There is nothing that satisfies the movie audience like the good old fashion epic film. With the current level of computer technology the director can now command armies with numbers in the tens of thousands with ease. Just look at the major battle scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and what the hordes fight it out. In the golden age of this genre there were no computers. The producers had to hire thousands of people as extras. There was something magical about these films largely because of the amassment of people involved. One of the best of the sixties epic films was ‘El-Cid’. This movie stands the test of time as the prototype of how this form of film should be done. There is drama, romance, plenty of action and even a touch of humor. At the time of release television was cutting into the popularity of movies. The studios had to go big to compete and the results were the large scale films like this. Movies like this were not just another film to see, they were events for the family. It was a big thing to go to the theater and watch a sweeping story unfolding on the big screen.
While based on fact this is a work of fiction. The story focuses on the greatest of the Spanish knights, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (Charlton Heston) known to the people simply as ‘El-Cid’, a form of the word for chief. He was a charismatic leader and brilliant military tactician. In the film there has to be a romance and it was perfectly found with the character of Jimena (Sophia Loren). When you have the most popular actor opposite one of the world’s most beautiful women you have the makings for a box office smash. El-Cid fights to unify the Christian Kings and other factions against the invading Moors. The love story can’t be simple for a film of this scope so we have the situation where El-Cid kills the father of Jimena. Before he dies, death scenes tended to be very protracted then, he makes her vow to avenge him. This leads her to want to kill El-Cid. Of course you know that she will not only fail but wind up falling in love with him. Among the royals plotting against the noble El-Cid are the likes of Count Ordóñez played with a delicious glee by Raf Vallone. He wants little more than to bring down the popular hero and retain his own power. There has to be other bumps in the main romance which is provided by the beautiful Princess Urraca (Geneviève Page). The armies clash with a style and magnificence we have not seen on film in decades. Since this was intended as a family film the battles are not particularly bloody. Swords clang, armor rattles and horses charge into the fray. This is the kind of film you don’t watch; you experience it.
Ever since DVD became a popular format there have been films that the fans dreamt of having on disc. Most have already made it to DVD but El-Cid remained available only on a full screen VHS tape for the American public. Genius Productions along with the Weinstein Company is now releasing this classic film to DVD. With a film of this scope and popularity a standard DVD release would hardly do it justice. Genius realized this and is providing two editions to choose from. Both live up to the name special edition with well deserved attention to details. The first is the El Cid: 2 Disc Deluxe Edition. It is filled with extras and special features making the wait for this film’s appearance on DVD well worth the wait.
The main feature is presented in a freshly re-mastered audio and video. The video is a remarkable 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. The color palette is better than most modern films can boast. The picture pops off the screen with a freshness this film has not enjoyed for decades. The audio has been redone to a fantastic Dolby 5.1 mix. The front speakers provide a channel separation that is staggering. The rear speakers give a rich full ambience that brings you into the movie. Even the sub woofer gets quite a workout especially in the battle scenes. This film is one of the first in their new Miriam Collection. The purpose of this line is to fully restore classic films for the DVD audience. If this is any indication of what is to come I look forward to every film chosen for such fantastic treatment.
While the film would stand on its own part of this collection is to give the discerning viewer extra insight into the work. To this end a commentary track is included. It features Bill Bronston, son of the film’s producer Samuel Bronston. Along with the personal insight he brings to the commentary is the insight of film historian and biographer of the senior Bronston, Neil M. Rosendorf. This is far more than the usual commentary track. It is a mini-film course.
The next feature on this disc is a rare treat. There are vintage radio interviews with the stars Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren. It is something special to listen to them talk about the making of the film.
Also on this disc is a still photo gallery and filmographies of the stars.
The film is over three hours long so for the sake of maintaining the quality of the presentation it is split over to the second disc. Since this film originally had an intermission there was a perfect place to make the split. The commentary also continues on this disc.
Hollywood Conquers Spain
This is a making of featurette that details the hardships of filming on location.
Samuel Bronston: The Epic Journey of a Dreamer
Bronston was the producer and driving force of this film. He also produced the equally spectacular ‘King of Kings’. This featurette gives a peak into the live and work of this man.
Behind the Camera: Anthony Mann and El Cid
In this film the cinematography is almost a character in itself. This featurette focuses on the visual creativity of the film.
Miklos Rozsa: Maestro of the Movies
For any classic epic film the musical score is as important as the action. This featurette demonstrates how the music was integrated into the film.
Preserving our Legacy: Gerry Byrne on Film Preservation and Restoration
The Miriam Collection does more than just re-master films for DVD; they are preserving an important part of our culture. This featurette shows the incredibly difficult and time consuming task of bringing an older film back to its original glory.
The second way you can obtain this film is the 2 Disc Limited Collector's Edition. It contains a copy of the deluxe edition. In addition there is a reproduction of the original theatrical Souvenir Program and a reproduction of the complete 1961 comic book. There is a written introduction by Martin Scorsese and a half dozen production stills.
This is a piece of cinematic history and a requirement for all DVD collections.