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MRQE Top Critic

The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

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Hidalgo, loosely based on the somewhat true-life adventures of Frank T. Hopkins, has ponied up to DVD. Even with an untamed mustang as its title character, though, this film could use a lot more giddy-up in its horse power.

Desertbiscuit

David Lean would be dismayed by the use of artificial filtering and CG animals
David Lean would be dismayed by the use of artificial filtering and CG animals
DVD edition is sparse, and the movie could use a little work too
DVD edition is sparse, and the movie could use a little work too

Hopkins is an honorable man; he’s a cowboy with Sioux blood and a heart and soul of pure gold. After witnessing the massacre of his tribe at Wounded Knee, he is intent on making amends with his fellow Sioux.

As fate would have it, opportunity falls into Hopkins’ lap in the guise of the Great Horse Race of the Bedouin, a 3,000-mile trek by horseback across the Arabian Desert, passing through territories including Iraq and Damascus. A handsome cash prize falls to the winner and Hopkins, famed for his long-distance racing skills, could certainly use the proceeds.

Viggo Mortensen has traded in his recent playboy roles in films like A Perfect Murder and the remake of Psycho for soulful, earnest men like Aragorn, the king of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Swap his fluent Elvish for an impressive stab at the language of the Sioux and the result is Frank Hopkins. In any role, Mortensen is good and he lends to Hidalgo a sincerity and earnestness that the material doesn’t deserve.

As for Hidalgo himself, he’s an aging, untamed Spanish mustang with some fight still left in him. He’s also Hopkins’ ticket to ride

Dark Horse

While Hidalgo does boast a few fleeting moments of true epic sweep, too often director Joe Johnston (Jumanji) turns to the easy tricks of the modern-day Hollywood trade and adds glaring artificiality where none is needed.

There was indeed a Great Horse Race of the Bedouin in 1890 and it did feature a competition among 100 racers and 3,000 miles. In reality, the race took 68 days. But, unlike the film’s shameless photo-finish climax, second place came in a full 33 hours after the victor. Aside from that, the known facts surrounding the event are limited.

Over the course of this rendition of the race, the story buries itself in silly subplots that ultimately take center stage and push the race itself into second place. The most contrived thread involves attempts to murder Hopkins along the 3,000 mile trek. Apparently all is fair in love, war, and horse racing.

Unfortunately, what starts off as something of a lark gets weighed down by its own pretensions. The end result is not nearly as fun – or inspiring – as it should have been.

DVD Extras

The extras are sparse on this DVD edition, no doubt a reflection of the film’s poor box office performance.

First off, there’s Sand & Celluloid, a 9-minute feature on the making of the film. It’s standard behind-the-scenes fare.

Far more interesting is America’s First Horse, a 22-minute short on the history of the mustang and it’s true-life struggle for survival in the United States. It’s an interesting featurette that includes bits of Native American history and mysticism. Unfortunately, it’s accessed as a DVD-ROM feature, requiring viewers to access the QuickTime presentation via computer. Maybe some perverse logic lead the powers that be to think it would feel more educational if it were played on a computer, but it’s unnecessary for this feature to have been secluded as a solitary DVD-ROM supplement. There’s no special interactivity involved and it would have been better served as a standard featurette presentation.

Finally, there is an Easter Egg. On the Bonus Features menu, click on the Native American insignia in the lower left corner of the screen for a 3-minute segment of interviews with Native Americans and photos by Viggo Mortensen.

Picture and Sound

The widescreen (2.35:1) 16x9 enhanced presentation is THX certified and it lives up to the THX name. But there is one major, unacceptable gaff: Subtitles used during scenes of Arabic conversation and used to name various locations during the film are not from the original film element. Instead, the original in-frame titles have been removed in favor of out-of-frame subtitles that look sloppy and tacked on, completely inconsistent with the rest of the film. Such a move earns a demerit.

The DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks are excellent, with DTS naturally getting the upper edge in terms of crisp, dynamic surround sound.

Also included are French and Spanish dubbing as well as English, French and Spanish Subtitles.