The Horse Whisperer

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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1998 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 162:25 minutes Other Extras None
RSDL/Flipper Flipper (83:10)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director Robert Redford

Warner Home Video
Starring Robert Redford
Kristin Scott Thomas
Sam Neill
Dianne Wiest
Scarlett Johansson
Chris Cooper
RRP $34.95 Music Thomas Newman

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement Yes Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 and 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes

Plot Synopsis

    What, its finished? Must have drifted off to sleep, sorry about that. Yes, Robert Redford may have invented the cure for insomnia, but I would have thought a snappier name than The Horse Whisperer would have aided the marketing no end. If you like films of a positively soporific pace, then this is right up your alley. If not, then avoid this like the plague, because there is little to redeem it for being about 60 minutes too long.

    That is not to say that the plot is completely without merit, rather that they made the damn thing far too long. Grace MacLean (Scarlett Johansson) suffers a terrible riding accident that kills her best friend, badly injures her horse Pilgrim and results in her losing her right leg below the knee. Rather then face the prospect of putting Pilgrim down, her magazine editor mother Annie MacLean (Kirstin Scott Thomas) opts to have the horse saved, with dire consequences as the horse becomes unmanageable and Grace rejects it the first time she sees it after the accident. In an effort to save her daughter, Annie tracks down Tom Booker (Robert Redford) who is a Whisperer - a person who has the gift to almost communicate with a horse. After he rejects her offer to come to New York, and not exactly with the best wishes of husband Robert (Sam Neill), Annie loads a reluctant horse and a reluctant daughter into the car and trailer for a hike all the way to Montana to convince Tom to save the horse - and her daughter. Along the way to saving both, Annie of course falls in love with Tom.

    Whilst there is nothing to really complain about in the performances, Robert Redford as director adopted a painfully slow pace in the film with lots of quite superfluous "atmosphere" shots. The result is that this seems to go nowhere very slowly indeed and after twenty minutes I was already starting to check the "how much longer to go" display counter. About the only redeeming feature of the soporific pace is the absolutely gorgeous shots of the Montana countryside - definitely one of the most beautiful places in the United States. Indeed, if I were to try and describe the film, I think it would be best described as an "elevator film" - as in "elevator music", background vision that you really do not take too much notice of.

Transfer Quality


    Well, another inconsistent Buena Vista transfer on offer here.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The theatrical release started at 1.85:1 for the New York scenes before switching to 2.35:1 for the Montana scenes, so some of this impact is lost.

     The transfer is woefully inconsistent, but in general is quite soft in focus, not especially sharp, and quite poorly defined at times. At times the background was terribly out of focus whilst the foreground was also quite softly focused, making this for me very difficult to watch. This may have been what Robert Redford intended, but it leaves me very cold indeed. Shadow detail is acceptable.

    The colours were uniformly rendered, but I felt that they could have been perhaps a little more vibrant. There is certainly no problem with over saturation here. Some of the scenery is quite magnificent and comes up extremely well in the transfer.

   There were no MPEG artefacts noted. Video artefacts comprised some minor aliasing, especially earlier on in the film noted. Film artefacts were a bit of a problem, which is disappointing in such a recent film, although they were not especially especially distracting.

   The packaging claims subtitles in English, Croatian, Greek and Portuguese, but these are not present on the disc.

   Flipper alert, flipper alert. Yes, this is one of those dreaded flipper discs, with the completely unacceptable turnover coming at 83:10. Mind you, in this instance it did give me a chance to wake up! No matter how you try to rationalize this, there is no excuse for a dual sided format when dual layer formats are available.


   Overall, the audio transfer was pretty decent.

   There is only an English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track on the DVD, the French Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack claimed on the packaging is not present.

   The dialogue was clear and reasonably easy to understand at all times.

   Audio sync did not appear to be a problem with the transfer at all.

   The musical score comes from Thomas Newman and a suitably atmospheric score it is too. The fact that this just reinforces the soporific nature of the film should not be held against it. It was a nicely reserved score that never drew attention to itself, which is probably the essence of a fine film score.

   This is not an especially well detailed 5.1 soundtrack and there really should have been a lot more detail, especially out of the rear channels at times. For most of the film though, it was a pleasing enough soundscape, even though you never really felt a part of it.

   There was minimal use made of the bass channel.


    Nihilism rules at Buena Vista.


    Another suitably poor effort from the masters of the game.

R4 vs R1

   Region 4 misses out on:    Region 1 misses out on:    Well, do I suffer a flipper disc with 16x9 enhancement or an RSDL disc without 16x9 enhancement? Personally I would go with the Region 1 version, but that may well place me in the minority.


    The Horse Whisperer, as you may have gathered, is not a film that I am too impressed with. Far too long for its own good and definitely far too relaxed a pace to suffer often. I understand that this did not do well at the box office, and I know why now. In all honesty, this is only for Robert Redford fans, and only avoids red stars for the overall rating because of the gorgeous scenery of Montana.

    The overall video quality is acceptable but nothing more.

    The overall audio quality is acceptable.

    What is an extra?

Ratings (out of 5)

Extras say again?

© Ian Morris
7th October 1999

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL