Finally . . . this extraordinary film is available on DVD, in a wonderful edition with lots of extras from The Miriam Collection, a new home video division of Miramax.
El Cid might be be the best of
all the widescreen epics. It's visual style is bold, elegant and
often stunning, with none of the process photography that dates so
many big films from this era. The narrative has tremendous momentum
and the melodrama is stark and wrenching, very adult for an epic,
inflected with a mature kind of eroticism.
Its tale of conflict between Christian and Moor in medieval Spain has
troubling resonances today, though the film makes an effort to
distinguish between humane and fanatical Muslims and to posit the idea
of an alliance between Christians and Muslims of goodwill.
The action sequences, stage by second unit director Yakima Canutt, who essentially directed the chariot race episode in Ben Hur,
are gripping and the choreography of the armies on the move and in
battle is both elegant and stirring. No amount of computer
genius could ever dispose CGI soldiers and armies in virtual space this
beautifully and convincingly.
As a kid on the edge of puberty I had my first recognizably sexual
feelings while watching Sophia Loren in El Cid — she's a
breathtaking incarnation of the Eternal Feminine, with a power beyond
rational challenge. Heston does what he does best — hold his own
plausibly against backdrops (and, in the case of Loren, bosoms) of epic
The film has a dark, macabre undertone but is still wildly entertaining, and a great work of art and craft in the bargain.