El Cid

El Cid (1961)
Genius Products
Cast: Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren, Raf Vallone, John Fraser, Gary Raymond, Genevieve Page
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Radio Interviews, Still Gallery, Trailers

Coming in a wonderful, linen-covered, weighty cardboard box, the Weinstein Company is finally putting out a DVD version of the 1961 epic "El Cid." This monumental film starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren has been missing from home video release lists for decades now and after a painstaking restoration this "Limited Collector's Edition" is something fan will kill for.

"El Cid" tells the story of the Spanish national hero Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (Charlton Heston), a nobleman during the middle ages. On the way to meet his bride Jimena (Sophia Loren) he has an encounter with Moors and in the battle defeats them. However instead of executing their leaders or handing the enemies over to the authorities, he makes the swear allegiance to the King of Spain and sets them free. That however doesn't sit too well with certain people and Rodrigo is called a traitor and his family dishonored by none other than his own father-in-law-to-be, the King's Champion. He tries to reason with the man but to no avail and in order to make him pay for the impertinence he kills his father-in-law-to-be. Jimena pledges to never forgive him and to avenge her father.

In the meanwhile Rodrigo becomes known as "El Cid" among his enemies and as the King's new champion he leads Spain's fight against invasion from the South. When the king dies, however, his three children fight over the throne, each of them requesting Rodrigo's loyalty and support. Unable to make such a commitment and unable to simply bow to the arbitrary wishes of the king's youngest son, Rodrigo is once again dishonored and exiled from Spain. He begins a journey that will make him a legend in his own country. A legend that still lives on today.

"El Cid" has all the makings of a classic epic movie, wonderful imagery, glamorous stars, hordes of extras, a European backdrop, and so forth. It is hardly surprising that the film is beloved and considered by many as one of the best films ever made.

On this release, the film has been spread across two discs to make sure the film's 3-hour length will not compromise image quality. It is presented in its original 2.20:1 widescreen aspect ratio on the release, complete with the original Overture and Intermission. The image quality is remarkable and it is evident that quite a bit of work went into this release. It may not look quite as stellar as some of Warner's restore classics, but still for a film that is over 45 years old, this is a wonderful presentation. Coming from a 70mm print that has been pieced together from a wide variety of sources, the film boasts rich colors and shows virtually no grain. Flesh tones are warm and natural while the costumes and backdrops have rich hues and vibrant tinges. Occasionally some minor color-correction inconsistencies are visible and at one point a scene that I personally felt should be a nighttime shot was color-adjusted to a full daytime setting. I am not familiar enough with the film to know if it used to be a nighttime shot in the original presentation or if this day-for-night shot has always been exceedingly "hot" I must admit.
Blacks are deep and solid, giving the image good visual depth and add a nice dimension to the overall presentation. No edge-enhancement is evident and the presentation is free of compression artifacts.

The release also contains a remixed 5.1 channel Dolby Digital audio track that has been cleaned up. It offers a good frequency response. Although some of the elements are audible dated – and rightfully so – the presentation is never shrill or overly harsh. Sibilance is non-existence and distortion is at a minimum. Dialogues are well integrated and always understandable.

The 2-disc set also contains a number of bonus materials, such as a commentary track with producer Samuel Bronston's son Bill, and film historian Neal Rosendorf. It is a nice track that offers up some additional information about the production and the way movies were made during those days. However, the track is only on the first part of the movie and does not extend to the second half.

Radio interviews with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren are also included as well as a nice Still Gallery.

The best extras are included on the second disc, however, where you will find a number of featurettes. In "Hollywood Conquers Spain" you will have a chance to hear first and second-hand comments about the making of the movie and the people involved. I found this an intriguing and engaging piece and especially the anecdotes about Heston's dislike for Sophia Loren are well worth hearing. Considering that he's never been much of an actor, really, it is funny to hear how jealous he has been throughout his career with actresses that took away his spotlight. And let's face it, he is simply no match for Sophia Loren who captures the camera like no other woman has since.

Also included here is a biographical featurette on director Anthony Mann and a look at producer Samuel Bronston and composer Miklós Rósza who provide the sweeping score for the film.

A really charming addition is an interview featurette with Gerry Byrne whose life work it has been to preserve some of the world's most beloved films, including "El Cid." He talks about how he collected versions and prints of the films over the years and how he tries to make sure they will survive deterioration and can be seen by audiences in years to come.

This Limited Edition box set also comes with a number of printed materials, such as a comic book based on the movie and a 20-page booklet with production notes and photographs. A set of lobby cards rounds out this great set.

"El Cid" is a classic masterpiece and one of the great epics of Hollywood's Golden Era. Here we have a marvelous DVD version of the film that will please fans, I'm sure. Make sure to get your copy soon and kick back from a dose of nostalgia, honorable knights and a lot of romance.