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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Secretariat (Blu-ray Review)

This story about a legendary horse and the family that owned him is a perfect fit for the big screen but unfortunately, this is one race that Secretariat lost due to following Seabiscuit who stole a lot of his thunder. Secretariat has a great cast (Diane Lane, John Malkovitch, Scott Glenn, James Cromwell and a director (Randall Wallace), who is no stranger to making movies about historical events and people (he was involved in Braveheart, We Were Soldiers, and Pearl Harbor).





 

Film (4 out of 5 stars)

This movie is based on the true story of Penny Chenery-Tweedy and her struggle to save her family’s business and farm after her mother died and her father’s illness left him unable to continue the duties.  As portrayed by Diane Lane, Penny is a strong-willed housewife that set aside her career and ambitions to raise her children. When she receives that call about the loss of her mother, she travels from Denver to back home to Virginia. After arriving, she discovers that her father’s trusted advisor is working against him behind his back, she fires the man and decides to take over the family business.

That decision obviously changes the Tweedy’s lives since Penny stays behind in Virginia while the rest of her family returns to Denver after the funeral.  She quickly discovers that her father (Scott Glenn) had wisely invested in some prize-winning offspring and that two colts would soon be born which could prove quite valuable. The only hitch is that her father’s agreement with millionaire Mr. Phipps (James Cromwell) requires that a coin toss would decide who got first pick of the two horses. Despite losing the coin toss, Penny did get the horse she wanted and she later named him Big Red. Convinced that this horse was destined for greatness, Penny ventures into the traditionally male world to get help.

She soon meets the eccentric horse trainer Lucien Lauren (John Malkovitch) and begins assembling a team to propel Big Red into the world of horse racing.  All the while, her relationship with her husband and children suffered as she missed important dates and their growing up. Penny also found herself battling her brother over whether or not to sell Big Red (renamed Secretariat because the Jockey Club didn’t accept his original name).

The movie is well made and the excellent cast are very good in their roles but at the same time, the movie feels very formulaic and familiar. Much like Deep Impact suffered from following Armageddon, Secretariat follows Seabiscuit’s wake and despite having the more miraculous story, it’s hurt by coming in second.  It’s also hard to determine how much of the story is real as a lot of it does have a ring of authenticity, and other aspects seem more questionable.

The constant battle with men that Penny deals with in the movie makes this movie seem as much of a female empowerment movie as much as a story about a legendary horse.  Men are portrayed very poorly in the movie with the exception of Bull Hancock (Fred Dalton Thompson) and his son who try to help Penny save her business.  Even Penny’ s husband John (Dylan Walsh) doesn’t really support her until the end of the movie of course.

If you add up every cliche that usually appears in movies about beating the odds or female empowerment, you will find just about every one of them included in this film. The amazing thing is that somehow the movie overcomes them.  Much like Secretariat himself, who would deliberately trail behind the other horses to make it harder to win before speeding up, this movie hinders itself with a checklist of cliches but still pulls off a miraculous win at the end.

Video (4 out of 5 stars)

This 1080p (2.35:1) transfer really showcases the talents of the Director of Photography Dean Semler.  The cinematography for this movie is beautiful and it seemed to me to be deliberately made to look soft to reflect the time and place. Colors are vibrant, and detail is excellent except for when it was intentionally made to look soft and ethereal. Quality suffers in a few instances due to hand held cameras being used during races to give a first person viewpoint, but nothing bad enough to drag the whole movie down.  Flesh-tones are authentic and consistent and I especially liked how Semler captured the various shots of sunrises. The golden glow throughout the movie was as beautiful as Ms. Lane.

Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix was as enjoyable as it was powerful. The thunderous hoofs pounding down the racecourses should thrill just about everyone.  I also especially like the small touches like the loudspeaker system that actually sounded like you were there which I’ve never heard replicated as well as it is here.  It really is impressive! Dialogue is clear and Nick Glennie-Smith’s score is never lost in the mix. 

 

Special Features (3 out of 5 stars)

There are some pretty good extras on this disc for those that would like to learn more about what really happened. The best one for me was the interview between the director Randall Wallace and the real life Penny Chenery-Woody.
  • Audio Commentary – Director Randall Wallace offers a comprehensive commentary throughout the movie that encompasses the staging of the races, how accurate the movie is, and the choices he made during the filming.  This is a candid and interesting commentary that provides a lot more information than most commentaries.  His passion for the movie is evident and that makes a big difference.

  • Secretariat Multi-Angle Simulation –  A cool featurette that allows you to watch the actual race video footage of the 1973 Preakness Stakes Race. There’s also an option to view a computer generated simulation of the race with individual analysis by professional jockey Michael Smith, the Daily Racing Form reporter Brad Free, MI Developments CEO Dennis Mills, and even from the Horse-racing Simulations CEO Mike Calderone, who was present at the original race!

  • Heart of a Champion – A look back at the greatest race-horse that ever lived and his owner.  Meet the finest horse of his racing year, Secretariat, and his owner, Penny Chenery.  Interviews with the movie’s cast and crew cover Secretariat’s amazing history.

  • Director’s Inspiration – An interesting interview between the director Randall Walalce and the real life Penny Chenery-Woody.  They discuss his efforts at authenticity and her thoughts on the film. 

  • Choreographing the Races – Wallace and Horse Wrangler Rusty Hendrickson talk about the methods used to film the realistic races. 

  • Deleted Scenes with Optional Director’s Commentary – A collection of seven scenes are offered but none of them really would have added much to the movie. 

  • Music Video –  AJ Michalka sings “It’s Who You Are.”   A bit of trivia for you…the song was written by the director.

 

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars)

There’s a lot of authenticity in the movie (you will learn a lot about horse breeding for instance) and there’s some parts that make you wonder if it’s all true.  Once thing that is for certain, is that Secretariat was the greatest race-horse that ever lived.  Not only did he set the record for the fastest time of all time at the Kentucky Derby, but each successive lap was faster than the preceding one, and he still holds the record for that race (1:59 2/5).  As impressive as that feat was, it was even dwarfed by his performance in the Belmont Stakes which I won’t spoil here.  Despite my quibbles with the movie, it was made well, acted well, and beautifully filmed.  This is another inspirational film from Disney that can be viewed by the entire family.

Order your copy today!

















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