The History of Zorro

The History of Zorro

The character of Zorro has captured the fancy of every generation since his humble beginnings on the pages of a pulp novel in 1919. For over five decades, young and old alike around the world have been infatuated with the brave and gallant swordsman who rights wrongs and defends the weak and oppressed.

The Mask of Zorro is based on the character created by Johnston McCulley, a police reporter who wrote pulp fiction stories on the side. McCulley's Zorro (Spanish for 'fox') was a compilation of England's fictitious Scarlet Pimpernel and notorious real-life figures such as the California outlaw Joaquin Murieta, who fought gold-rushers who overran Mexican settlements; Salomon Maria Simeon Pico, a highwayman who was part villain, part Robin Hood; and Jose Maria Avila, a bandit and passionate Mexican revolutionary.

Zorro first appeared in McCulley's serialized novel 'The Curse of the Capistrano.' Soon thereafter, the black-masked avenger became a screen legend when Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., portrayed him in the 1920 silent film The Mark of Zorro. Two decades later, Tyrone Power starred in a successful remake of The Mark of Zorro with Basil Rathbone and Linda Darnell. Republic Pictures also featured the character in five 12-chapter film serials beginning with Zorro Rides Again in 1937. In 1957, Walt Disney introduced the Zorro television series, starring Guy Williams, which became one of the most popular shows of the Golden Age of Television. In 1975, French actor Alain Delon appeared as the famous masked swordsman in another big screen adaptation.

In a charming return to the Old World romanticism and Old West themes embodied by Zorros of the past, The Mask of Zorro marks the first major Hollywood theatrical production of Zorro in over 40 years. To bring the new film to the screen, Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, in association with TriStar Pictures, acquired the rights from the Gertz family, which had purchased them from McCulley in 1950.

Although based on McCulley's well-known character, The Mask of Zorro is very different from previous interpretations of the story. 'Ours is not the traditional story of Zorro being a nobleman's son,' says Director Martin Campbell. 'Our story has much more to do with a Merlin/King Arthur type of relationship, where an older Zorro trains a younger man to become his successor.'

The actors

The actor whom all agreed was capable of bringing these qualities to the production was Antonio Banderas. 'Antonio has all the attributes I wanted for Zorro,' says Campbell. 'He is a very fine actor-dashing and physical as well-who easily conveys compassion and has a great sense of humor. If ever there was a perfect Zorro, it is Antonio.' The filmmakers were ecstatic when Anthony Hopkins agreed to join the cast as de la Vega. 'Tony Hopkins was the icing on the cake,' says Producer Doug Claybourne. Adds Campbell, 'He's the nobility in the film. He brings tremendous weight and depth to the character.' Banderas was equally thrilled about Hopkins. 'To work with Anthony is an honor for me,' he says. 'I was so nervous the first few days that I couldn't stop my legs from shaking.' Hopkins returns the praise: 'Antonio has endless ideas and tremendous energy and enthusiasm. We had a lot of fun working together.'

Catherine Zeta-Jones was cast in the role of Elena after Steven Spielberg caught her on television in the miniseries, 'The Titanic.' Many predict The Mask of Zorro will be her breakout film. 'I think she's going to be a major star,' says Producer David Foster. 'It is a tough role-very physically and emotionally demanding. But Catherine can handle it.' Foster adds, 'We are lucky to have an executive producer named Steven Spielberg who brought her to our attention.' The Mask of Zorro was filmed entirely on location in Central Mexico. Production began at Churubusco Studios in Mexico City on January 27, 1997. Filming continued at the San Blas hacienda outside the city of Tlaxcala; the Tetlapayac hacienda outside Pachuca in the state of Hildago, the church of Santa Maria and along the beaches of Guaymas before returning to Mexico City in April. Principal photography was completed in May 1997.

The making - off

'Initially, we began looking for locations that would give the feeling of Monterey, California, during the 1800s,' says Claybourne. 'We looked around California, and even Spain, but were drawn to Mexico because it offered us the most inspiring locations. The view seen through our camera lens was the same as it would have been for Zorro some hundred years ago.'

'Finding the right locations was critical for us since 80 per cent of The Mask of Zorro was filmed outdoors,' says Foster. 'It was important that the locations reflected the Spanish Colonial era of our story. We needed the great expanses of land that existed in California circa 1820-40, and we needed several period haciendas.' 'I loved Mexico,' says Hopkins. 'The weather was beautiful, the local people were friendly, the extras were warm-hearted, the crew was great.'

The largest set built for The Mask of Zorro was Montero's gold mine. Built on the site of an abandoned cement quarry outside the small town of De Atotoniclico de Tula in Hidalgo, the set took six months to build and used 80 tons of wood and three tons of nails to construct. A prerequisite for anyone working at the gold mine was that they have no fear of heights. That applied to filmmakers, crew, actors, and especially extras since, on several occasions, the shooting schedule called for 500 extras to be on the set, many of them ambling high up on the walkways that crisscrossed the mine. Filming at the gold mine was arduous and challenging for everyone involved. When shooting high up on the side of a cliff, only those crew members essential for getting the shot were permitted in the area.

Interiors for The Mask of Zorro were filmed at Churubusco Studios in Mexico City.

The Soundtrack

Overall, this score really cooks. For Zorro on screen, I couldn't think of better music. Horner successfully combines his traditional orchestral styles with some whipping (no pun intended!) flamenco music. Although it is perfect accompaniment for the action on screen, fans of Horner's Braveheart and Titanic should be ready for a different style in The Mask of Zorro. As a Horner fan myself, I'm impressed by Horner's integration of styles, and enjoy both the fast-paced and romantic themes. On top of that, it's a lengthy, well-arranged album with no song interruptions and --more importantly-- no completely intolerable cues. It's Zorro music at its best.

The Story

The Mask of Zorro is a sweeping romantic adventure of love and honor, of tragedy and triumph set against Mexico's fight for independence from the iron fist of Spain. It is also a rousing, often hilarious swashbuckling fable about how a roguish outlaw whose only knowledge of a sword is that 'the pointy end goes into the other man' is transformed into an elegant hero.

One of the best things about this version is that the elegant, dashing Zorro (Anthony Hopkins) is merely a sidekick - the real hero of the picture is his bumbling, vain hotheaded successor. Yes, there are two Zorros. Zorro the elder is a nobleman named Don Diego who spends idle time avenging the atrocities committed by his class, especially those committed by archenemy Don Montero (Stuart Wilson).

Twenty years later, Don Montero returns from Spain with Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the real doughter of Don Diego, who has, of course, become an astounding beauty. Montero's first order of business is to pay a visit to the prison where Diego has been held for the last two decades; the tyrant has dastardly plans, and needs to dispose of Zorro before he can safely execute them.

Montero's appearance, we can predict without flexing a synapse, gives our hero his long-awaited opportunity for escape. Zorro makes his way to the city, where he meets up with escaped criminal Alejandro Murrieta (Antonio Banderas), whose brother was just killed by Don Montero's henchman, Captain Love (Matthew Letscher). Zorro convinces Alejandro to hold off on his revenge plans, and allow Zorro to mold him into a skilled warrior. In return, Alejandro will agree to take up Zorro's mask, and continue his fight against injustice, wherever he may find it.

Alejandro never loses his rough edges; an uneducated rogue, he makes a awkward charmer out of the traditionally staid Zorro - he's a clumsy superhero, a skilled swordsman but a lousy horseman, dashing, but vain and pig-headed. An entertaining, identifiable hero, in short, without all the mystic warrior trappings, without spouting bad poetry about the "flower of the common people." At any rate, Zorro's humanity impresses in this film, rather than his superheroic invulnerability.

While Banderas is fine as Zorro the younger, Hopkins unsurprisingly gives the finest performance in the film. Too often these "mentor" roles consist of familiar cliché, recycled bits of dialogue, endless macho tripe about honor, truth, the warrior's way etc. Hopkins makes for a dashing action hero, but also evokes pathos and a surprising intimacy. A scene between him and Elena, with routine dialogue and a contrived situation, is rendered quite touching by the master actor, with gesture and expression.

And Zorro's action scenes are very fine, balletic and exciting. The final sequence, in which Alejandro battles Captain Love while Diego battles Montero, is thrilling - the two clashes are cross-cut, and the effect is inspired. The idea of offering two equally virile, magnetic heroes, two leering, ambitious baddies, and having them duke it simultaneously out is a good one.

So, while the action scenes work, the acting is mostly good, and the dual Zorro characters are wittily presented, the film is a parade of stock scenes, predictable and structurally lazy, and those are flaws we can't entirely forget. The Mask of Zorro is an exciting summer action movie.

Own Meaning

I liked the film very much, because I am a fan since I was a little boy. The story was fascinating to me, I liked the swords an this type of hero and as I heard that this story was new filmed I wanted to see it.

Besides this I also like the two new actors very much I like the films with Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas very much and so it was a must to see THE MASK OF ZORRO.