This is a message that I wrote earlier and published to the New World Zorro group. Here are my thoughts on the original pilot starring Patrick James that is a bonus feature on the New World Zorro DVD set.
Since I can finally see the pilot for myself, I have to start with the Sandra Curtis Zorro book.
She stated, "The plot involved numerous killings and generally lacked humor... Gertz felt that the music was terrible and that the original casting was by and large a disgrace."
While the killing of Felipe's mother was shocking, I would say that it is important to the plot as far as getting Felipe with Antonio. The soldier was then killed by Antonio, which in a way was necessary since Antonio didn't need witnesses as to how he had behaved. However, Antonio was not thinking ahead in that moment and was killing just to be killing. With that said, I hardly feel that the episode had "numerous killings." To me, it seems typical of what I have seen in the average Zorro film and less than some. The first Banderas film was quite violent, much more so than this pilot.
I agree with Gertz that the music is not good and that the cast seems uninteresting with no personality whatsoever.
Sandra Curtis also wrote, "Antonio played a clumsy scholar with glasses who heroes were da Vinci and Cervantes."
What glasses? This sounds like another inconsistency in that book which was full of mistakes in the New World Zorro section. Perhaps Antonio was going to whip out those glasses in a future episode.
My primary interest in this pilot is in seeing how it is indeed an early version of our show. It is like a rough draft of an essay. Some of the important key aspects of our show are in the pilot. We have the Z that cuts in between the names of the cast. I'd have to watch a few shows again, but I'm pretty sure that a few quotes were used in some of the shows almost word-for-word.
"So the pupil outplays the master."
"If this is a dream, I pray God not to let me wake."
"I am not your dear. I am not your anything."
The hair styles seem much more old-fashioned in this pilot. By making the hair styles modern, the series had a much wider appeal to viewers. It also made the series less historically accurate, but a series needs to appeal to modern viewers in order to be successful.
Sandra Curtis calls Maria "spoiled," but I can't tell in this pilot. We'd have to see more of the original concept. She is obviously wealthy and dislikes Antonio, especially since Antonio insults her and she overhears. This could have been interesting with the love interest hating Antonio yet loving Zorro at the same time.
I didn't like the way Antonio spoke to Felipe in the secret cave. While the device is explosive, he seemed a bit harsh. Regehr did a better job with Felipe in that regard.
The lighting inside the hacienda when Antonio greets his father is awful.
Antonio wears the Zorro disguise which has bullet holes so that people can see the bullet holes. I have watched the pilot twice and not seen them. I admit, though, that I did not try very hard to spot them. Has anyone seen them?
The personalities are very undeveloped in this pilot, but this was also true for the first part of the series. It took Regehr and the rest of the cast time to develop their roles fully.
It was not a disaster, but it would not have made for a very memorable version of Zorro. I think the series would have been at least a little better than what we saw in the pilot, but it probably would not have lasted past one season.
One last important point is that in this pilot, Diego dies and Antonio takes on the role of Zorro. All versions of Zorro fit into two categories. They either have the original Zorro, Diego, or they have another person as Zorro.
I have observed that the better versions of Zorro always have Diego in the role and that the versions which change up the plot and make Zorro someone else are never quite as good. That one change from the pilot having Diego die to the series having Diego as Zorro saved it from possible ruination.