Held yearly for centuries, the Ocean of Fire--a 3,000 mile survival race across the Arabian desert--was a challenge restricted to the finest Arabian horses ever bred, the purest and noblest lines, owned by the greatest royal families. In 1890, a wealthy sheik invited an American, Frank T. Hopkins, and his horse to enter the race for the first time. During the course of his career, Hopkins was a cowboy and dispatch rider for the U.S. cavalry--and had once been billed as the greatest rider the West had ever known. The Sheik puts his claim to the test, pitting the American cowboy and his mustang, Hidalgo, against the world's greatest Arabian horses and Bedouin riders--some of whom are determined to prevent a foreigner from finishing the race. For Frank, the Ocean of Fire becomes not only a matter of pride and honor, but a race for his very survival as he and his horse attempt the impossible.Written by
Sujit R. Varma
"Mister, you can say anything you want about me... I'm gonna have to ask you not to talk about my horse that way."
Directed by Joe Johnston, the man behind the excellent & severely underrated "The Rocketeer" ('91) which was also a period piece, "Hidalgo" is a biographical adventure film loosely based on the life of Frank T. Hopkins and his mustang, Hidalgo that competed on a long distance Middle Eastern race called itself "Ocean of Fire", against the best pure- blooded Arabian horses.
The real life Hopkins and his alleged exploits were most likely fictional / tall stories told by a 'fabulator' man that once was a professional horseman performing with the Ringling Brothers Circus. Even if it wasn't all true, the Hopkins & Hidalgo's daring adventure across the scorching desert of Arabia was the perfect scenario for an adventure / drama film shot on location, with a sense of the classic swashbuckling style, long gone from the Entertainment Industry of nowadays.
It looks & feels something like a lighthearted / toned-down version of such classics as "Lawrence of Arabia" meets "Dances with Wolves" with an Indiana Jones urge to it, some of the funny gags & action sequences are even based (or more like a tribute) to the world's most famous archaeologist.
Smartly, the director Johnston keeps the CGI effects to a minimum, only when was strictly necessary (like the sandstorm who reminds a lot the less-inspired Stephen Sommers' blockbuster, "The Mummy") which enhanced the old school filmmaking factor.
"Hidalgo" is an entertaining, upbeat & reckless ride that moves at nicely pace, competent photographed by Shelly Johnson with great sets & costume design and great performances all around from Viggo, still in the heroic & manly, but sensitive role of an Aragorn type of character to the legendary & sorely missed, Omar Sharif in a gracious & witty role as the Sheikh Riyadh. Malcolm McDowell, C. Thomas Howell & J.K. Simmons also provided interesting cameos, but above them all, T.J. as the beautiful mustang Hidalgo, deserves the highest praise.
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