DVD - Image A- Sound A Extras C
BD - Image A- Sound A Extras C
starring Viggo Mortensen, Zuleikha Robinson, Omar Sharif, Louise Lombard
screenplay by John Fusco, based on the lies and half-truths of Frank Hopkins
directed by Joe Johnston
by Walter Chaw The lugubrious splits time with the ridiculous in Hidalgo, the sort of movie that isn't made much anymore for good reason. The good old days weren't always good, and this Gunga Din yarn--aspiring for the epic adventure and achieving near-lethal doses of misogyny, racism of the paternalistic and other kind, and bald-faced historical revisionism that smacks of something about the opiate of the people--is so dated that it seems fresh again. (At least insofar as a dead horse can ever seem fresh.) The question with currency isn't why this film was made, but why the screening audience I saw it with applauded at the end--what exactly has been celebrated by this facile tall tale of race and a race, and what sort of message does it send about the popular appetite for obvious horse operas produced by Disney in decline? Consider, too, at the end of everything that the film is named after a horse, and that the horse, though a better actor than anyone else in the picture (including poor Omar Sharif), has very little to do with anything.
Pathological liar Frank Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen) spins a few PG-13 yarns about Bedouins who switch to English at moments of crisis (I myself inexplicably switch to Aramaic when terrified) and a 3000-mile horse race across a desert (which, if my Atlas tells the truth, would put them somewhere in the middle of an ocean--or France) while trying, somewhat appallingly, to integrate the massacre at Wounded Knee into his backstory. It's a little Last Samurai in its tale of a white man haunted by guilt for his complicity in the extermination of an indigenous culture escaping to the brown refuge of another indigenous culture for a little spiritual healing; it's a little Thunderheart in its casting of a pretty boy actor in the role of a tortured, race-abnegating half-breed; and it's a little Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron in its veneration of the Noble Red Man and anthropomorphizing of a horse. If you're a fan of animal reaction shots, between this, 50 First Dates, and going to an animal shelter high as a kite, you now have three viable entertainment choices.
Johnston indulges in hyper-literal filmmaking. To show noble mustang Hidalgo eager at the starting line, he gifts us with a close-up of the pony chomping at his bit. To demonstrate that his tale is a two-fisted ripper, he gifts us with Frank wading into a sword fight with both fists-a-blazin'. To show that Frank has finally learned to embrace the red within, he gifts us with a mirage of Native Americans doing a ghost dance and a shot of Frank's cowboy hat blowing away. And to show that he's something of a hack, he gifts us with glaring continuity errors and a middle section so boring that it begins to take on the cadence of a low keen. Hidalgo's greatest crime isn't its weird action sequences (leopards and bunji sticks, no joke) nor its perfunctory love story (with daughter-of-the-Sheikh, Zuleikha Robinson), but its squandering of the Sheikh himself, Omar Sharif, in a role that's essentially that of a doddering old man who needs to learn to accept his daughter's foreign boyfriend. He reads penny dreadfuls about Buffalo Bill (and of course Hopkins is a star of his Wild West Show), covets Frank's colt revolver in a homoerotoriffic way, and is essentially victimized repeatedly by betrayal, humiliation, and his inability to do anything but remind of how far he's fallen from his legendary turn in Lawrence of Arabia.
Clearly garbage from the start, Hidalgo is too long (about 140 minutes) and semi-exploitive besides. It suffers from Noble Savage Syndrome something terrible before indulging in the kind of ugly Arab stereotypes the Magic Kingdom was already called to the carpet for with Aladdin. Mortensen continues to "out" himself as the new Christopher Lambert and Johnston continues to produce flaccid, lifeless bits of tinsel that aim to please but aren't destined to please as much as its moneymen would prefer. The popular taste an easy target, the fact remains that the mob is actually fairly sophisticated about the technical proficiency of their entertainments--and a film as irritatingly unobtrusive as Hidalgo is likely to, like that weird girl in the pop-bottle glasses who used to stare at you in biology, inspire great draughts of irritation followed by an almost instant forgetfulness once out of sight. Originally published: March 5, 2004.
by Bill Chambers Touchstone issues Hidalgo on DVD in competing widescreen and fullscreen editions. We received the former for review; I don't even want to think about the latter, since the film was shot in 'scope. Although the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is mostly deserving of its THX certification, the image is not without its vices, chiefly banding artifacts that assert themselves in a series of dissolves beginning around the 53-minute mark. Edge-enhancement surfaces in scenes that exhibit high contrast, leading one to blame digital-grading techniques (still in their infancy, after all) rather than the disc's authors. The picture's 5.1 soundmix comes in DTS and Dolby Digital flavours, and in a comparison between the two, DTS emerges the clear winner; the sandstorm in chapter 8 (aptly titled "Sandstorm!") fills the room in DTS but seems far more tethered to the front mains in Dolby Digital. Additionally, you won't strain your ears making out the dialogue in DTS. To be fair, with the exception of the sandstorm and a passing train (shot in the Edison style of running over the viewer), neither track is the paint-peeler I was expecting with all those charging horses. Note that captions are automatically enabled for subtitles that were once burned-in (e.g. "Based on the Life of Frank T Hopkins") and even some that were not, such as an inexplicable translation for the cover of a dime store western the Shiekh is reading, which happens to already be in English.
Bonus features include "Sand & Celluloid" (9 mins.), a making-of featurette that maximizes its running time through interviews with below-the-line players so rarely glimpsed in these things that they've become downright mythical, like the prop master and the gaffer. Therein as well, screenwriter John Fusco compares endurance racing to extreme sports and Joe Johnston compares it to filmmaking, betraying a philosophical difference between the two men one might say sheds light on Hidalgo's lack of tactility. "Hidalgo: America's First Horse" is a 30-second preview of the DVD's underwhelming, 22-minute ROM supplement detailing the history of the Mustang breed, while an Easter egg indicated by a cross symbol leapfrogs to a 3-minute piece peppered with shutterbug Mortensen's set photos in which David Midthunder of the Assiniboine Sioux and Leo Pard of the Northern Pikuni give credence to Hopkins's tale, if not to the man himself. Trailers for Mr. 3000, The Alamo, The Young Black Stallion, and Around the World in 80 Days round out the disc; they also precede the main menu. Originally published: August 6, 2004.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Buena Vista continues their unwavering commitment to getting their back catalogue on Blu-ray with Hidalgo, a disc that's been generating mixed reviews to which I'm inclined to respond: have you seen the DVD lately? Like The Rookie, Hidalgo was significantly compromised by a lethal cocktail of DVNR and edge-enhancement in standard-def; unlike The Rookie, it seems to have undergone some measure of remastering for BD. Still, the 2.40:1, 1080p transfer is ineffably dated, suffering from a depth-inhibiting softness that goes beyond the usual aberrations of anamorphic lenses. Something tells me that digital intermediates have only improved over time and we're seeing an early, lower-res example of one here. While I couldn't sample the 24-bit uncompressed audio, I can say for certain that the standard DD 5.1 option (640 kbps) is on a par with the DTS track of the DVD. In retrospect, the mix is awfully hemispheric throughout (sandstorm excepted), but the LFE channel really packs a wallop. Extras are identical to that of the SD platter (so many acronyms!); the obligatory Blu-ray promos plus HiDef trailers for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (demo material) and National Treasure: Book of Secrets cue up on startup. For what it's worth, burned-in subtitles are again replaced with player-generated captions. Originally published: April 2, 2008.
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