Judge Kent Dixon seems to get saddled with a lot of reviews like this.
Three horses. Three lives. One magical journey.
Approximately 6,000 years ago, man rescued horses from the edge of extinction brought about by the last Ice Age; recognizing their value and domesticating them to work with and for us. That tipping point was responsible for saving a species whose population today exceeds 60 million across the globe. We value horses for their intelligence, spirit, and loyalty and IMAX Horses: The Story of Equus provides a brief but beautiful look at one of the most majestic creatures on Earth.
Likely due to the restricted feature length that results from the large-format presentation, IMAX films have very little time to waste on exposition and often dig right into the content; resulting in short but sweet windows into a specific subject. Released in 2002, Horses was written and directed by Michael Caulfield, who takes a somewhat unusual approach to this film. Opening with a brief description of their history and relationship with man, the feature quickly takes a highly fictionalized approach, identifying three specific foals: a Chestnut, a Black, and a Bay.
Caulfield's story, narrated by Irish actor Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects), personifies the animals; the viewer taken down three possible paths a horse might take after being sold as a yearling. The black horse escapes his owners and flees into the wild; the chestnut is trained for racing; and the bay is trained in show jumping, cross-country, and dressage. There's a vague Disney vibe here, reminiscent of their earlier wildlife films, with narration reinforcing the approach. It takes a fair suspension of disbelief to get past some of the clearly staged and scripted sections, but the stunning settings, scenery, and animal behavior are likely to keep viewers engaged throughout. Byrne's narration also provides interesting facts and information about horses around the edges of the story.
Given the impressive nature of the format, IMAX films should only be released on Blu-ray with 4:3 framing; it worked beautifully in the IMAX sequences of The Dark Knight and should be their chosen approach going forward. Horses has been released in SD, letterboxed within a full frame presentation. Viewers with widescreen format TVs are likely to be stuck with a small rectangle of picture floating in a sea of black. The image is soft overall and really does no justice to this release, especially knowing how stunning this footage could have looked if it had been treated with more care. While Byrne's narration is strong and composer Roger Mason's celtic-flavored score suits the subject, the Dolby 2.0 stereo presentation is clear, but firmly anchored in the center channel, adding almost nothing to the overall experience of the film. To round out the disappointment, Horses includes no bonus features of any kind.
It's difficult to recommend Horses for much more than a rental. Horse lovers are likely to find it too light on content and casual viewers may find the fictionalized approach is just too short to be engaging. Above all, it's a crime that such beautiful footage and a relatively engaging story suffer with a substandard release like this.
Warner Bros. is guilty of not treating this release with more care.
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