setting sun. (6&7) Don Diego de la Vega arrives home to see his baby daughter Elena and his wife Esperanza (Julieta Rosen). (8&9) A duel between Don Diego and Don Rafael. (10) Twenty years later a bounty hunter brings brothers Alejandro and Joaquín to Mexican authorities.
The documentary included on digital platforms and the enclosed Blu-ray highlights the character’s history, starting with Johnston McCulley’s first 1919 Zorro pulp novel, “The Curse of Capistrano,” in which “Zorro” is translated from the Spanish as “fox,” for the “wily and clever character,” Sandra Curtis, Creative Director for Zorro Productions, says. At the time, McCulley and other pulp writers were paid only a penny a word, so they cranked out novels to make a living, “while trying to create an incredible world of adventure for readers,” she says. A grand total of 66 Zorro stories were written, with the last one, “The Mask of Zorro,” coming just before McCulley’s death in the late 1950s.
Silent star Mary Pickford suggested the story to her husband Douglas Fairbanks Sr. during their honeymoon cruise from New York to Europe. It resulted in the first movie, “The Mark of Zorro” (1920). Zorro was a fantastic swordsman, stunt rider, and athlete. “He was also much more clever about defeating his enemies and humiliating them,” Curtis says. The film was a huge box office hit, inspiring a whole new genre for Fairbanks.
“The Mask of Zorro,” launched in 1991, was a joint screenplay project between John Gertz, President of Zorro Productions, and his screenwriter twin Nancy Larson. The first draft got varying offers from Hollywood studios, but once TriStar and Amblin Entertainment, owned by Steven Spielberg, became attached, the film project started rolling. It went through many incarnations, as Spielberg was intimately involved in the development and conceptualization of the production and script, executive producer Laurie MacDonald recalls.
(1-3) Don Rafael returns to California with Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who's now a beautiful woman. (4) Escaped prisoner Don Diego spots his daughter Elena.
Campbell’s reinvention of the Bond series with “GoldenEye” (1995) starring Pierce Brosnan as the new 007, made him a top candidate to helm “Zorro.” He first examined the old movies, finding the new script had the right balance between humor, adventure, and romance. “It has a great operatic quality,” Campbell says. Plus, the storyline had two heroes instead of one, and a strong female character. The director had high praise for Banderas, who at the time had appeared in 52 films – mostly Spanish language, made in Spain – “Who brims over with ideas and has a terrific Latin passion.”
Banderas remembers watching the adventures of Zorro on Saturday afternoons on the national channel in Spain, and afterward play-acting scenes with his brother. After nearly 40 productions from around the globe, Banderas would be the first Spanish actor to play Zorro. “It gave me a lot of good feelings just to be part of the movie,” he said.
Zeta-Jones tells how Martin Campbell had the final say whether she would get the role, requiring a screen test in Mexico, “Which was nerve-racking,” she says. Within a few weeks, she had the job and started training in Mexico, where the movie was filmed, for sword fighting, Spanish dancing, horse-riding, and nailing the Spanish accent. “It was a bit of a whirlwind,” Zeta-Jones says.
Production designer Cecilia Montiel found two large haciendas in Mexico. One was 400 years old, and the other 500, which they restored to their original states for production.
(1&2) Don Diego prepares to transform Alejandro Murrieta (Antonio Banderas) into the new Zorro. (3&4) Zorro steals a black stallion at a garrison and surprises the men. (5) Alejandro poses as nobleman Don Alejandro del Castillo y García and has a firey dance with Elena.
Producer David Foster says no one got any sleep during the shoot, thanks to the “sounds of clanking swords,” as Hopkins, Banderas, Zeta-Jones and Bob Anderson were training at all hours. Anderson had high praise for Banderas’ sword skill, saying, “He has all of the hallmarks of Fairbanks, but with a modern approach to it.”
The 4K disc includes the same 10 minutes of never-before-seen deleted scenes, but strangely in standard-def, and three trailers that look like they’re in 4K, but without HDR.
In 1998 “The Mask of Zorro” received high marks from critics; moviegoers gave it solid summer box office numbers finishing No. 10 right behind Disney’s “Mulan,” but short of No. 1 “Armageddon” and No. 2 “Saving Private Ryan.” But, with its top-notch 4K picture and sound, this one is a no-brainer.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1-3) Peasants and prisoners are used for slave labor at a secret gold mine “El Dorado” and Don Rafael plans to use the money from the gold to buy California from Santa Anna. (4&5) Alejandro Murrieta is not amused by Captain Harrison Love’s (Matt Letscher) killing of prisoner Three-Fingered Jack (LQ. Jones). The Captain will make sure the gold bars are transferred to Santa Anna. (6) Elena duels Zorro. (7) Don Diego confronts Don Rafael, to tell Elena the truth about her mother and father.