Hidalgo review by Mike Long

I mentioned in a recent review that I've worked in marketing and that mind-set often crops up while watching movies -- especially those which didn't fare very well at the box office. The key to marketing can often be catching the consumer's eye with only a limited amount of information, and with movies, the film's title can often be the one thing that attracts a potential viewer. Which makes me wonder why Disney decided to go with Hidalgo as the title of the latestViggo Mortensen vehicle. Another title wouldn't have necessarily made this a better movie, but it could have drawn more people to a film that was most likely a hard sell to begin with.

Hidalgo is set in 1890 and focuses on a cowboy named Frank Hopkins, played by Viggo Mortensen. Hopkins is famous for winning long-distance endurances races with his mustang Hidalgo. Having left that life behind, Hopkins now spends his time drinking and performing in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show (J.K. Simmons has a nice cameo as Cody). Cody is approached by representatives of Sheik Riyadh (Omar Sharif) who don't like the fact that Hopkins is billed as the world's greatest endurance riders, when they feel that their riders are better. Hopkins is thus invited to compete in "The Ocean of Fire", a 3000-mile races across the Arabian deserts. Feeling that he has nothing to lose (and blaming himself for the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek (don't ask)), Hopkins agrees.

Once Hopkins reaches his destination, he finds himself in a truly foreign land. Sheik Riyadh is hospitable, but cold towards Hopkins. Many of the other riders feel that this "infidel" shouldn't be allowed in the race. Riyadh's daughter Jazira (Zuleikha Robinson), who is shunned by her father due to the fact that she's female, takes pity of Hopkins. Lady Anne Davenport (Louise Lombard), an Englishwoman who has a horse in the race, appears to be coming on to Frank, but she only cares about winning. As the race begins, Frank finds the elements and his opponents working to stop him, but he and Hidalgo are determined to finish the race.

Aside from the fact that it dealt with a horse race and had an awful title, I really didn't know what to expect from Hidalgo. Well, that's OK, because the movie really doesn't know what it wants to be, except for an EPIC movie. And by EPIC, I'm talking about a very long movie, and at 136 minutes, Hidalgo is way too long. And, as you can probably imagine, "way too long" means that Hidalgo is quite boring at times. The movie waits too long for Hopkins to get into the "Ocean of Fire" race, and once it finally begins, we quickly realize that endurance races aren't very fun to watch. To combat this, the script by John Fusco throws in not one, but two Raiders of the Lost Ark-like action scenes, an implied romance, and many racial overtones. All that this does is drag out the movie. And when the cheesy CGI tiger shows up, the movie reaches its low point.

Many will be checking out Hidalgo simply for Viggo Mortensen. And while he's good, and appears in nearly every scene in the movie, he's not given much to do except for look dirty and worried. The real star of the film is the scenery shown in Hidalgo, from its Moroccan locations to the hills of South Dakota. Director Joe Johnston (who has made much better movies) may have lost control of the story on Hidalgo, but hes put some beautiful locations into the film. Hidalgo has a good premise, and the fact that its based on a real-life person is interesting (although some have questioned the accounts in the movie), but the movie is an overly-long and boring misfire.

Hidalgo gallops onto DVD courtesy of Touchstone Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The THX-certified transfer is very good, and the image is very sharp and clear. Its a true testament to the quality of this DVD that most of the film takes place in the bright desert and the amount of grain on the image is basically zero. The landscapes look very good and the image has a great deal of depth. The splashes of color look fine against the desert backgrounds. There is some noticeable edge-enhancement, but its never overly intrusive. The DVD carries both a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track and a DTS 5.1 track. Both sound excellent, as the natural environments of the film give many opportunities for surround sound action and Hidalgos galloping hooves supply a nice amount of bass response. The tracks are both well-balanced and the dialogue sounds fine.

The DVD only contains one real extra, which is a 9-minute making-of featurette entitled Sand & Celluloid. This segment offers some info on the real-life Frank Hopkins, and then goes on to examine the locations, the problems faced when shooting in the desert and the use of horses in the movie. The Special Features menu also promises Hidalgo: Americas First Horse, but this extra is actually a DVD-Rom only feature.


4 out of 10 Jackasses

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