WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
The year is 1890 and Pony Express courier Frank Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen's hair) and his horse Hidalgo are challenged by a Sheik (Sharif) to join into the legendary race across the Ocean of Fire, a deadly stretch of the Arabian desert. Insulted by Hopkins' claim that he rides the fastest horse on earth, Sheik Riyadh and the rest of the contestants do their best to prevent the infidel and his bastard mixed blood horse from putting them and their legendary thoroughbreds to shame.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Not necessarily a storyline that drew me in beforehand, nor the type you would expect to create much buzz at the box office (and in fact, it didn't), HIDALGO nonetheless delivered some prime entertainment as well as a few pretty touching moments and more than decent acting by a cast as varied as you can get. As the lonely, free-ranging cowboy Hopkins, you probably couldn't pick better than Aragorn who's a reputed real-life horseman and who can master the tough, yet sensitive, hero as well as the next guy-- provided the next guy isn't Kevin Costner. You even get a healthy dose of Omar Sharif who for reasons unknown retires from acting after every single movie then apparently gets tired of playing bridge and returns to the soundstage. The ladies also check in with the sultry Zuleikha Robinson coming through aces as Jazira, the sheik's very hot, yet very forbidden, daughter and Louise Lombard, who plays a very sexy British Lady whose ass this critic would happily devour with fork and knife! If you manage not to blink during the film's first half hour, you might even catch Malcolm McDowell in an uncredited, yet quite alcohol-imbued, appearance. There's a nice blend of characters and cast members in this movie which delivers all of them in quite a nice package.
If I had to find the major drawback to this picture, I'd have to go with the rather slow start, during which we have to wait quite a while for the actual race to kick off. Once it does though, you'll be grateful you got a bit of development for the characters since the film takes a decidedly Viggo-ish turn and the other characters begin showing up only intermittently in between scenes of Viggo riding Hidalgo (these last three words having probably been the main fantasy in every self-respecting Spanish gay bar on earth). Once we got into the race, director Johnston really took over and made sure every split second of footage was filled with beautiful scenery and breath-taking action. There's just something that can get anyone going at the sight of horses muscling their way across vast expanses and HIDALGO took full advantage of that. Through all the natural obstacles and the treachery of his opponents, it's difficult not to eventually get attached to Hidalgo and to understand the bond between him and his rider. It's also quite hard to step away from this movie not having found at least one enjoyable aspect and despite the thin layer of cheese added on to the ending, you'll walk away satisfied with what you've seen.
The only feature on this DVD is a 9-minute long featurette entitled "Sand & Celluloid" about the making of the movie and the inherent difficulties of shooting in Morocco. There's also a DVD-ROM feature about the history of the Spanish Mustang breed of horse, but I refuse to watch DVD-ROM features...there's a reason I shelled out my hard-earned cash for a big-screen TV and surround sound system and it's definitely not to go plop myself down again in front of my computer monitor.
Definitely a sleeper in my book, HIDALGO is well worth the time you'll invest in it and while I'm not sure it's the type of flick you'll want to watch over and over, I can at least suggest this one as a very strong rental the next time you hit the video store.