Not so long ago, an Austin-based filmmaking tyro named Robert Rodriguez burst upon the indie movie scene with El Mariachi, a delirious, low-budget modern-day western whose title character—a wannabe musician—ends up in the thick of a revenge-driven war against a violent drug kingpin thanks to a case of mistaken identity brought on by the accidental loss of his guitar case.
Even today, the contagious fun of the 81-minute feature, first released in 1992, is hard to resist, as its no-name cast gives it their all. The film put Rodriguez on the map as an important new voice in independent filmmaking, even if his claim that the whole thing cost just $7000 was exaggerated.
Following the lead of Quentin Tarantino (with whom, along with Anders and the long-gone Alexandre Rockwell, Rodriguez would make 1995’s disastrous Four Rooms), Rodriguez caught the self-mythologizing bug, penning the manifesto/tutorial Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker with $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player.
This “Hollywood player” has since gifted us with 1995’s Desperado (essentially a big-budget remake of El Mariachi that’s enjoyable for roughly its first half, until one realizes just how slavishly it’s copying the original); the dumb vampires-in-a-cantina epic From Dusk Till Dawn (written by and co-starring Tarantino); forgettable horror flick The Faculty; the diminishing-returns kiddie trilogy Spy Kids; Once Upon a Time in Mexico, allegedly the third in the “Mariachi trilogy,” which at least had both Johnny Depp and Mickey Rourke in its sprawling cast; another kids film, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3D, officially co-written by his seven-year-old son and unleashing future Twilight hunk Taylor Lautner upon the world; the surprisingly decent, if somewhat incoherent, Sin City; and the “Planet Terror” half of Grindhouse, where he and Tarantino vied to out-bore audiences with their salutes to the sticky-floored cinemas of their youth.
That only a couple of these efforts from the “Hollywood player” have succeeded at the box office—and even fewer caught favor with critics overall—hasn’t stopped RoRo from plunging ahead with Machete (an expansion of one of Grindhouse’s fake trailers with a cast that somehow includes everyone from Robert DeNiro and Jessica Alba to Danny Trejo, Lindsay Lohan, and Steven Seagal), yet another Spy Kids, and Sin City 2—not to mention producing the reboots of Red Sonja and Predators.
Will most, if not all, of these movies suck? Yes. If RoRo’s career has taught us nothing else, it’s that handing him more than $7000 to make a movie is usually a grave mistake.
But Rodriguez trudges on. With Anders and Rockwell apparently sidelined, Tarantino off to ever grander things, Spike Lee in the midst of another of his fallow periods (at least on the non-documentary side), and most indie studios struggling to survive, RoRo is for better and worse one of the most visible faces of independent filmmaking today. (One hesitates to call him an “auteur,” given the remake-heavy filmography and the handing off of screenwriting duties to his kids.)
And so we come to the announcement of his latest project. Just a few days after the death of famed fantasy artist Frank Frazetta, came word that Rodriguez plans to remake Fire and Ice, a largely ignored 1983 Frazetta collaboration with animator/director Ralph Bakshi.
As The AV Club noted in reporting the news, “It’s hard not to picture it as Sin City with swords and shit.”