El Mariachi appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Due to budgetary issues, El Mariachi demonstrated a lot of iffy visuals, but it looked acceptably good given those restrictions.
The film showed the various issues often connected with 16mm movies, though sharpness usually looked pretty solid. Some of the shots came across as a bit soft and tentative, but most of the movie was acceptably detailed and distinctive. I saw no issues related to jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement was absent.
Print flaws were sometimes difficult to judge given the original material. Grain caused the highest level of distractions, but clearly those elements stemmed from the film stock. Some daylight scenes suffered from no problems in this realm at all, but others and the lower-light shots created a very grainy image. I also noticed quite a few examples of specks, marks and blemishes; these did decrease as the film progressed, but I saw plenty of defects throughout the film.
Colors varied, also due to the film stock. Most shots demonstrated nicely vivid and broad tones that looked appropriately dynamic and tight. However, others – usually interior scenes – could be somewhat drab in appearance. Black levels were fine, as they showed good depth. Low-light shots tended to appear moderately thick and overly dark, but they didn’t seem terribly problematic in that regard. Though much of the movie looked pretty good, the overall impression remained erratic; some scenes were strong, but others were ugly. The print flaws were my main complaint.
The film’s DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack fared better than the visuals. The film came presented in the original Spanish, though it also included English and French dubs. The soundfield didn’t dazzle me, but it seemed appropriately engaging. Music showed nice stereo imaging and the effects helped create a modest but useful sense of atmosphere. Much of the audio remained pretty centered, but a mix of elements popped up in the side speakers, and they meshed together reasonably well.
The action scenes offered the liveliest sequences, though quieter bits seemed pretty convincing as well. Surround usage seemed to be non-existent, which appeared to be a change from the earlier DVD. If any info came from the back speakers, I didn’t hear it; this came across as a straight stereo presentation.
Audio quality seemed positive from start to finish. Speech sounded natural and lacked any issues connected to intelligibility or other flaws. Music was warm and dynamic, as the guitar-based score presented crisp highs and warm lows. Effects came across as accurate and tight. They didn’t show any distortion as they captured the original elements well. Bass response was deep and rich but didn’t display any concerns related to looseness or boominess. Overall, the soundtrack of El Mariachi impressed me, at least given its budgetary constraints.
How did the picture and audio of this Blu-ray compare to the 2003 DVD? The Blu-ray was superior, though the constraints of the source material limited its improvements. I thought the BD’s visuals were tighter and more dynamic, but I noticed more print flaws. Perhaps these were also there on the DVD and simply seemed less noticeable, but I thought they were more prominent here. Still, the movie demonstrated obvious improvements in other areas.
The audio was a wash, and the DVD might actually be the superior mix, if just because it presented some light surround information. Otherwise, the pair seemed awfully similar; they were both quite good given their origins.
Most of the DVD’s extras repeat here. We open with an audio commentary from director Robert Rodriguez, who offers a running, screen-specific piece. The director can be a very chatty participant, and here he gives us a nice look at the creation of his film.
Rodriguez clearly remains proud of the fact he made El Mariachi on a nearly non-existent budget, and this track mostly lets us know how he did so. He covers all the ins and outs of no-budget movie-making and provides a concise and lively discussion of the processes. The emphasis remains on the technical elements – and how to avoid paying much money for them – but he never gets bogged down in dull minutiae. At times Rodriguez repeats himself, and his tendency to refer to actors by their character names gets a little old at times, but overall the commentary seems informative and entertaining.
Someone alert the false advertising folks: the disc’s Ten-Minute Film School actually runs 14 minutes and 37 seconds! It packs scads of information into that span, as we get a great look at how Rodriguez shot Mariachi on the cheap. He narrates the program as we watch raw film footage, a few behind the scenes shots, and finished clips. Rodriguez touches on many techniques he utilized during the production. He already chatted about more than a few of these in his commentary, but the fact we can watch them as well makes “School” more valuable. It’s a briskly paced and very informative piece.
Made in 1990, we find a short film called Bedhead. It runs nine minutes and seven seconds and tells a tale of a tormented girl who gets psychic revenge on her awkwardly-coiffed brother. The movie seems rough and amateurish but shows enough style to become somewhat interesting. Even if it stunk, however, it’d make a nice historical addition to the set.
For an interactive feature, we find The El Mariachi/Desperado Cutting Room. This allows you to create your own edits for some parts of the film. Alas, it requires an external storage capability that my player lacks, but it sounds like fun. It certainly appears to offer more power than the average limited editing feature found on some DVDs.
Does the Blu-ray lose extras from the DVD? Yup – it drops a mix of trailers for El Mariachi and other films.
Shot for about half the price of a Civic, El Mariachi rarely totally overcomes its budgetary restraints. However, the movie usually surpasses expectations and actually allows us to forget its amateurish roots. It seems lively and exciting and remains much more entertaining than most blockbusters. The Blu-ray presents decent picture plus surprisingly positive audio and some very nice extras highlighted by an excellent audio commentary. El Mariachi provides a memorable ride, and this Blu-ray offers a reasonably good reproduction of it.
Note that you can only purchase El Mariachi as part of a two-pack that pairs it with remake Desperado. Both appear on the same Blu-ray Disc. With a list price of about $20, this is a good deal.
To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of EL MARIACHI