Film Reviews


By • Mar 5th, 2004 •

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Buena Vista Pictures / Touchstone Pictures
Running time — 141 minutes / MPAA rating: PG-13

“Based on a true story?” I find this a pretty incomprehensible claim. The filmmakers did not jazz up this “true story” to include a flirtation with an Arabian princess (who keeps exposing her face), a wild massacre (wherein our hero kills a lot of people), and a rescue right in the middle of the punishing race? I do not want to ruin the finale of the race, but this horse Hidalgo really wants that prize money!

HIDALGO opens with the battle at Wounded Knee, then goes on to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and finally, Frank T. Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen) accepts a wealthy sheik’s invitation to participate in the “Ocean of Fire,” a survival race across 3,000 miles of Arabian desert. The affable Sheik (Omar Sharif), who also happens to be a huge American cowboy fan, is upset that Hopkins is claiming his little Mustang horse, Hidalgo, is the fastest horse in the world.
Prove it, the sheik says, and also win a lot of money.

Even though there are rest stops along the way, Hopkins does not carry water, food or oats on the race. This leaves H & H wandering around the desert looking for provisions, and getting in adventures!

[My husband, who thoroughly enjoyed the movie, interrupted me at this point to tell me his Google research on Hidalgo reveals “The Hidalgo Hoax.” See:]

It always amuses me when in manly movies – when the star will reject all the women he encounters on his self-discovery quest – we are shown a scene where he is in the fawning company of women. Here, we see Hopkins being adored by three saloon women. He’s not gay!

Now on the ship that will take him to the Arabian desert, Hopkins meets the beautiful young wife of a rich old man hell-bent on winning the race herself thereby securing important bloodline rights. She will do ANYTHING to get the prize.

And then there is an Arabian prince who is Hopkins’s main competitor. Hopkins does have one secret weapon, the Sheik’s daughter wants him to win. She even goes to his tent at night. They get caught. Since there is a nice couple of days layover in the race, Hopkins has time to rescue her when she is kidnapped (and save his manhood from being hacked off due to tribal law.)

The filmmakers should have done some simple research and found out that Hopkins’s story is soundly debunked as fantasy and myth. It is a Western tall tale. Then they could have kept the spine of the story and added psychological depth and inner conflict.

Director Joe Johnston wants none of this. He wants a big, glamorous hit like THE MUMMY. Unfortunately, the screenwriter buries HIDALGO with too much foreign language conversations. How about just using subtitles when they are saying something key to the plot? Do audiences really need to have every single pleasantry subtitled? We have Hopkins talking to his Indian friends in their native tongue and the Arabians talking amongst themselves in their language. This unnecessary dialogue bogs down the adventure. And what an adventure! At over 2 hours, the film rests heavily on Mortensen’s shoulders. Well, he either blindly trusts his director or, as he was recently quoted as saying, needs a paycheck. Mortensen does not have a clue about the motivation of Hopkins, and neither do we.

Director: Joe Johnston
Screenwriter: John Fusco
Producer: Casey Silver
Executive producer: Don Zepfel
Director of photography: Shelly Johnson
Production designer: Barry Robison
Music: James Newton Howard
Costume designer: Jeffrey Kurland
Editor: Robert Dalva

Frank Hopkins: Viggo Mortensen
Jazira: Zuleikha Robinson
Sheik Riyadh: Omar Sharif
Lady Anne Davenport: Louise Lombard
Aziz: Adam Alexi-Malle
Prince Bin Al Rech: Said Taghmaoui
Katib: Silas Carson

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