At some point in time, it seems rather inevitable that a filmmaker may return to a completed project from their early years. Sometimes, these visual poets do so solely with the intent of correcting a few things that have irked them since then (see: Ridley Scott, George Lucas). In other instances, they revisit their work to expand and completely alter the entire storyline - which, in-turn, changes the very universe the original item in question was set in (see: Ridley Scott, George Lucas). And while those viewers who predominantly consider themselves to be of the artistically inclined nature may see these reboots, remakes, and reimaginings as a good thing, the more cynical individual will be more likely to believe said filmmaker has either run out of ideas, or is just trying to milk a product for everything it's worth.
Which leads us to Robert Rodriguez's television series remake/reboot/reimagining of his 1996 feature film, From Dusk Till Dawn, which he co-made with Quentin Tarantino and makeup guru Robert Kurtzman. Though the original movie was not a particularly successful item in theaters eighteen years ago (or even when it was first released on home video, wherein I enjoyed a very brief admiration for the title; I picked it up on DVD and, later, Blu-ray, but never actually revisited the film in either format), it nevertheless developed a cult following - perhaps because of the movie's sheer outrageousness (a tense hostage drama involving two murderous crooks and a grieving pastor's small family turns into a campy, gory vampire flick by the end), but probably because of the Tarantino factor more than anything.
Sadly, putting aside the occasional hit like Sin City or Machete (and I should emphasise that these are hits by the filmmaker's standards), Sr. Rodriguez never seems to get as much recognition as his pal, despite they were practically cut from the same cloth. It's a pity too, since, whereas Mr. Tarantino has already managed to reach that period in his career where even some of his biggest fans have lost their faith in his abilities (also see: Ridley Scott, George Lucas), poor Roberto seems to get overlooked whenever his contemporary is referenced; his name usually replaced by that of Eli Roth. I suppose the artist-type could cite the differences in style between the three. The cynic, on the other hand, might cry out racism.
Whatever the case may be, of course, the lesson of the day in this instance, boys and girls, is that it would appear that even Robert Rodriguez has already reached his nadir - without really trying. Granted, the television adaptation of From Dusk Till Dawn is perhaps not as difficult to endure as the filmmaker's kid-friendly movies, but then, at least Rodriguez - who is a family man, too - made something for the much-younger crowd to watch. (I shudder to think what would happen if Tarantino made a kiddie-flick. Nudie-cutie producer Barry Mahon committed such a crime and the results were excruciating, but of course comparing Mahon to Tarantino is like comparing apples to gourds.) In this instance, if you can imagine a 108-minute film you once had a short fancy for shamelessly and mercilessly expanded into an unwanted, unnecessary, uncalled-for ten-hour-long series, you pretty much have it sussed.
From the first few minutes of the pilot episode, it's apparent that Rodriguez's new take on From Dusk Till Dawn has no intent on getting to the good anytime soon. Much like the original movie, the story doesn't progress to the second chapter (the arrival at the seedy bar in a Godless, unforgiving, vampire-laden Mexico) until halfway through. In the instance of the feature film, that's not really a bad thing. But when it takes you five episodes to get somewhere in a series, that means you're going to be sitting through a lot of padding. And we surely do here, as the series' various writers (including Rodriguez himself) include a hefty number of flashbacks (something Tarantino himself is quite fond of, though he by no means invented it) to further the characters of robbers Seth and Richie Gecko. Which, mind you, were easier to appreciate when they possessed a sense of mystery as opposed to a sense of purpose.
Granted, were we to hop right to the vampire portion of the story arc right away, there would be a lot of padding going on there, too. There's really, truly, genuinely no way to get around the aspect of padding a movie into a series - with the logical exception, of course, of not turning a movie into a bloody TV show in the first place! Alas, with new TV networks popping up like useless wax-moustached wannabe subcultures, there's a need for fresh programming. Even if it is just a revisiting/reboot/remake/reimagining/rehash/retread. And when you take into consideration that From Dusk Till Dawn was commissioned for the El Rey Network - an English-language American television channel aimed at Latino audiences - which was in-turn created by Rodriguez himself, well then, I guess we can answer that lingering query of "Why God, why?" right there, can't we?
Taking the lead here as the deadly duo of the storyline are the relatively unknown D.J. Cotrona and Zane Holtz as Seth and Richie Gecko, respectively, played in the original 1996 film by George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino. Now, since Tarantino has repeatedly proved to moviegoers time and time again that he would have a difficult time acting his way out a wet brown paper bag that had already been torn open, Mr. Holtz is a drastic improvement. Even if he does look like a young Richard Kiel. But then, even the late Richard Kiel was a better actor than Quentin Tarantino. Here, however, Richie's psychotic tendencies are part of a larger, mystical scheme set about and forced upon him by vampire queen Santánico Pandemonium (played by a whiskey-voice-in-the-making young novice named Eiza González) - thus making the murderous atrocities he commits (which he paid for in the source material) justifiable this time around. (Wait, what?)
On the flip side of the coin, replacing George Clooney is not as simple of a task. Sure, there are those of you who will argue he's the fellow you call up when you want to replace someone else (say, Val Kilmer). Better still, many people claim Clooney is just some guy who likes to mumble and bob his head about an awful lot. But when you witness young Mr. Cotrona mimicking the head-bobbing and mumbling in order to be more like the actor who initially portrayed the character instead of making said character his own - which it is now, when you think about it - you really have to start shaking your own cabeza in shame (or perhaps he should). Of course, I don't know if that's something we should blame on the young actor or the various directors of the series (which include, among others, Rodriguez and TV/horror veteran Dwight H. Little).
Another big change present in the series include the complete erasure of the typical vampire mythology, which eliminates one of the funnier aspects of the original - the survivors of the bloodsuckers' initial attack by arming themselves with super-soakers full of blessed water. Instead, these creatures are of an ancient Mesoamerican variety, and are actually of a snake-god background, thus immune to the benevolence of Christianity. The character of Carlos - the man who hired the Geckos to pull off the robbery that lead them to the bar in the first place in the original - is now a companion to the vampire queen, themselves a part of a larger evil. A new character, that of a Texas Ranger out to avenge the death of his mentor (killed in a shootout with the Geckos in the first episode) is brought to life by Jesse Garcia.
Also starring in this ten-episode bore are Wilmer Valderrama as the conspiring Carlos; Madison Davenport, Brandon Soo Hoo [insert insensitive-but-good-natured Horton Hears a Hoo joke here] and Robert Patrick - the latter of whom had the misfortune of appearing in the original film's first direct-to-video sequel, the generally loathed From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money - as the faith-based Fuller Family; and Jake Busey, who takes on the part of Sex Machine (originally helmed by makeup guru Tom Savini), whom it is revealed is actually the adventurous alter-ego of an archeological professor. (Yes, they went there. I'm sure George Lucas would approve were he not too busy counting his own Disney Blood Money.)
Busey is one of the better ingredients of this otherwise bland menudo, accompanied by Don Johnson as Ranger Garcia's father figure Earl McGraw - who, despite being killed in the pilot, returns periodically in Garcia's flashbacks (which soon become excessive and annoying). Still more father figures are brought in: both William Sadler (who played the offed-early elder of the McGarrett clan in the reboot/remake/reimagining of the overrated Hawaii Five-0 - a series Tarantino was originally offered - a character that also returned via flashbacks) and James Remar (Dexter's dear ol' daddy - another flashback-eriffic character) appear towards the conclusion of this first season (the latter actually playing the part of the Gecko's abusive father).
Despite my personal feelings for the series itself, I can't dismiss the presentation by Entertainment One. A relatively minor label that has been making a name for itself with the home video releases of indie television shows, Entertainment One (in an alliance with Miramax) goes all-out for this three-disc set. All ten episodes are presented 1.78:1 in a rather beautiful High-Def transfer, showing off the best this digitally-shot fiasco has to offer. The series has a consistent yellow hue to it (which is filmmaker code for Set in the Southwest), and the detail is quite fine, though the sometimes terrible CGI effects really stand out. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is nicely done (Rodriguez is proud of his sound editing, and this is another example of that), non-removable yellow subtitles appear for Spanish-language sequences, and optional white (SDH) subs for the entire series (which could have used a bit more proofreading) are also on-hand.
A plethora of special features are also included in this set, beginning with audio commentaries on six select episodes over the three discs (performed by various combinations of cast and/or crewmembers) and concluding with a multiple amount of tiny bits and pieces such as EPK stuff, behind-the-scenes featurettes, character biographies, and even promotional commercials featuring cast-members (in character). A Q&A session with Rodriguez and his cast - filmed at the Alamo Drafthouse during the TV show's premiere - rounds out the selection of bonus material.
Alas, no amount of extraneous items can make me really like From Dusk Till Dawn: Season One. It's not my cup of tea; not because of the subject matter, but because it simply wasn't a good idea in my opinion. Nevertheless, the show has already gathered its own small fanbase - enough so that a second, longer season has been commissioned (which begs yet another "Why God, why?" query) for Rodriguez's own El Rey Network (gee, I wonder who was behind that decision?). Of course, I must confess to being somewhat intrigued by the follow-up series, since Season One ends where the first film ended. That said, we should all pray to every single imaginable deity that has ever existed in any civilization, however primitive, that the second season is not a TV revisiting/reboot/remake/reimagining of From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money - because that would just be pure evil incarnate.