Robert Rodriguez second feature finally arrives as a steelbook Blu-ray
Desperado Film Review
Robert Rodriguez has always been a guerrilla director, with improvisational tactics that have transformed his limited budget productions into unexpectedly stylish, fun, shoot-from-the-hip outings.Writer, producer, editor, cinematographer, composer, production designer, visual effects supervisor, sound editor and, of course, director of most of his movies, Rodriguez is a veritable one-man studio. Sure, his bigger budgeted productions have not fared as well – with his biggest film, Sin City 2, struggling to capture the gritty glory of its predecessor – but he’s made some undeniable gems over the years (From Dusk Til Dawn), and all for a fraction of what Hollywood would spend, to far less impressive effect. This has arguably never been more apparent than with his 1995 sophomore vehicle Desperado, a sort-of sequel/reboot to his striking $7,000 debut, El Mariachi, which upped the budget and delivered the kind of gun-crazy slo-mo tastic action overload that has John Woo’s name written all over it. So dual pistols are wielded with bullets and bodies flying across the room.Indeed one wonders whether Antonio Banderas’s mariachi-turned-gunfighter may be the distant Mexican-American cousin to Woo’s go-to shootist, Chow Yun-Fat, imbuing his character here with the same visible internal angst and surprising abhorrence towards the thing that he does so well: pulling the trigger. Joining him for the ride there are plenty of familiar faces, and not just Rodriguez regulars, with cameos for Steve Buscemi, Quentin Tarantino and – in the precursor to his later Machete character – Danny Trejo, as well as Salma Hayek’s beauty (and palpable chemistry with Banderas) and Joaquim de Almeida’s scenery-chewing energy as the villain of the piece. Fun and surprisingly funny, bombastic and bloody, sexy and stylish as hell, Desperado is a blistering actioner that frequently achieves what films ten times the budget could only dream of.
Blu-ray Image QualityThis new – at least to the UK – Blu-ray release of Desperado sports a 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation – in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen – which does a solid, at times impressive, job at representing the minimal-budget production, although it understandably also cannot avoid highlighting some of the inherent flaws with working within such restrictions. As a point of information, it would appear that this presentation has been culled from the same source as the now years-old US counterpart, also released by Sony, and it certainly does not smack of some remarkable remastered job, although it is nevertheless a serviceable, at times strong, upgrade.
Despite being limited by the source material, Desperado’s Blu-ray presentation makes the most out of the low budget action feature’s image.
An undeniable leap up from the DVD counterpart, largely impressive detail is apparent right from the outset, even in the dimly-lit opening bar sequence, where the yellow/orange lighting does the skin tones no favours. Sure, there’s some softness apparent almost throughout, as you’d only expect given that the now 20 year-old film was made for $7 million, but there are also some wonderful little touches that you wouldn’t expect – beads of sweat, pores and skin textures, six o’clock shadow, and background flourishes aplenty, particularly on the close-ups. Black levels are also surprisingly good, with plenty of shadow-play and a surprisingly amount of corresponding shadow detail. A healthy layer of grain pervades throughout, always stable and lending the picture some rich texture, and colours – apart from perhaps the aforementioned indoor skin tones – look vibrant too. It’s not going to win any awards, and there are plenty of shots / sequences that fare worse than others, but, considering the circumstance (age, budget etc.) it’s a decent job.
Blu-ray Sound Quality
Bolstered by an energetic score, Desperado’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is also pretty damn impressive, and, at times, outright bombastic.
Whilst dialogue is given clear and coherent presentation across the fronts and centre channels – even with the soft voices and accents – it’s easily the least important element (extended jokes aside) of the soundtrack, which is defined by its at-times playful, at-times sorrowful, always engaging guitar-dominated score and brought to explosive life by the bullet-riddled action sequences. Our hero’s signature dual handguns blast away distinctively against a backdrop of shotguns, machine-pistols and even, later on, assault rifles and rocket launchers. As bombastic as you’d expect from a John Woo-style actioner, this soundtrack is certainly a high point on the disc, and has little to fault it in what is a largely demo delivery.
Blu-ray ExtrasSomewhat surprisingly, there’s no sign of El Mariachi here. I know, right, why would you expect to get a whole extra movie here? But you see Sony released Desperado and El Mariachi as a double-pack, and the Desperado present here appears to be exactly the same as the one on that release, down to the video, audio, extras and even the damn menu. It clearly would have been so simple to just have El Mariachi available as a bonus feature, but unfortunately that was wishful thinking.
This limited Steelbook release is the only currently-available UK Blu-ray for Desperado.
Instead we have a solid, energetic and informative commentary from Robert Rodriguez, who sheds some light on many of his trade secrets, and discusses shooting the film on such a low budget and improvising the hell out of the whole piece. There’s also an extra featurette, 10 More Minutes: Anatomy of a Shootout, which looks at the storyboard preparation for the action sequences, and a couple of Music Videos. It’s all good stuff, but I was kind-of hoping to see El Mariachi hidden on the menu.
In terms of packaging, the Steelbook itself is pretty damn nice. Although ostensibly identical to the US Best Buy counterpart, Zavvi's Exclusive Steelbook is actually - on this rare occasion - a true exclusive, sporting very similar artwork but actually rendered in glossy but thoughtful embossing as opposed to the Best Buy version's matte equivalent. Part of the Pop Art series, the actual artwork may not be to everybody's tastes, but it's still a polished, impressive piece when you've got it in-hand, and since it's the only way to own Desperado on Blu-ray without importing, it's well worth picking up if you're a fan of the film.
Desperado Blu-ray VerdictOne-man filmmaking army, Robert Rodriguez quite simply blew people away with his sophomore effort, Desperado, shot on a limited budget but boasting a star turn from Banderas, some decent support and colourful cameos, and enough balletic gunplay to make John Woo grin. Hell, nobody even noticed that he didn’t even have the budget to shoot an ending, such was his scene-dissolving prowess.
Desperado is not only the best in Rodriguez’s Mariachi trilogy but also one of his best films, which isn’t bad for a second feature.
Making its UK Blu-ray debut on an impressive Zavvi-exclusive Steelbook, Desperado certainly looks the part with its distinctive glossy, embossed artwork, and boasts strong video and audio (at least insomuch as you would expect from a 20-year old limited budget feature) and a couple of decent extras. It’s a shame – although perhaps somewhat wishful thinking – that Sony didn’t port over the preceding instalment, El Mariachi, for this package, especially since the rest of the disc seems almost identical to Sony’s US El Mariachi/Desperado twin-pack, but, other than that, the release comes recommended to fans of this engaging action flick.
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