Years ago, Judge David Johnson rode a horse in a Middle Eastern endurance race. He came in fourth. He won a sticker.
"Nobody hurts my horse."
Horses in high-def. Do you need to know any more? Of course not. Saddle up partner and ride.
Facts of the Case
Frank T. Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen, A History of Violence) is a washed-up cowboy, toiling away in a rodeo show with his best friend, a Mustang named Hidalgo. At one time, Hopkins and Hidalgo were renowned for their success in distance races but life has been hard and Hopkins is a mess.
He gets a second shot at greatness when he learns about the mother of all horse endurance races, "The Ocean of Fire," a 3,000-mile haul across the blistering deserts of the Middle East. Hidalgo's reputation precedes him, however, and Hopkins finds he has an uphill challenge fitting into the foreign culture.
But then the race starts and it's all about winning, and Hopkins sets off to prove to all the suckas that he and his mustang from halfway around the world (or three-quarters?) are as skilled as the vaunted Arabian racehorses and their ill-tempered riders, some of whom have hawks on their shoulders and shady allegiances to bitchy British ladies.
Hidalgo has some fun moments, and it will be right at home on your high-def system but I don't have terribly large amount of use for it. Two reasons: 1) it's too long and, b) it's too corny.
Of course, if you can't get enough Hidalgo and you enjoy corniness in your PG-13 action adventures and you think horses are the tops and spotty CGI doesn't bother you and you've got the rig to show off Blu-ray and all its capabilities, by all means, corral this bad boy.
Me, the occasional action sequence and some stunning photography aren't enough to compensate for glaring plot contrivances (when asked how he trained Hidalgo, Frank says "He didn't," though for a wild mustang, Hidalgo sure is willing to trot over whenever Frank whistles for him), clumsy lesson-learning (at the end of the film, when it makes an excellent rejoinder to an antagonist's one-liner, Frank finally comes to terms with his Native American heritage), sh—-y computer-generated cougars, miraculous horse healings from a recently-endured impalement and a prohibitively long runtime (136 minutes, yow.)
But props to some of the violence, which pushes the PG-13 rating and may in fact prove to shocking to families buckling in for a low-impact Disney-like adventure film. One guy gets vividly decapitated—minus the blood spew—another lands on the business ends of a spear trap and multiple fools are run through.
As much as the film failed to move and groove me, Hidalgo rides proud in its new HD incarnation. Boasting a new 2.40:1 widescreen, the film often explodes with detail. Some shots, particularly in the dark scenes like the night-raid sequence seemed soft but when the film shifts to the many outdoor, desert moments the high-definition transfer flexes its muscles. The brutally bright, almost-oppressive desert heat is transmitted beautifully on Blu, and is only surpassed by some gorgeous shots of the lush American West landscapes at the end. One downside to the increased clarity: the shifty visual effects are proven even more suspect. The ballyhooed sandstorm is huge and loud, but it never seems like Viggo Mortensen is galloping madly away from anything other than special effects. A locust swarm shows up a bit later, but it's brief and those cougars or whatever equivalent large cat indigenous to the region they are turn out be major disappointments.
What's not disappointing is the sound that accompanies these and other scenes. The 5.1 uncompressed digital surround (48kHz/24-bit) is aggressive, particularly in the aforementioned major set-pieces; the sandstorm and locusts actively utilize the discrete channels and the score is the typical, driving adventure music, kicked into top gear during the horse-race action and excellent-sounding.
Now, back to disappointing—the extras. Only two featurettes, recycled from the standard DVD releases, "Sand and Celluloid," a lengthy making-of documentary and "America's First Horse" a feature on the history of the Spanish Mustangs.
The film is slow and sporadically spunky, but the high-def rebirth gives Hidalgo a pass from the glue factory.
Here's a feedbag. Court adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
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