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Hidalgo - Preview & US reaction



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 Maguire’s 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 known.

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 Disney’s decision to pull it from the Fall 2003 slot has remained unexplained.

The trailer, which was released last year, is said to look great fun.

The film is scheduled for an April 9 release in the UK.

US reaction

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 success.

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 scenes'.

The Boston Globe, meanwhile, wrote that 'like most movies about men and horses, Hidalgo spares no expense in matters of corniness'.

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 papers.

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 it'.

Entertainment Weekly, however, felt that it 'never quite settles into its paces'.

While Slant Magazine dismissively wrote that 'it’s 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'.

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