Hidalgo, from director Joe Johnston (October Sky), feels like something made in the golden era of the epic adventure movie. There’s something about its style, scale, and action sequences that lend it a retro sense. It’s also overlong, poorly paced, and not particularly exciting.
Based on a true story, though obviously embellished most of the way through, Viggo Mortensen plays Frank Hopkins. Part Indian and part cowboy, he sets off on a journey to the Arabic nation to take part in a 3,000 mile horse race. Of course, without loads of deceit, gunfire, and misfortune, there wouldn’t be much of a movie.
The early exposition is nothing short of dull. Aside from Hopkins, characters never feel developed fully, and little of the dialogue leads to anything note worthy later in the film. It’s almost at the hour mark when the focused story of the race begins, and if you’ve made it this far, you might as well stick with it.
Excellent visual effects create a grand sense of scale. The movie is filled with small touches that are almost impossible to detect to create some excellent visuals. While there are one too many sweeping shots of Hopkins traversing the desert alone, it can’t be denied that they serve a purpose.
James Newton Howard’s score is fabulous, perfectly reflecting the on-screen action. It’s the piece that carries every scene. Action set pieces are fun although too brief. Aside from a rescue that feels like a way to extend the movie instead of a needed plot development, any real action is over in seconds. The sand storm is spectacular to watch, yet ends as quickly as it began. The locust piece that serves a plot point seems wasted as well.
Typical summer movie clichés also dampen the fun. The plucky, one-liner filled sidekick is in full force. The predictable plot is mundane, and the visual effects are some of the highlights. Hidalgo doesn’t build its characters enough for us to care for them all the way through, and this one can feel like three hours instead of two. The horse is a more interesting character that many of those in speaking roles. That’s never good.
Aside from a few minor issues, Hidalgo shines on Blu-ray. Slight edge enhancement and noise (particularly as the race comes to close) are the noticeable flaws. Otherwise, sharpness remains high throughout. The natural color tones are beautiful to look at, and details show through en masse. Excellent black levels create wonderful contrast.
When called on, this PCM mix delivers. The sand storm is a perfect home audio piece. The debris loads the sound field and the wind carrying it delivers on the low end. As the horses get into a full gallop, their steps resonate in the subwoofer. Downtime doesn’t have much to offer as the barren deserts have little to produce sound-wise. Ambient audio is at a premium here.
Two extras are included here. Sand and Celluloid is a nine minute making of that stands as a basic featurette. America’s First Horse focuses on the horse species featured, the Spanish mustang. It’s interesting if padded with footage from the movie at 22 minutes.