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It only took one event to transform Pony Express courier Frank T. Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen) from a nondescript cowboy to the greatest endurance racer in history — an epic, 1,000 mile trek from the Texas gulf coast to rustic Vermont, which he managed in a mere 30 days on his horse Hidalgo. But since then, Frank's fallen on hard times — distant from others, and unsure how to reconcile his Sioux heritage with his external life as a white man, he winds up in the employ of Bill Cody, traveling the world in the famous "Wild West" revue and drinking far more than he should. But a visiting Arab noble, Aziz (Adam Alexi-Malle), takes issue with Cody's billing of Frank as the world's greatest endurance racer — after all, the Arab nations have been holding an annual 3,000-mile race across the middle-east deserts for nearly a century. Cody isn't concerned, but the rest of the Wild West performers take up a collection to enter Frank and Hidalgo in a competition that will be held halfway around the globe. And once in Arabia, Frank gets a quick education in local social politics. The race's patron, Sheik Riyadh (Omar Sharif), has promised his daughter Jazira (Zuleikha Robinson) to join a harem, based on the race's results, causing the young girl to take an immediate interest in the renegade cowboy's chances. Meanwhile, the most feared Arabian stallion, Al-Hattal, is coveted by Bedou raider Katib (Silas Carson), who will go to any lengths to capture the mount. And English horse-breeder Lady Anne Davenport (Louise Lombard) hopes to mate her prize mare with Al-Hittal if she is victorious. A splendid matinee diversion with an $80 million budget, Hidalgo (2004) didn't quite earn back its bottom-line in domestic release, but it's certain to win fans during its second life on cable TV and home video. Filmed on location in Morocco, the production's budget fills the screen, with elaborate purpose-built sets and more than 800 horses on hand for principal photography. But even as a Saturday-afternoon adventure, Hidalgo contains an added appeal with its ever-present theme of purebred nobility, and in particular how American idealism confronts such tradition with elevated notions of independence, freewill, and good old-fashioned mixed-breed hardiness. As is made clear from the opening scene, there is nothing special about Hidalgo, one of the painted-horse mustangs so common to the Sioux country of Montana — or at least, there is no evidence of a human hand in his provenance. Likewise, Frank Hopkins is of dubious ancestry, born of an Army officer and a Sioux woman, and given the name of Hokshelato, or "blue child," as a youth, later to be known to the Sioux people as "Long Rider" in his adult years. Even in America, Frank doesn't feel like he fits in, but it's amid the deeply entrenched Arab traditions where he understands value of his own mongrel heritage and the horse he claims he never even bothered to tame. The film does have a couple of drawbacks — running at 2:16, it could do better if it were perhaps half-an-hour shorter, and the climax is decidedly anti-climactic, as is the case with all formula movies (the question isn't if Hidalgo will win, but how, and the how fits the genre like a well-worn saddle). But as a bit of mainstream entertainment, Hidalgo is a worthy excuse to spin a DVD for a couple of hours, and a good choice for an all-ages audience. Buena Vista's DVD release offers a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with rich, big-theater Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include the "making-of" featurette "Sand and Celluloid" (9 min.) and several DVD-ROM features under the heading "The History of the Mustang." Keep-case.

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