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MovieHype00624 – Sand Horsies

Awhile back I saw HIDALGO, but couldn’t quite figure out what to pair it with for a review. Then last week I saw KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, and I knew I’d found my match. Both have sand. Both have horsies. There you go! I wrote these reviews with an eye toward the holiday season, and whether you could watch them with the extended family.

00624 – HIDALGO

Underrated is a weird word to use for celebrity actors, especially ones who have just come off performances in arguably the best trilogy of all time. Yet strangely, this title must be given to Viggo Mortensen, and after pondering it for at least 3 minutes, I think I know why: The Brad Pitt Effect.

Brad Pitt is a great actor, but he rarely gets credit for this, mostly because of how big a star he is, and much more importantly, how good looking he is. I suppose the same thing happens to female actors, but I’m not sure there are any drop-dead gorgeous women who are fantastic actors too. I’ll think about that later.

What I’m sure of is that Mortensen’s looks work against him. Earlier this year I wrote about how good he was in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. In a much different, but equally quiet way, he’s as good in HIDALGO.

Set in 1890, the story is of Frank Hopkins, a real life Cowboy of the Old West, who was famous for entering his mustang Hidalgo in long distance races. To be honest, I’d have never normally rented a movie like this, but I was at the video store one day and ‘Missy’ started telling me how she’d actually rode this horse when the movie was being shot.

Her story was full of holes, but she was hot, and so I rented HIDALGO. (Like you have a better reason for watching a movie.) Turned out to be a great investment, on both counts.


Suspension of Disbelief: 4 (out of 10). This was a real event with real people. But it is Hollywood, so….you know.

Genre Grade: Can’t really call this a “historical epic.” It fits more in “Adventure” mode, with RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK getting the A+ and this year’s SAHARA getting a D. I’d give HIDALGO a solid B/B+.

Sex/Violence – No sex, although there is a woman Hopkins has to save. There is some violence, but it more in the mode of Adventure violence, and not too dramatic. Oh, I forgot: there is a kind of traumatic scene right at the beginning, about a massacre done to the Indians. Teens should see it (they need to learn sometime), but anyone under ten, don’t let them see the first two minutes.

Extras: The DVD stuff was fascinating. They talked about how they made the film (and the difficulties of shooting on location in the desert). They also talked about the horse and how they got him to do the amazing stunts he pulled. If you like extras and have the time, well worth the look.

Pantheon Percentile: Hard to judge. This isn’t the greatest movie ever made, but it made my top ten list for last year. I’d say 84.

Basically, Hopkins and horse are invited to the great race across Arabia. Both show up, looking puny and scruffy next to the sleek horses and rich men. Just in case none of you have ever seen a movie in your life, I won’t say any more about how the race turns out.

I am recommending HIDALGO not only for Mortensen, but for the fabulous desert photography, and the Indiana Jones-esque rip-roaring good time. HIDALGO felt to me like an old fashioned adventure, something you might have seen at the theatre on a Saturday morning, right before Flash Gordon. It’s a little bit hokey, and kind of obvious in its rah-rah patriotism, but in a good way, if you get what I’m saying.

Perhaps even better, HIDALGO is a family-friendly movie. I think anyone 8 or up, all the way to grandparents would enjoy watching this. It has a good ending, danger, but not too much danger, and a great-looking horse. (More than just great looking. This horse is the best non-human character since…I can’t even think of anything better. Possibly ever. We’ll debate later.) As the holiday season approaches, I know this becomes an issue, and it’s nice to be able to find a movie that everyone could agree on. Even better that it’s a fun movie as well.


I was extraordinarily leery about this movie, for two main reasons. First, Ridley Scott, the director, has been a mixed bag to me. I liked MATCHSTICK MEN and BLACKHAWK DOWN, hated G.I. JANE and GLADIATOR. I will give you this: Scott knows how to make a big sprawling historical movie; I just don’t always care for them.

Secondly: the main star is Orlando Bloom. I’ve written previously about being unsure if that man can really act, or had one good role (Legolas), and has since either been overshadowed or simply terrible.

However, a hot librarian told me they had the movie, and offered it to me first, so how could I refuse? In short: this is one of Ridley Scott’s more worthy efforts, and Orlando Bloom can act. Well, sorta.

What Bloom does is give his main character Balian sort of a bewildered “this is a lot to take in” expression, and doesn’t try to gain an Oscar nomination. That’s good, because A) a blacksmith from BFE suddenly thrust into the middle of the Crusades in Jerusalem probably wouldn’t know quite what to say, and B) I’m fairly certain that expression is the only one Orlando Bloom has. However, whereas sometimes one-expression acting doesn’t work (as in our least favorite castaway Ana-Lucia), here it does.

The story is of Balian, a blacksmith in France, who finds out one day he’s a Baron’s son (played by Liam Neeson). The blacksmith thing is a plot contrivance, but it’s stone-stupid in my opinion. This isn’t Bloom’s fault, but c’mon! I knew a blacksmith named Haral Luhhan, and there ain’t no way that Orlando Bloom’s physique could do it. Utterly ridiculous. (Also sad was seeing Neeson along with Bloom in the same scenes. Whatever you think of the young lad, he’s clearly overmatched by the incomparable Neeson, who does that Liam Neeson thing better than anybody ever. Seriously: he’s become the white Morgan Freeman.)

Anyway, soon Balian is off to the holy land to protect some kings and some Christians and some land, and have some adventures. If you wanna know more on that score, watch the movie yourself.

The other supporting characters are all good, especially Brendan Gleeson, who continues his resurgence into one of the greatest minor characters alive. Dating from GANGS OF NEW YORK, COLD MOUNTAIN, his Menelaus in TROY and of course Mad Eye Moody in GOBLET OF FIRE.


Suspension of Disbelief: 3. They try very hard to get the historical details correct, but you still have to swallow a lot to believe that the things that happen to Balian—at least that quickly—and that Orlando Bloom ever held an anvil.

Genre Grade: Historical Epic is the obvious genre here. B-

Sex/Violence: This film is Rated R, and halfway through I was wondering why it wasn’t PG-13. I suppose by the end it sort of earns its R, but there was no sex to speak of, even when there was sex! Ridley Scott has some ‘splainin' to do if I ever see him.

Family Film? I’m doubting most chicks will like this, despite Orlando. Your mother won’t, either.

Pantheon Percentile: 65

(Gleeson got me thinking: here’s a guy who does nothing but stellar work, every time, but in all likelihood will NEVER win an Oscar. Wouldn’t it be sweet if every year they gave an Oscar for “best career character work” ?? It’d be honorary, like the ones they give now to the legendary producers and directors, but earned for a body of work that maybe didn’t garner accolades individually, but overall can’t be ignored. In fact, I’m getting excited just thinking about all the possible nominees.)

Also in the film is Eva Green, as the love interest. Spectacular in THE DREAMERS, Green pretty much has nothing to do here except look mysterious. I think that’s because Ridley Scott never knows what do to with women.

(I just looked up his IMDB page to see if that’s correct; pretty much. BLACK HAWK DOWN: zero women. GLADIATOR: two women; they have nothing to do. WHITE SQUALL and 1492: basically no women. G.I. JANE: two women, both acting like men. Curiously, there movies with women (ALIEN, THELMA AND LOUISE, and I suppose G.I. JANE) all have really “tough” women. Perhaps we need to get Ridley on the couch to talk over his “issues.” Well, another time.)

I haven’t said a whole lot about KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, and you may wonder if it’s worth seeing. It is, for the following reason. This is the first film in recent memory that actually goes into the Crusades, and tries to show what was going on. Surprisingly, KINGDOM isn’t a thinly veiled portrait of now, as the Muslim characters come across more or less with honor. There are bad guys on both sides, but they don’t represent any race or religion; just bad guys.

Moreover, I liked the examination of what Faith meant back then. Religion in those times was a wholly different thing, and you converted your enemies more often on the tip of a sword more than the pages of a bible. I liked seeing the complexities of the time, and not all simplified for mass consumption. I liked how Faith drove everyone, even the non-believers, searching for forgiveness, and that Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth.

I also have to mention there’s a keen side feature called the Pilgrims’s Guide. It plays along with the movie, and gives historical notes about anything and everything during the film. Quite a bit of interesting info. The only problem is that you’ll miss the movie if you put it on the first time, so do it on a second or third viewing, if you like the film that much.

Overall KINGDOM OF HEAVEN was a worthy, if not entirely inspiring work. It’s not for everyone, but if you were a fan of GLADIATOR you’ll probably see it for sure. Even if (like me) you weren’t, it may still be for you.

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