Based on a true story, Buena Vista Home Entertainment is presenting us with a DVD version of "Hidalgo," complete with a number of extras to expand on the epic film about America’s most famous endurance horse racing legends, Frank Hopkins and his horse Hidalgo.
Frank Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen) is an American-Indian pony express courier during the Indian Wars, hiding his Indian heritage as good as he can. When he witnesses the infamous massacre at Wounded Knee in which his people were slain ruthlessly he succumbs to alcoholism and becomes a sideshow attraction at Buffalo Bill’s traveling circus. Having earned the fame of being one of the most resilient and fastest long distance riders with his horse "Hidalgo," Hopkins is one day invited by an Arabian Sheick (Omar Sharif) to partake in his annual horse race, a 3000-mile race through the Arabian desert. The Sheick is offended by the claim that Hopkins’ wild mixed-breed mustang is the fastest horse in the world and plans to defeat Hidalgo to prove that his Arabian pure-bred horses are superior to Hopkins’ mustang once and for all. Hopkins accepts the challenge and travels to exotic Arabia, a country he could never have imagined, and as soon as the race is on, it becomes very obvious that they have all underestimated Frank Hopkins and his sturdy pony, as day after day they make their way through the "Ocean of Fire," firmly cementing his reputation. But too much is at stake for some of the other competitors and they begin scheming to take Hopkins and Hidalgo down. But no one’s messing with a real cowboy just that easily…
Sometimes playing like a mix between "Dances With Wolves" and "Lawrence Of Arabia" the story has a lot going for itself but sadly the overall story is very predictable and never offers many surprises. While the imagery presented is epic and grand, both during the scenes in America and Arabia, it doesn’t really hide the fact that the way the story is told is a bit flat.
The acting on the other hand is great with Mortensen putting in a wonderful Frank Hopkins, who is believable and tangible in his pain.
Buena Vista Home Entertainment is presenting "Hidalgo" in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio on this DVD in a transfer that is enhanced for 16x9 TV sets. The image is absolutely clean throughout, without any hint of speckles or grain. The level of detail in the transfer is also very good, bringing out the best of the lush production design, like the interior of the Sheick’s tent, as well as the sandy textures of the desert. Color reproduction is strong and vivid with good colors that never bleed. Skin tones are naturally rendered while the skies are awash in wonderful hues of blue. Unfortunately the transfer shows quite a bit of edge-enhancement almost throughout. The images of this film are very stark and contrasting by nature, as director Joe Johnston puts man and horse against the desert sands and the blue sky, and as a result the edge-enhancement is becoming overly evident, not to say intrusive as it gives the picture an unnatural quality that notably diminishes the presentation. Once again I am just shocked that this sort of edge-enhancement artifacting actually received a THX certification. The compression is well done and free of distracting artifacts.
The audio on the DVD is presented as a dynamic 5.1 channel Dolby Digital track, creating a wide sound field that is engaging and aggressive. Surround usage is very good and found throughout the picture, making for a pleasing and active presentation with good a frequency response that had deep basses, and a dynamic range that perfectly suits the enchanting music score and subtle ambient effects.
As extras the DVD contains a 9-minute featurette entitled "Sand & Celluloid." Presented in fullscreen it offers a glimpse behind the scenes, visiting the production on the set, intercut with interview segments where cast and crew members talk about their experience making this film.
Also included is "Hidalgo: America’s First Horse" a DVD-ROM feature that tells you more about the history of the Spanish Mustangs in America.
A very nice Easter Egg can also be found on the DVD in which native Americans tell the legend of Hidalgo the way it has been relayed to them by their families.
"Hidalgo" is an entertaining and enjoyable film. Though it has its flaws it certainly makes for some riveting 2+ hours and offers a lot of visual candy to feast your eyes on. Too bad the transfer is a bit flawed with its excessive edge-enhancement but other than that, it’s a thrilling adventure, that is a bit more weighty due to the fact that it is a real story.