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El Mariachi/Desperado (Blu-ray Review)

The Robert Rodriguez library on Blu-ray continues to expand.  Columbia Pictures proudly present: the first two films in the Robert Rodriguez “Mexican” trilogy.  It’s only fitting that a real Mexican was tasked with (okay I volunteered) to review the Rodriguez Mariachi series on Blu-ray.  Once again, this will be a cumulative review, but I will grade the films as a whole.  Let’s get started. Vamos!

Film 

El Mariachi: In the early 90’s a young film maker by the name of Robert Rodriguez took Hollywood by storm.  Here was a kid in his early 20’s who raised $7,000 and made a film that looked like it cost a million dollars to make.  His intention was to sell it to the Spanish film market, make a little cash, and reinvest it into making a better second movie.  You all know that didn’t happen.  Columbia Pictures saw it, bought it, and Robert Rodriguez is now a household name with several franchises to his credit.

El Mariachi is Rodriguez’s almost fabled-like film about a young musician (Carlos Gallardo)  who walks into a small Mexican town looking for work as a mariachi singer and guitarist.  He carries a guitar (and case) for that matter.  No one seems to be hiring.  At the same time, a hitman named Azul has just escaped from jail and is looking for revenge against his former partner Moco (Peter Marquardt), because he was cut out of their past profits.  Azul has been killing all of Moco’s men with a stash of weapons in his own guitar case.  Some hitmen are sent to kill Azul, but mistake the innocent mariachi, because he also dresses in a similar fashion as Azul.  That, and they both carry guitar cases.  Along the way El Mariachi meets a young woman named Domino (Consuelo Gomez) who owns the bar where violence has just ensued.  El Mariachi seeks refuge.

At this point it should be very clear that El Mariachi is a very simple mistaken identity action packed film.  In addition to the creative set-pieces, there are some funny gags laid out throughout the film.  One of my favorite is of Moco lighting a match on his #1 henchman’s face.  It never ceases to crack me up.  If you’re in  the mood to see some ingenious film techniques being put to good use then I would highly recommend El Mariachi on Blu-ray.  In fact, if you’re a student of film or want to make the leap into feature films, El Mariachi is required viewing.

Desperado: 1995 was a banner year for our friend Robert Rodriguez.  A couple of years before he had made his feature film debut with El Mariachi to critical and financial acclaim.  How would he top that?  Well, with a sequel.  Desperado was to continue the tale of the man with no name…just a guitar case…filled with weapons.  Armed with a budget of seven million dollars, Rodriguez set out to film Desperado with Antonio Banderas as the mysterious stranger.  This time around the El Mariachi was out to exact revenge against Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida) who is also the local town’s resident kingpin.  The problem is that El Mariachi doesn’t know what he looks like.  That’s where the high body count comes in.  El Mariachi leaves a trail of dead bodies and destruction wherever he goes.  He is aided by his only friend played by Steve Buscemi and is also hunted by Navajas (Danny Trejo).  Carolina (Salma Hayek) offers the guitarist sanctuary after he saves her life.  Again, the body count is high, henchmen don’t know how to shoot, and Salma Hayek is still hot, and…yeah.

You know you’ve made it when your second film costs one hundred times MORE than your first film did to make. Even by 1995 standards, Desperado was made for nothing.  It recouped its budget and more on opening weekend.  I know this, because I saw the film twice during the opening weekend.  Desperado is a peculiar film, because it doesn’t follow El Mariachi to the T.  Some scenes and character motivations don’t match the earlier film and vice versa.  This isn’t a problem, because Desperado plays out like a standalone film that you really don’t need to see the first film to get.  It’s self contained.

If you’re looking for a slam dunk of action then this double-pack of Rodriguez’s first AND second films on Blu-ray will satisfy you.  Trust me.

Video 

El Mariachi is presented in 1080p 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  El Mariachi is in Spanish with optional English subtitles.  El Mariachi looks really great for being a an almost twenty year old film shot on 16mm, transferred to 35mm, etc… This is about as good as its going to get.  Skin tones look natural, there are bits and specs here and there.  This is not a restoration, so don’t go into the film thinking that they gave it the Criterion Collection treatment.  They did not.  Personally, I have no complaints, because I know the entire history of the film, so it’s all good from my end.

Desperado is presented in 1080p 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Desperado, in certain scenes, like the interiors of the bar, Carolina’s bookstore and apartment, were shot in low light which gives all of the Mexican actors a sort of glow.  With the exception of Steve Busemi and Joaquim Almeida (who aren’t Mexican) everyone has a really cool olive glow.  The high def picture on this disc brings that out.  The other color that gets to shine is red.  When the blood starts to flow it really brightens up the screen.  Desperado looks great for a fifteen year old film.

Audio

El Mariachi is presented DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo.  Fear not, because this is the best the film has ever sounded.  I don’t think it was ever remixed for surround sound.  It doesn’t matter, because going back to its low budget roots, it sounds great in 2.0.  After all, this was the film whose sound and music were recorder on a Radio Shack tape recorder and microphone.  It’s a pretty well balanced.  Being stereo, the front left and right channels get the workout, and dialogue, gunfire, come through with ease.

Desperado is where the audio track really shines.  Depserado has a very warm and natural soundscape.  The music, dialogue, gunfire come through every single channel with such elegant force, that at one point when a body got tossed from front to back I actually turned around to see if it was behind me.  It was great!  Desperado alone would be reference, but the law of averages dictates otherwise.  I’ve owned the Desperado laserdisc, dvd, Superbit dvd, and now this Blu-ray.  It always sounded great back then and now the Blu-ray track blows the previous audio tracks out of the water.  There is no contest.

Special Features

My favorite portion of a Robert Rodriguez film: The Special Features!  Granted, this double pack doesn’t have hours upon hours of useless filler, etc.  What it does have, is an assortment of ten minute featurettes that are focused on how the films were made, which techniques were used, and so on.  Robert Rodriguez is like a mentor to aspiring film makers.  Watching him work and listening to him describe the process that he uses on how to make films really takes away the fear of shooting a film.  It’s very liberating and refreshing to hear someone from your peer group saying that it’s okay to fail.  The trick is to keep shooting.  That’s what I appreciate about the flick schools on these discs.  They break it down to the bare skeleton.  Don’t let the way I listed the special features fool you.  This is due to it being a double pack, some of the features are not listed on the box.   Once you pop in the disc you’ll be able to see for yourself.

  • 2 Commentaries with Writer/ Director Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi & Desperado)
  • 10 Minute Film School (each film has a film school)
  • Robert Rodriguez’s student film Bedhead (hilarious)
  • Music Video by Los Lobos
  • Theatrical Trailers (both films)

Final Thoughts 

El Mariachi and Desperado have finally arrived on Blu-ray in this handsome double pack with great picture and sound.  The special features are great and of quality, and the price is even better.  These films deserve to be in your collection if you’re a Robert Rodriguez or action fan in general.  The circle is almost complete…Once Upon A Time In Mexico has also been released on Blu-ray!  Stay tuned for further adventures in the Mexican trilogy.

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Bring home El Mariachi/Desperado on Blu-ray!

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Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

5 Responses to “El Mariachi/Desperado (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Brian White

    This past weekend was my first exposure to the EL Mariachi. Sure I am inspired by the book REBEL WITHOUT A CREW, but I was skeptical of whether or not I was going to like the feature. Hands down..brilliant! I loved it! And I’m looking forward to watching Desperado this weekend. Couldn’t be more excited! Thanks Gerard for giving these Blu-ray releases the attention they deserve!!!

  2. Gerard Iribe

    Yup, this is the film that started it all. Not just because it’s a cool little film, but because it’s an empowering film for aspiring film makers.

  3. Aaron Neuwirth

    How can one have gone this far without having seen Desperado?

    I also like “the El Mariachi”

    But seriously, big fan of these flicks. Tons of fun.

  4. Gregg

    “Rebel Without a Crew” was one of the most entertaining and inspirational books I have read. I am so looking forward to El Mariachi! Brian, not “the El Mariachi.” That’s like saying “the the.”

  5. Jiminy Critic

    Good job on this one… fun flicks!