Hidalgo on DVD
SPOILER ALERT: this review does give some things away.
Viggo Mortensen takes off his Middle Earth crown and dusts up a cowboy hat
in this Touchstone flick that tries to be too many things.
Still, its a beautiful looking film and DVD, and it has its moments.
Mortensen is Frank Hopkins, half white man and half Indian (a fact hidden from
the white men among whom he lives). He and his Mustang Hidalgo are famed as
legendary long distance racers but, after witnessing a brutal massacre of his
Indian friends at Wounded Knee, he turns to drink and becomes little more than
a clown in Buffalo Bill Codys traveling wild west show.
His billing as the worlds greatest long distance racer comes to the attention
of Arab sheik Riyadh (Omar Sharif), who sends an emissary to ask Cody to either
cease and desist from using the billing that the Sheik feels more properly belongs
to the champion of "The Ocean of Fire," a dangerous 3,000-mile horse race across
the Arabian desert, or have Hopkins enter the race and earn the title on his
Hopkins could have pulled a Teresa Heinz Kerry and told the Sheik to Shove
it, but instead he decides to enter the race not only for the title
and the money but to help exorcize some of the demons hes been carrying
inside himself since the massacre at Wounded Knee.
So off he goes to the sands of Arabia, where this quintessential
American cowboy and his mutt of a horse are met with derision, even hate, and
the vested interests who want to see him lose put every type of pressure they
can think of on him to withdraw.
But Franks made of sterner stuff than the Arabs who, at least
as portrayed in this movie, appear to be a brutal little and silly
(to paraphrase Lawrence of Arabia) people determined to live in the middle ages.
So were off to the races! The contest portrayed here seems kind of like
a modern day long distance car rally where the participants travel at their
own speed, on their way across brutal terrain to a half way point at which they
can enjoy a day of rest. Traditionally, many participants dont make it
that far, let alone to the end, and our hero the stranger in a strange
land is hard pressed to keep up considering the horrible conditions and
the conspiracies against him.
He prevails, of course, but along the way we see plans within plans, corruption
in high places, and a side trip that more than proves Franks mettle.
Its all pretty predictable, and it goes on far too long; Hidalgo seems
much longer than it really is, which isn't a good sign.
And the movie cant decide if its going to be a white mans
guilt film, a race movie, an action adventure flick, or whatever. As such
it careens well, plods would be more like it from one type of
movie to the next, never really settling on a style or theme, while beating
you over the head with whatever style or theme it happens to be following at
that particular time.
Some of the things were beaten over the head with include some budding
feminism, some Arabs and Indians are basically the same noble people because
they live for horses claptrap and more political correctness than we care
to see in whats supposed to be a basic epic adventure flick.
Its surprisingly violent, too, though theres no superfluous gore.
This was undoubtedly a violent time in that part of the world (and so much has
changed, eh?) and director Joe Johnston captures the cheapness of human life
there very well. But it may be a tad intense for younger viewers and we would
have thought those younger viewers would have been a prime audience for a film
such as this.
Then there are the parts that strain credulity. For example, for a man who
professes to love his best friend Hidalgo, Frank seems to be pretty irresponsible.
Now, well admit that we know nothing about horses or racing, but after
Hidalgo suffers a large and painful-looking gash from an upraised spear, he
shows no signs of being lame after Frank helps him out of the trap theyre
in. Later, the horse is on the ground ready to die and Franks about
to put him down - but because of some haranguing by opponents Hidalgo gets to
his feet again and convinces Frank to continue a race he had pretty well conceded.
Then, as the finish line draws near, this nearly worn out horse, who still
has that severe gash in his shoulder, is running flat out, bleeding from his
nose, and has the right stuff inside to blow the saddles off the competition.
We think that if Frank had truly loved Hidalgo he would have put the horses
welfare before the race, especially since hed already been offered substantial
sums of money to take a dive.
Then again, it's only a movie - but then again, it should still hang together
Mortensen does a credible job as Frank Hopkins in a role very different from
Aragorn of the Lord of the Rings. And its nice to see Omar Sharif again;
the man brings class to whatever movie he graces, even such silly romps as Top
Theres some great cinematography, too, including some beautiful shots
that seem inspired by (or maybe swiped from) Lawrence
of Arabia and, hey, if youre going to be inspired by/swiping
from a movie, thats a pretty darn good one to use as your inspiration.
The THX-certified DVD is very good. The picture is presented in anamorphic
widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and its excellent. The image is very clean
and clear and crisp, with comparatively little edge enhancement showing. Colors,
and this is a very colorful movie, are rich and bright and deep.
Audio gives you the choice of dts or Dolby Digital 5.1 surround modes, which
we like, and the overall audio quality is very good. Surround use is effective,
though not ubiquitous, and your subwoofer will also get some nice exercise.
Extras include Sand and Celluloid, a ten minute long making
of featurette, as well as the enhanced computer feature called
Americas First Horse, which runs just over 20 minutes.
In all, Hidalgo is a terrific DVD thats well worth a look; its
just too bad the movie took itself so seriously that it ended up falling so
short of its potential.
Hidalgo, from Touchstone Home Entertainment
136 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital and
dts 5.1 surround
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Omar Sharif,
Produced by Casey Silver,
Written by John Fusco, directed by Joe Johnston
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