Hidalgo (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Watching “Hidalgo”, it’s kind of hard not to draw comparisons to something along the lines of “Lawrence of Arabia”. Naturally, though both star Omar Sharif, “Lawrence” is a far superior movie, but “Hidalgo” isn’t without its charm “that is if you can suspend your disbelief for a couple of hours. But let’s look more on the surface for a minute, shall we? First, the movie stars ultra hot Viggo Mortensen (and I mean “ultra hot” as in “ultra popular” not as in good looking)! Coming off the success of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the movie was released just after “Return of the King” won an undeserved 11 Oscars, including one for Best Picture. That being said, I could draw a parallel a few years back to Leonardo DiCaprio’s follow up movie to “Titanic” which was “The Man in the Iron Mask”. It too was released at the height of his popularity and I’m sure the box office reflected his popularity at the time as opposed to the actual movie. Apart from that, the movie is best classified as a Western, an all but dead genre in modern=day Hollywood. In fact there are only a handful of actors today that can make a reliable Western (Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner come to mind). So with all “Hidalgo” had going for it, was it really that good or that bad.

The truth is that it’s fairly entertaining, then again don’t think about it too hard and let the movie take you on a ride (no pun intended). Mortensen plays Frank Hopkins, a character in Buffalo Bill’s (played to a tee by J.K. Simmons) Wild West Show and a mail carrier. Hopkins has been billed as the greatest endurance rider/racer in the West, and this catches the attention of Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif), who offers Hopkins a chance to compete in the “Ocean of Fire”, the greatest endurance race in the world. This race has been around for 3,000 years and until now, only Arabs had been able to compete in it. Hopkins and his trustworthy half breed Mustang, Hidalgo, must now compete against 100 other contestants who don’t want a foreigner to steal their title. There’s a sub plot with the Sheikh’s daughter (Zuleikha Robinson) who doesn’t wish to spend the rest of her life as a slave. If Hidalgo were to win, this wouldn’t happen to her. But for the most part, it’s “root for the underdog” time when we see the perils and challenges that Frank and Hidalgo must face in their 3,000 mile race to immortality.

“Hidalgo” also reminded me a lot of last year’s “Seabiscuit” and not just because both of them involved horses. The underlying message is that if you persevere and believe in yourself, you’ll succeed. That and the movie is based on fact, so I suppose you could save yourself the cost of a rental and just look in an encyclopedia to see who won (though I think its pretty self-explanatory). Director Joe Johnston isn’t far out of his genre here. He’s better known for lavish sci-fi movies with plenty of special effects like “Jumanji” and “Jurassic Park III”; though he also helmed one of my favorite movies in “The Rocketeer”. There’s no denying that Johnston is out of his element here. In fact, I think he was the right choice to direct. Still, the overall quality of the movie is a bit predictable and, gaping plot holes aside, it is entertaining if you sit back and suspend your disbelief. At 135 minutes, I feel it’s about twenty minutes too long. Today’s audiences aren’t really excited about movies that take up an entire afternoon. Still, “Hidalgo” will most likely find a much broader audience on DVD than it did in the theaters. Mortensen isn’t bad, but he doesn’t seem too convincing as a “Westerner”.

Video: How does it look?

I vaguely remember watching “Hidalgo” when it first arrived on DVD a few years back and being struck by how much of a unique transfer it was. The contrast is very brazen and it was quite the interesting watch. As this new Blu-ray arrived, I was immediately impressed at how much different (read: better) it was. The flesh tones appear more natural and the whites seem a lot starker, giving the film a very unique look and feel to it. It goes without staying that the detail is bumped up a notch or two and a testament to the increased technical levels of the HD format. For as good as “Hidalgo” looked a few years back, it looks that much better now.

Audio: How does it sound?

The original DVD had dual Dolby Digital and DTS tracks which gave the movie a very robust soundstage to work with. This Blu-ray version contains a Disney standard a PCM uncompressed track that really seems to open up the stage for some dynamic sound. The best of what was there is still present, a wide and expansive range of sound that really flourishes during the racing scenes and the great sand storm scene. Dialogue is very warm and natural and I was impressed at how much the surrounds really came into play here. Again, like the video, the audio has been bumped up a few notches thereby making “Hidalgo” not only a pleasure to watch, but listen to as well.

Supplements: What are the extras?

All of the supplements from the original DVD are ported over here and the DVD-ROM material is now a stand alone feature on the Blu-ray disc. That said, we don’t get a whole lot with the same “Sand and Celluloid” featurette as well as the longer “America’s First Horse” feature running at 22 minutes. We get some HD trailers of upcoming features, though I always laugh when I watch a movie a few years later to see what was “coming soon”.

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