Hildago (2004) — The Die Hard of horse movies

“You hear that? Keep your pride tucked.”

Sue’s rating: Awwww… ponies!

Sue’s review: If I were to be honest with myself, I would have to admit that — in most ways — I am, well, something of a coward. Fear is not my friend. Danger is not my middle name, nor do I laugh in its face. I am not optimistic about my chances in a fight no matter how many cars I have waxed, how long I’ve spent applying stain to my deck, or how hot I thought Ralph Macchio was back in 1984.

When a bat got into bedroom a few years ago, I did battle by taking up a strategically defensive position under my bed and wishing very, very hard that it would just go away. When inspecting the new roof on my house, I scampered up the ladder chipperly enough, but nearly needed a crane and a sedative to get back down again. When things go bump in the night, I pull the covers over my head and do my best unoccupied mattress impersonation.

In other words, were I a dead Klingon, I would not reside in Sto-Vo-Kor.

And yet, I am not afraid of thousand pound, steel-shod quadrupeds — even when they don’t like me. They can pin their ears and snap their teeth and kick their feet and throw hissy fits in my general direction and it leaves me totally unmoved. And while age is supposed to bring with it a certain amount of wisdom, caution and common sense, last summer I happily climbed onto a bargain basement problem horse (that my ex had acquired “for the kids”) with the full and fulfilled expectation that it would try to buck me off and stomple me into something rather more messily and inertly organic than my current state. Go figure.

It’s a bit puzzling really. Hmph.

What’s even more puzzling is that I haven’t even touched on the movie yet! Okay, I’m all warmed up now. Let ‘er buck!

Owned by one Frank T. Hopkins, Hidalgo, a pinto horse of mustang origin, has (in a world without YouTube, Wikipedia, CNN or even AT&T) achieved worldwide notoriety as the best long distance racehorse alive. An Arabian sheik who looks amazingly like Omar Sharif (cause he is) takes exception to this claim because, of course, he owns the best long distance racehorse alive. Emissaries are duly dispatched to invite the infidel and his nag to put up or shut up in the annual running of a 3,000 mile race catchily referred to as “The Ocean Of Fire” across the desert sands of Arabia. Intrigue, adventure, locusts and Native American mysticism follow.

Oh, and there’s the horse race too, which is pretty nifty.

It’s an entertaining sort of movie; not a heavy burden intellectually and probably a little ham fisted on the morals-to-take-home-with-you, but fun. Viggo Mortensen as Frank T. Hopkins pulls off a wonderfully laconic cowpoke, completely unflustered by snotty sheiks, sandstorms and various international aristocrats — none of whom want him or his horse to finish the race.

Then there’s Hidalgo, the John McClane of the equine world. He’s sort of cute, incredibly tough, has a very dry sense of humor (especially for a horse — their senses of humor are usually moist) and by golly, he just won’t quit even when he probably knows he should. In other words, the Ocean of Fire race is Hidalgo’s personal Nakatomi Tower. Although it’s not animated, or animatronic, or whatever, it’s impossible not to get a little anthropomorphic. The other horses don’t seem to have much personality beyond leaping around and neighing with their tiny little brains in danger of falling out of their furry little ears, but Hidalgo could take over the Tonight Show when Leno packs it in.

Still, you can’t have a horse oriented movie without Sue getting all nitpicky, can you? So, quibbles. If you’re not into studs ‘n steeds, stop reading.

Believe it or not, though horses are very good at communication, they’re not particularly vocal. Their primary reasons for making noise are: New Horse!, Sex!, Buddy-Roll-Call!, Baby/Mommy! and Suppertime! The experienced equestrian can usually tell the difference between vocalizations. So, for me, seeing Hidalgo turn his head to look meaningfully at his master and hearing the unmistakable nicker that says “Hey baby, what’s your sign?” is really… disturbing.

The damage Hidalgo absorbs, combined with a lack of a nearby state-of-the-art veterinary facility, and a trailer to get him there, leads me to conclude that the horse would have died at least five times during the course of the movie. I understand that creative license comes into play, and it’s a very poor story that leaves the hero a bloated corpse by the beginning of the second act, but at the very, VERY least, he should have been three legged lame. I mean, really! At least… lose a shoe or something, will ya?

The five horses used to represent Hidalgo (all registered American Paint Horses) would not be mistaken for mustangs — or endurance horses — by any knowledgeable horse person. It’s a matter of conformation. Incidentally, Mustangs aren’t very pretty to look at, but they could certainly give Arabians a run for their money in matters of toughness and endurance. (Arabian horses, however, are still the acknowledged world leaders in endurance competition.)

The two gaits most commonly used in this sort of race are the walk and the trot. They’re efficient and not as draining on the horse as cantering or galloping. Amazing how much galloping goes on in this movie. But hey, it’s Hollywood. Gallop ’em if you got ’em, I guess.

Didja notice?

  • When Hidalgo is running with the mustangs, he is very clearly wearing horseshoes.
  • Hot Bubbling Sheik Stew! Ew.
  • New advertising campaign: Got Locust?
  • Home, home on the Wadi…
  • Instead of painting a gray horse black as a decoy Al-Hittal, wouldn’t it have been simpler to just use a horse that was black already?!

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