Thursday, February 21, 2008

dvd review: el cid

One of the first DVDs we review this year, and it's a doozy. Making its first American DVD release is El Cid. The Weinstein Company purchased rights to several of the Samuel Bronston-produced epics, and is using El Cid as the inaugural release in their new Miriam Collection. The Miriam Collection is designed as "a premiere label which will restore and release high quality classics, contemporary classics and notable foreign films." This film is the perfect choice to demonstrate that aim, as it has long been sought after by fans for a proper American release. The question then is this: is El Cid worth your hard-earned dollars? Is this the release that fans have been waiting for? I'm going to break protocol a bit here and answer both of those questions up front. The answer to both is an unequivocal yes. To find out why, read The Shelf's review of El Cid: Limited Collector's Edition.

The Hard Facts:
El Cid: Limited Collector's Edition
2 Discs in a keepcase
Limited Edition contains 2 disc DVD and bonus materials in a box.
Studio: Miriam Collection (Weinstein Company)
Wide Screen
Original Studio: Samuel Bronston Productions
Release Date: 1/29/2008
Rated: NR
Stars: Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren
Director: Anthony Mann

The Film:
El Cid is the story of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, 11th-century Spanish knight and nobleman who found his destiny on the road to his wedding. Rodrigo comes across some Moor armies invading a town and running over a church. Although he is on his way to his wedding, he stops to intervene and captures the Moor soldiers. When the priest asks him how he happened to arrive when they needed him, he replies that he thought this road was the shortest route to his bride. When he is reproached by a representative of the king to turn over his prisoners to be hung, Rodrigo states that the only way to stop the endless infighting in their country is to rise above it. He obtains promises from the Moor generals that they will never attack again, otherwise he will kill them. They are so impressed by Rodrigo's actions, they not only make the promise, but most of them swear allegiance to Rodrigo. One of them, Moutamin, gives him the name of El Cid, a title of respect meaning the chief or the lord. Rodrigo not only proves him right in fighting ability, but also in nobility and respect. The life of El Cid is told over time through his service to his king, betrayal by the king's son and daughter, exile and then Spains last hope and the people's champion. The last few sequences along the beaches of Valencia are breath taking.

But this movie is so much more than an epic movie of nations at war, it is also a highly intimate movie of a love between Rodrigo and his wife, Jimena, despite everything that happens to them to keep them apart. The film follows them has they fight against the tide of national events to find a place for themselves and their love. Anthony Mann's incredible ability to frame a picture, to put every inch of scenery, direction and acting up on the screen serves the story well. His well known eye for directing on location and using the setting as a virtual character is integral to the film.

This movie is one of the last real epic films Hollywood made in an era when the epics were made with a cast of thousands and massive sets. Everything is done with CGI today, which is cheaper, but in a way something...tangible is lost. Bronston and company put everything they had in money, people and imagination up on the screen and the result is perhaps one of the greatest of Hollywood epics. It is perhaps fitting that Charlton Heston plays El Cid, not just because the epic genre fits him like a glove, but because its hard to imagine another actor playing a larger than life hero, with nobility, humility and a man of passion. And Sophia Loren is at the height of her beauty and presence. She grounds the film in human emotion, elevating it to something beyond battles, something beyond grand battle scenes (and they are grand) to something that is very intimate and personal.

Bonus features:
The Limited Collector's Edition does not disappoint when it comes to the extras. The documentaries are well done, and most of them are exceptional, providing insights into the production and behind the scenes of El Cid. Only the Anthony Mann piece was a little disappointing. A longer insightful piece into the life of this fantastic director would be most welcome.
Disc 1:
Feature commentary with Bill Bronston (son of producer Samuel Bronston) and Neal M. Rosendorf (historian & biographer of Samuel Bronston); Vintage radio interviews with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren; Still galleries and Filmographies.
Disc 2:
Hollywood Conquers Spain: theMaking of El Cid
; Samuel Bronston: the Epic Journey of a Dreamer; Behind the Camera: Anthony Mann and El Cid; Miklós Rózsa: Maestro of the Movies; Preserving our Legacy: Gerry Byrne of Film Preservation and Restoration; Trailer gallery
Limited Collector's Edition Only:
Reproduction of Original 1961 Souvenir Program, Reproduction of Original 1961 El Cid Comic Book and Six Color Production Stills.

This is nothing short of eye-candy. Not only does the color and visuals take your breath away, the shear scope of what you see on the screen is nothing short of fantastic. When the camera takes a sweeping shot of the landscape and you see an army of men on horseback coming into view, it's clear this is the real deal- no CGI, no computer extras. Hollywood epics back in the day were as much about filmmaking of epic proportions as it was about epic stories. The sound and film were both remastered and perfected (yes, you read that right- perfected) so that all of the lavish and rich color, scenery and sound come alive. This DVD was meant for Hi-def large screen television, mainly because that's as close you can get at home to the big screen.

The Bottom Line:
The new Miriam Collection line (named after the Weinstein brother's mom) really nailed it with the first entry. El Cid is a fantastic epic film that deserved the epic treatment. I have to say that I really appreciate the production booklets, comic reprints, etc. I know that some people prefer just to have the film, and extras are just in the way. I'm glad that I got the Limited Edition set, and enthusists, collector and film buff alike will as well. For me it is the extra touch that really involves you in the movie. I hope that the Weinsteins will continue take such care with the other films coming in the Miriam Collection line. Reportedly up next from the Miriam Collection will be other Samuel Bronston films: Fall of the Roman Empire starring Alec Guiness and Sophia Loren, 55 Days at Peking starring Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner, and Circus World starring John Wayne and Claudia Cardinale. Three more great films that deserve the El Cid treatment.

Review Rating:
Rating the films and features:
The film: A+
The documentaries: A
Audio/Video: A+
Other Bonus Features A+

El Cid: Limited Collector's Edition set is a Must Have!

The Shelf rates El Cid:
5 stars (Groucho Glasses)

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

What a noble subject, if only he had a noble King.


Ron said...

Wow! Sounds cool! I was all set to pick up the 2 disc set at my electronics in a box store, but after reading this- I definitely have to pick up the Collector's edition. It's not too much more on Amazon anyway.
Good post- I hope that Fall of the Roman Empire gets the same treatment.

Campaspe said...

This DVD really seems to be creating a revival for this movie, which usually was a bit of a stepchild to Anthony Mann's westerns in terms of critical acclaim. I saw it years ago on the Superstation, scanned, panned, chopped and julienned and I have to say it didn't impress me much, aside from the beauty of Charlton Heston which at that stage in his career was really, truly something to see, the heck with Sophia. Anyway, you've convinced me. On the Netflix queue it goes.

J.C. Loophole said...

Thanks for the comments Ron and Siren. Yes the Limited Edition is worth it if you are getting it.

Siren- I'm glad you are giving it a go again. Its a great epic film and really interesting to see Heston and Loren, especially knowing their difficulties getting along during the filming. Anthony Mann is getting more and more respect, and perhaps a re-examination- and deservedly so. I am real excited that his Man of the West is being released this year!

Laura said...

Really enjoyed your review. I'm a big Heston fan but haven't seen this one. Looking forward to checking it out down the road -- my dad's going to buy it and pass it on when he's seen it. :)

Always glad to see your posts!

Best wishes,


Blog Widget by LinkWithin