The Horse Whisperer: Special Edition (1998)

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Released 7-Apr-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Animation & Audio
Theatrical Trailer-2:04
Featurette-Production (1:54)
Featurette-Robert Redford (1:36)
Featurette-Buck Brannaman (1:44)
Music Video-A Soft Place to Fall by Alison Moorer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 162:24
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (87:50) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Robert Redford

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Robert Redford
Kristin Scott Thomas
Sam Neill
Dianne Wiest
Scarlett Johansson
Chris Cooper
Cherry Jones
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $36.95 Music Thomas Newman

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The Horse Whisperer is a story of healing and change. It's a longish film, but that length is justified, because it makes the healing process more credible — we see the gradual, cumulative process, and we can feel the changes build. If it were cut down to a commercial 90 minutes it would lose much of its credibility.

    The opening scenes are dramatic, and lead up to something somewhat gruesome. We see a workaholic mother talking to a father, and a girl who is sneaking out of the house in the early morning to go riding with her best friend — all nice normal stuff. Then there's the accident. The daughter is badly injured, the horse is horrifically injured, and the mother and father are trying to deal with the situation. The mother is somewhat pushy, the father conciliatory — you get the feeling that they are normally like this, and you feel a surge of dislike for the mother. When the vet calls, having found the horse, and asks permission to put the horse down so it doesn't have to suffer, the mother refuses, because she's not prepared to deal with that at this point.

    A little later we see that the family is not coping well. Things get worse when they take the daughter, Grace (Scarlett Johansson), to see the horse, Pilgrim. She calls him her big beautiful boy, and then he turns around... The vet again asks permission to put him down. Annie (Kristin Scott Thomas), the mother, refuses again.

    Annie is a hardworking editor-in-chief at a New York magazine called Cover. She researches, with as much energy as she ever expended as editor, the subject of helping unwell horses. She comes to the conclusion that only one man can help them — a man called Tom Booker (you guessed it, Robert Redford). She calls him, and asks him to come see the horse. He refuses, politely. She won't take no for an answer. She packs up Grace and Pilgrim, leaves Robert (Sam Neill), the father, to his job as a lawyer, and drives most of the way across the country. Grace is sullen and resentful, but starts to see her mother a little differently on the trip.

    It would be a short movie if Tom refused to try to help Pilgrim after they'd come all that way. It isn't. But he insists that he will only try if Grace will help. She's reluctant, because she's too curled up around her own hurt, but he gets to her, just as he gets to the horse.

    Tom takes on the job of helping Pilgrim to heal, but it's more than that. He's also helping Grace, and the relationship between Grace and Annie, and even Annie herself. This has one unfortunate side-effect, in that it causes Annie to assess her relationship with Robert. ((SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) An interesting choice: Sam Neill or Robert Redford — I know some women who'd like to be faced with such a dilemma...)

    Surprisingly, this the first time that Robert Redford has directed and acted in the same film.

    The trailer talks of "newcomer Scarlett Johansson" — this made me wonder if this was her debut film (I knew that her excellent performance in Ghost World came later) — it wasn't, by four years and six films. After seeing these two films, though, I will definitely be watching out for more. She's quite an actress, with an interesting deep voice (it sounds like she's been smoking heavily).

    This film is not for everyone, because not everyone likes slow-moving, richly detailed movies. If you do, this is definitely one worth seeing. Recommended.

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Transfer Quality


    This film was shown in an interesting way  in cinemas. The first portion was shown in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1, then, as the location moves from New York to the wide-open Montana, it opened up into 2.35:1. A little pretentious, perhaps, but effective. On this DVD, the initial portion is pillar-boxed in the 2.35:1 frame — we get narrow black bars down the left and right (or, if your DVD player clips a little more on one side, maybe one side only). The reduction does not take the picture down to 1.85:1 — it's more like 2.2:1 (maybe even a bit more) — but it is enough to give us the impact of the expansion. It's a nice effect.

    The image is clear and smooth — nicely film-like, rather than razor-sharp, although it looks quite sharp on a smaller screen (such as a 68cm). The only blurry shots are deliberately so, showing the blurriness of either a person's or a horse's vision. Shadow detail is generally very good, but there are moments that have reduced shadow detail, in one case reduced so much that the scene is literally black and white (I don't mean shades of grey — I mean black and white), then becoming pure black — it's a nice effect, and completely deliberate. Film grain is never a problem, and there's no low-level noise.

    Colour is excellent — it is superbly rendered. Quite a few scenes don't feature a lot of variety in colour, but what colour there is, is captured accurately. The only colour-related artefact is a touch of oversaturation on a few shots with high brightness sunshine reflected off a single object.

    There are plenty of miniscule film artefacts, but they really are very tiny, and barely noticeable even on a large screen. There's a small white fleck at 40:37 that looks like a reflection on glass (it isn't), but that's the only one that is really noticeable.

    There is quite a lot of aliasing, some of it rather obvious, such as on barn weatherboards at 20:37, on printed pages at 23:25, on the bridge and road at 32:14, and so forth. There's a little bit of moiré, such as on the wicker at 152:13. There are no noticeable MPEG artefacts.

    At first glance, it looks as if there are only subtitles in English and German, both marked as "for the hearing impaired"; if you look closely, you see a single word "More" on the menu, and that's the key to finding the twelve languages of regular subtitles (including English and German). I only watched the English for the Hearing Impaired set. They are really quite accurate, well-timed, and easy to read, and they include a variety of aural cues and vocal attributions.

    The disc is single-sided, and dual layered, formatted RSDL. The layer change is at 87:50, and it is superbly placed at a scene change — it'll probably be invisible on most modern players.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The soundtrack is provided in English, German, and Spanish. I listened to the English, which is Dolby Digital 5.1.

    The dialogue is clear and readily comprehended. I spotted nothing in the way of audio sync errors.

    The score comes from Thomas Newman. I liked it — the music supports what's happening on-screen, but without an obsession to fill every moment with music.

    The surrounds aren't heavily used, but they do get some subtle cues and a little score. The subwoofer supports the lower register well, and is used for LFE during some stressful moments, but it's not constantly used.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    I'm not quite sure how this qualifies as a Special Edition — it doesn't have much in the way of extras. Then again, the previous version had no extras at all, and was a flipper, so we've made considerable progress. And one of the snippets explains why we shouldn't expect much in the way of extras on a movie Redford directs, which helps.


    The menus are quite attractive, with music behind most of them. The main menu is animated, and there's a nice transition leading into it.

Theatrical Trailer (2:04)

    A lengthy trailer, presented in widescreen..

Production Featurette (1:54)

    Not much more than a different kind of trailer.

Robert Redford Featurette (1:36)

    Another short snippet, but this time telling us that Robert Redford is not a believer in things like commentaries — he feels that they take the mystery out of the movie, and he doesn't like that..

Buck Brannaman Featurette (1:44)

    One more snippet: this one giving us a glimpse of the man Robert Redford used as a model for the character of Tom Booker.

Music Video: A Soft Place to Fall by Alison Moorer (4:29)

    This is the one song we see sung full-length in the movie. It's also the longest extra (which is somewhat sad).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Region 1 scored this film in 1998, but it's not 16x9 enhanced, and it has only a trailer for an extra. That makes the comparison a bit one-sided:

    The Region 1 disc is missing:

    The Region 4 disc is missing:

    The Region 4 disc is most emphatically the one to go for now.


    The Horse Whisperer is a beautiful, richly-detailed movie, on a well-made disc.

    The video quality is fairly good, even with quite a lot of aliasing.

    The audio quality is very good.

    The extras are sparse, but that's mostly because Robert Redford doesn't believe in commentaries and such like.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Wednesday, June 04, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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