Hidalgo (2004)

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Released 12-Jan-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Main Menu Introduction
Menu Animation & Audio
Menu Audio
THX Optimizer
THX Trailer
Featurette-Sand And Celluloid
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2004
Running Time 130:49
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (69:23) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Joe Johnston

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Viggo Mortensen
Zuleikha Robinson
Omar Sharif
Louise Lombard
Adam Alexi-Malle
Saïd Taghmaoui
Silas Carson
Harsh Nayyar
J.K. Simmons
Adoni Maropis
Victor Talmadge
Peter Mensah
Joshua Wolf Coleman
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music James Newton Howard

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
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
English Titling
Portuguese Titling
Smoking Yes, lots. Including by the hero himself.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

   Simultaneously old-fashioned and post-modern, Hidalgo is a surprising, contradictory, but immensely enjoyable jumble of a film. It may not have made the big splash it deserved at the box office – despite starring beloved hidden monarch Viggo Mortensen and being released in the afterglow of The Return of the King – but it is in the home that many films now find their true audience and build a reputation. I think Hidalgo may well come to be seen as a minor classic of adventure; whether you are likely to agree or not can be determined by a simple question - how did you react to the scene in The Two Towers where Aragorn’s horse Brego found him and carried him away? Did you snicker and wonder if he was still dreaming of Arwen as the horse nuzzled his face? Hidalgo is not for you. Or did you get a catch in your throat at the sight of such mute loyalty? If so, get your heart-strings in tune. They’re a-going to be vigorously tugged.

   Based on a true story, Hidalgo depicts the greatest exploit of legendary American cowboy and Pony Express courier Frank T. Hopkins (Mortensen): his entry into the famous and lethal Ocean of Fire race across the Arabian desert. Soon after we meet him, Hopkins is – in the film’s first, but not last, touch of movieland cliché – a burned-out wreck of a man, drinking away the shame of a massacre he unwittingly assisted. Reduced to performing in Wild Bill Hicock’s (a fine, but unconvincingly bearded J.K. Simmons) lurid and triumphalist Wild West Show, Hopkins is made a compelling offer by a pair of visiting Arabs. Wild Bill has declared Hopkins’ faithful horse, a dappled little mustang named Hidalgo, to be the greatest long-distance racer in the world. This is impossible, declare the Arabs: their master, the Sheikh of Sheikhs (Omar Sharif) owns the greatest horse. If Hopkins and Hicock will not withdraw their claim, they must prove it – by sending Hopkins to race with Hidalgo across 3,000 miles of burning desert, against 100 of the best riders in the Arab world.

   What ensues is a strange fusion of three cinematic styles. There’s your Raiders-esque old-timey adventure film with gorgeous scenery, impossible odds, inventive challenges and occasionally honourable adversaries. Then there’s your team-up picture, where famous-but-separate characters are thrown together to compete or cooperate. Think Freddy Vs Jason, or in this case, Dances With Wolves vs Lawrence Of Arabia. And finally, there’s your well-meaning, socially-progressive historical epic – like Edward Zwick’s Glory, or his more recent The Last Samurai. This is a weird mix, and not at all what I expected from director Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park III, The Rocketeer and more). But the weirdest thing is that it works. The presence of a cowboy, with all the cinematic associations and expectations that he elicits, in the midst of all this sands-of-the-Orient splendour is not so much jarring as invigorating. He makes it all new and surprising again, and worth paying attention to. Similarly, the action is not diminished by all the time spent on Hopkins’ background and his relationships with the Indians, the Arabs, and Hidalgo. Instead, these elements make the spectacle meaningful; they enable us to care. The themes – a fair whack of Accept Who You Are, and a healthy jigger of Strength Of Will Beats Purity Of Blood – are unsubtle, but effective.

   There are a few false notes, to be sure – lapses into action-movie cheese like Hopkins’ Schwarzenegger-esque “Nobody hurts my horse” line, or the heavy-handedness with which all the other characters sneer about purity and mixed blood. After Abu Ghraib, it’s hard to accept the jolliness of the scene where Mortensen beats information out of a captive. And for all the film’s sincere concern for the plight of the Sioux, I’m not sure that it doesn’t fall into Orientalist stereotyping where its Arab characters are concerned. But these failings are more than compensated for. Mortensen is once again a compelling lead, sensitive and capable in equal measure. His co-stars are largely terrific – particularly Omar Sharif, aged and frail but still full of charisma, and T.J., the horse who plays Hidalgo. I’m not kidding: the horse is in almost every scene, has a lot of stunts to do and reactions to convey, and does it all wonderfully. Now I see what all the 8-year-old girls are on about with their Saddle Club obsession… Ahem. Asserting my manliness, I also note that the action sequences are superb and unexpected; the speed and brutality of a fight between a horse and two big cats left me breathless. And the special effects are both sophisticated and well integrated – not something one can often say of Industrial Light & Magic’s output these days. Johnston has an eye for little touches that enhance the drama and realism of his film, like the trembling hands of the gaunt and ancient wali who fires the shot that starts the great race. He plays with the conventions of the adventure-in-foreign-parts, hilariously spoofing the doom-laden exposition that some native character is always required to utter; but he also respects the ethos of old-fashioned adventure. Full of spectacle and emotion, his film is worthy of fond remembrance.

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Transfer Quality


   This is a perfect transfer of a gorgeous film.

   The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1, and is 16x9 enhanced.

   The image is perfectly sharp and clear – even the blurriness of desert heat-haze is rendered with razor-sharpness! Intense brightness and deep darkness often coexist in the frame, as in the fight at 20:00, without loss of shadow detail; at other times, cinematographer Shelly Johnson merely silhouettes the characters before a bright backdrop. There is no low level noise.

   Colours are rich and vibrant throughout, and used with great care and skill. From the subtle shadings of the American wilderness in Hidalgo’s beautiful opening sequence to the deserts that take on so many hues during the course of the film, this is a lovely movie to watch. The filmmakers even experiment with overexposure and other tricks towards the end, in a manner reminiscent of Three Kings. There are no colour artefacts of any sort.

   There were no MPEG artefacts, film-to-video artefacts or noticeable film artefacts, and there was very little grain. This is one clean transfer!

   The subtitles were readable, accurate and well-placed. All burned-in text from the theatrical release has been replaced by a default subtitle stream – not just non-English dialogue, but dates and place names too.

   This is an RSDL disc with the layer change at 69:23, well positioned on a scene change.

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


   The audio transfer is superb and exciting.

   There are three audio tracks: a default English Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 448 Kbps, an English DTS 5.1 track encoded at 768 Kbps, and a Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 384Kbps. I listened to both English soundtracks.

   Dialogue was rendered with perfect fidelity in both the Dolby and DTS tracks, without dropouts, clicks, or notable hiss. The Dolby track dialogue is somewhat louder than the DTS, but neither is uncomfortable or inaudible. There were no audio sync problems.

   The stirring original score is by James Newton Howard, A-list composer for a swag of big Hollywood films. It’s terrific, moving from subtlety to bombast in perfect synchrony with the action and drama, and it sounds truly wonderful on either track – though DTS has the edge, as always.

   The surround channels – and the front left and right channels, for that matter – are used cleverly and constantly in one of the more active soundtracks I’ve listened to. Front pans on gunshots at 12:44, a sandstorm at 49:00, and a swarm of locusts at 91:25 are only some of the more overt instances of major surround activity. The sounds are a little more defined on the DTS track, but no one really has much to complain about here.

   When the producers remixed this soundtrack to 5.1, they seem to have decided – quite appropriately, in my opinion – not to make much use of the surrounds, but rather to simply separate the dialogue from the music and background noise. Thus, although there are several scenes that focus on Martin’s use of his sense of hearing, none of these are turned into surround-sound showpieces. This is quite acceptable in such a low-key film.

   Subwoofers have plenty of work in Hidalgo, not only in big LFE rumbles like the aforementioned sandstorm, but also adding constant oomph to the thunder of hooves that fills so much of the soundtrack. The mixers haven’t run hog-wild, though. This is a loud track, but only when it needs to be. It isn’t the cinematic equivalent of those guys who go cruising in $1,000 cars with $2,000 stereos.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    These minimal but well-done extra features are far too few! I expect much, much more on the retail version...


    The 16x9-enhanced menus are very attractive, incorporating many of the best bits of action – be warned if you don’t want to see spoilers! – with nice selections from the score. However, the piece of score accompanying the scene selection menu is rather too crashing and crescendo-riffic if you’re flipping through to find the right scene.

Featurette – Sand & Celluloid (9:03)

   This is an interesting and well-put-together look at the making of the film, using on-set footage and interviews with Mortensen, Johnson, special-effects guys, and more. It’s not your usual crappy infomercial; there’s no voice-over, no plugs, and no sense that it was made to be shown on Entertainment Tonight. But it is also far, far too short.

Easter Egg (3:09)

   Two Sioux Indians recall the stories they have heard of the real Hidalgo; Viggo Mortensen talks about horses and rides one bareback; and we see some of the beautiful and artistic photographs he took while making Hidalgo. This great little featurette is accessible by clicking on the Sioux symbol on the Bonus Features page.

R4 vs R1

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

   The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

       The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;    Since quality seems to be identical between the two, and since the features missing from each release are of almost no consequence, you might as well go with the Region 4 disc.


   Hidalgo is an engaging chimera of a film, transplanting the Wild West to the Middle East with great effect.

   The video quality is phenomenal.

   The audio quality is magnificent.

   The extras are too good to be so few and so short.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tennant Reed
Monday, September 20, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS730P, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic PT-AE500E projecting onto 100" screen. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR601 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJensen SPX-7 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 centre and rear centre, Jensen SPX-4 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

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