There are few things as tragic as potential that is unrealized. Whether it’s by choice or by extenuating circumstances, to see a life cut down before it has a chance to develop and make an imprint on the world is sad to see. And it seems to happen disproportionately among musicians. In most casts, drugs frequently has been the main culprit (see Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin), or suicide in some cases (Kurt Cobain being the more notable name in recent memory). But when an entertainer is murdered, the abrupt nature of the crime seems to shake many to the core. It was sad four decades ago when Sam Cooke was murdered, and equally disappointing two decades later when Marvin Gaye was felled by the hands of his father. When Selena Quintanilla was murdered by her business manager in 1995, it sent shockwaves through the Latin music community. Here was a young woman on the fast track to superstardom, gunned down before her full promise could be delivered.
With the cooperation of the Quintanilla family, Selena was made in part to make sure any films that were being made without the family’s approval would be made null and void. So while Selena’s father Abraham had the final say over what was included in the film, the film itself was written and directed by Gregory Nava (Bordertown), and in the main role, a young pre-diva Jennifer Lopez (Gigli) as the Tejano star. Her charisma is noticed early in her life by Abraham (Edward James Olmos, Miami Vice), who was a musician in his early days and he wants Selena to do well and maybe be a star while avoiding the things he had to endure.
The film is rather brave in some of the choices that it makes, namely the fact that it decides to show quite a few bumps in the Quintanilla family, specifically the friction between Abraham and Selena’s guitarist Chris (John Seda, Homicide: Life on the Street), who eventually became her husband, but it also shows some of Selena’s challenges in her climb to stardom, namely being adopted by the Mexican audience as well as the Hispanic audiences in Texas. But she endeared herself to them all, and was about to be a mainstream Latin music star that few had seen before.
It there was a complaint I had with the film, I think that the pacing of it could have been sped up. In my mind, the film didn’t need to be two hours and change, and parts could have been trimmed. But Nava (and to an extent, Abraham) wanted to try to give the viewer as large a picture as possible of her life, and what she saw before her death. Overall it is a picture well worth your time, and Lopez puts every bit of herself in the role, and this was long before she became the queen that she now perceives herself to be.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack has to deliver the goods because this is a music driven film. It handles this fairly well, with dialogue being pretty well centered and the music coming across rather cleanly on a home theatre system.
The two film versions here appear to be in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with the Director’s Cut being slightly longer than the theatrical (134 minutes as opposed to the theatrical’s 127). The image is decent though there doesn’t appear to be any remastering or new transfer struck for this anniversary edition, which is somewhat disappointing.
There aren’t too many extras here, but they are pretty informative and well worth checking out. On the disc with the theatrical cut, you have nine deleted scenes running about twelve minutes in overall length. There’s nothing too much to gain from these (they are definitely in unfinished video form), other than focusing more on Abraham and some scenes showing the pitfalls of not letting the younger Selena do things that normal kids would do, like go to high school activities and such. But to make up for it, there’s a half hour retrospective on the film, with new interviews from the cast (even Lopez), crew and family, as they recall the reasons for making the film and their expectations of it. There are on set interviews and screen test footage of Lopez, and some of the cast recalls various scenes in the film as well. It’s fairly comprehensive as far as I can tell and well worth viewing. On the second disc, there’s a look at Selena the entertainer, with recollections by the family on her fries to success. This is slightly shorter at about twenty minutes, but as equally worthwhile. It would have been nice to have either a commentary by the filmmakers or some sort of introduction to the Director’s Cut, indicating what was changed/added/cut, but hopefully another edition down the road will address that.
Selena is a compelling, funny and emotional ride through the life of perhaps one of the most memorable Latin musicians. Lopez’ performance is quite good, the source material is not too shabby, and you’ll find yourself enamored with her life, and sad that it was cut down the way it was. It’s worth renting at the very least, but my gut tells me to keep an eye out for an updated edition in the future.