Preview by: Jack Foley
HAVING impressed many in one of the greatest trilogies of all
time, it was always going to be interesting to see how Viggo Mortensen
followed up the role of Aragorn in Lord
of the Rings.
The answer is Hidalgo, a horse-racing epic (no doubt buoyed by
the success of Tobey Maguires Seabiscuit),
which is based on the true story of the greatest long-distance
horse race ever run.
Held yearly for centuries, the Ocean of Fire - a 3,000 mile survival
race across the Arabian Desert - was viewed by many as a challenge
restricted to the finest Arabian horses ever bred, the purest
and noblest lines, owned by the greatest royal families.
In 1890, however, a wealthy Sheik (played by screen veteran,
Omar Sharif), invited an American and
his horse to enter the race for the first time. Frank T. Hopkins
(Mortensen) was a cowboy and dispatch rider for the US cavalry,
who had once been billed as the greatest rider the West had ever
Hence, the Sheik decides to pit the American cowboy and his mustang,
Hidalgo, against the world's greatest Arabian horses and Bedouin
riders - some of whom become determined to prevent the foreigner
from even finishing the race.
As a result, the Ocean of Fire becomes not only a matter of pride
and honour for Frank, but a race for his life, as he and his horse,
Hidalgo, attempt to accomplish the impossible.
The film is directed by Joe Johnston, of Jurassic
Park III fame, and screenwriter, John Fusco, has previously
worked on the Young Guns series and The Babe. He was also responsible
for the animated horse movie, Spirit: Stallion
of the Cimarron.
Early word suggests that this could be a fin action adventure
flick for the whole family, which reverts to the thrill of the
chase, rather than the strong characterisation which made Seabiscuit
such old-fashioned family fare.
But Mortensen fans should help to earn it a relatively strong
opening as the blockbuster May dates approach, although Disneys
decision to pull it from the Fall 2003 slot has remained unexplained.
The trailer, which was released last year, is said to look great
The film is scheduled for an April 9 release in the UK.
American critics were a little unkind to Hidalgo when it opened
in the States on March 5, 2004.
A few were charmed by what it had to offer, but most dismissed
it as a lame Indiana Jones wannabe, which was trying to ride on
the coat-tails of Seabiscuit's
The New York Times, for example, wrote that 'this primitively
plotted family action adventure is one of the few movies that
seem to be making up their plots as they go along'.
While the Chicago Tribune felt that it is 'far too tolerant
of cliches and too seduced by its own special effects and battle
The Boston Globe, meanwhile, wrote that 'like most movies
about men and horses, Hidalgo spares no expense in matters of
And Reelviews dismissed it as 'a sporadically entertaining
adventure movie that is hampered by poor pacing, a badly focused
screenplay, and cheesy special effects'.
But there were some positives, from some of the more prominent
The Hollywood Reporter felt that 'there is enough compelling
adventure, awesome cinematography and dynamic stunt work involving
horses to keep one entertained'.
The Houston Chronicle, meanwhile, hailed it 'as sheer
popcorn-munching fun, it's an often-rousing action-adventure that
confirms Mortensen as a star'.
While the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that it is 'an intermittently
savory stew of Pecos Bill, Laurence of Arabia, and Spirit: Stallion
of the Cimarron'.
Newsday felt that 'there is a fun, scruffy little B movie
buried under the expensive packaging, and it surfaces just enough
to make Hidalgo a reasonably diverting popcorn event'.
While the Los Angeles Times felt that 'hokey though it
is, with a horse-hugger ending thrown in to boot, Hidalgo has
a sweet-natured appeal that welcomes sentiment without overdoing
Entertainment Weekly, however, felt that it 'never quite
settles into its paces'.
While Slant Magazine dismissively wrote that 'its
The Last Samurai except that
proud Arabs substitute for the dignified Japanese, and our rugged
hero is given a stout, mixed-blood equine sidekick'.
A good gauge of the overall reaction, however, came from One
Guy's Opinion, which wrote that 'while the picture is well-meaning
and handsomely mounted, many will find it too formulaic, earnest
and leisurely to be much more than a barely passable diversion'.