In the 1890s, cowboy Frank T. Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen) was billed as the greatest rider the West had ever known. But for Frank and his beloved horse, a mustang named Hidalgo, those days are past. But he is invited to enter the annual Ocean of Fire - a 3,000 mile survival race across the Arabian Desert - by Sheikh Riyadh (Omar Sharif), against the world's greatest Arabian horses and Bedouin riders. As the stakes get higher and higher, it becomes clear that there is more at stake than winning the race.
Review by Louise Keller:
A magnificent story about a man and a horse, Hidalgo has the dash of Indiana Jones combined with the visual epic splendour of Lawrence of Arabia. It's a compelling swashbuckling tale with its underlying themes of honour and bloodlines, and Viggo Mortensen carries the film with panache and charisma. This is a role that fits Mortensen like a glove, perfectly showcasing his strengths: he is quietly heroic, a rebellious loner with a strong sense of justice and loyalty.
Director Joe Johnston's (October Sky) work as visual effects art director on two of the Indiana Jones film stand him in good stead: he gets the flavour just right, focusing on the love and mutual respect between man and horse, amid the drama and grand scale of the Arabian desert. Unforgettable are the striking vistas and fiery sunsets behind the never-ending expanse of sand.
Hidalgo is a big-screen epic in every way with its breathtaking cinematography and James Newton Howard's resounding orchestral score soars at every opportunity. And then there are the horses. Three months were spent searching for the right horse (and four doubles) to play Hidalgo and the uniquely marked T.J. (selected from more than 100 horses) is perfect. The chemistry between T.J. and Mortensen is undeniable and we absolutely believe in their relationship.
Like Hidalgo, the untamed mustang of mixed origins, Frank Hopkins is a bit of an outcast. He may wear the hat and spurs of a cowboy, but Frank treads a no-mans land between life in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and his part Apache heritage. 'You can say anything you like about me,' says Frank, 'but no one hurts my horse.'
In the unforgiving vast and barren desert, we are there for the thrills and spills as the great endurance race becomes not only a battle against the elements of a raging sandstorm, quicksands and a plague of locusts, but also the hunting ground for man's evil. There's exciting swordplay, a daring rescue, and vicious hunter leopards are set loose.
Inspired casting brings Omar Sharif back to some of the very locations where he shot David Lean's Lawrence Of Arabia with Peter O'Toole, exactly forty years ago. It's a treat to see Sharif on screen again in this setting. The production design is rich and costumes plush. The contrast of barren desert with the exotic Arabian tents could not be greater; elegance and fantasy are at odds with the harshness of the elements. Raised in the Far East and making her first feature film debut is English-born Zuleikha Robinson brings a complex, but lovely charm to Jazira, who is fighting to change her destiny.
There's plenty of tension in the build up to the climatic conclusion of the race: we are sitting on the edge of our seats as the dry desert dust whirls itself into a frenzy. Emotionally oomphy from start to finish, Hildalgo is a winner.
The DVD offers Sand and Celluloid, a behind the scenes special with interviews with cast and crew. We learn from writer John Fusco that endurance racing was the equivalent of extreme sports in the 1880s and the producer and production designer talk about the location and how important it was to shoot the film in an Arabian country to capture the real atmosphere. 'What makes Hidalgo unique, is the fact that the story is true,' says Viggo Mortensen.
Published August 26, 2004
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HILDALGO: DVD (M)
CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Omar Sharif, Zuleikha Robinson, Adam Alexi-Malle, Louise Lombard, Saïd Taghmaoui, Adoni Maropis
DIRECTOR: Joe Johnston
SCRIPT: John Fusco
RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: BVHE
DVD RELEASE: August 25, 2004