BLU-RAY REVIEW: Secretariat
Disney's family-friendly horse biopic makes it to hi-def home video...
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There's something about horse movies everyone loves.
Whether it's the 1944 classic National Velvet, the 1979 fan-favorite The Black Stallion, 1994's family-friendly Black Beauty or 2003's critically-acclaimed Seabiscuit, there's just something about horse movies that makes audiences cheer.
Now, thanks to Disney's 2010 family drama Secretariat, available now on blu-ray and DVD, we're cheering all over again. This intriguing, dramatic, comedic and heart-warming family film tells the remarkable true story of a horse that should never have accomplished what it did. In fact, it tells a number of stories about a number of people as well who accomplish things the likes of which history has never seen. Secretariat is one of the most remarkable underdog stories to ever be told and considering how many people know the horse's name, but not the horse's story, it's about time someone made a film about the most remarkable racing horse to ever live.
Disney's Secretariat is mostly based on the 1975 book "Secretariat: The Making of a Champion," penned by journalist William Nack, who also loaned his expertise to the film, working as a consultant during production. With a screenplay by both Nack and Mike Rich (Radio, The Rookie) and directed by Randall Wallace (We Were Soldiers), the film was brought to life by a powerhouse of creators responsible for some of the best biographical films in recent history.
The story itself is probably not well known to many viewers and it's enough that the story alone is truly fascinating, even if you've never heard of Secretariat before. In 1973, housewife, homemaker and horse owner Penny Chenery Tweedy (Diane Lane) and her exuberant horse trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) lead a 3 year old racehorse by the name of Secretariat into the history books by winning the Triple Crown and setting records in two of the three races.
To realize how truly rare, unlikely and crazy a story this is, one must watch the film. Everything - and I mean everything - is set against Penny Chenery and her family when they first take over operation of her father's horse ranch following her mother's death and her father's onset of dementia. The horse trainer is a cheat, the taxes are due, they don't have any major sales. It seems as though the only way they'll make it is with a lot of prayers and hard work. Luckily, the family had a lot of both.
Truly a magnificent story of overcoming insurmountable odds in the face of the harshest of deterrents, Secretariat shows just what believing in oneself and one's passions can do.
The blu-ray video features a gorgeous 1080p video transfer in the film's native 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The colors are all crisp, bright, and clear. While darker levels sometimes leave something to be desired (ranging in contrast), the video is overall easy to watch and enjoy. Likewise, the English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio beautifully reproduces the film's soundtrack and dialogue, ensuring viewers at home feel like there's right there in the middle of the action when the races begin.
As for special features, this two-disc set includes both the feature film on blu-ray as well as DVD and both discs include a number of bonus features. The DVD disc includes a short featurette, "An Insider's Look at Secretariat," which fans of the horse will want to check out as well as a music video, AJ Michalka's "It's Who You Are." Both discs include a number of deleted scenes while the blu-ray disc features the majority of bonus material.
The blu-ray disc includes a director's audio commentary with Randall Wallace and a 19 minute multi-angle featurette which simulates the race via computer as well as shows actual race-day footage from the 1973 Preakness Stakes; well worth a watch for racing fans as it features some analysis by professionals, spectators and reporters. Other bonus material includes the 15 minute "Heart of a Champion" featurette, which focuses on the horse, the men and women who surrounded the horse, and his story; the 21 minute "A Director's Inspiration," a chat with Wallace and the real-life Penny Chenery (who appears briefly in the film) about the story and what inspired the film; and the 6 minute "Choreographing the Races," which features Rusty Hendrickson, professional animal wrangler, talking about the horse races.
Overall, it's hard not to love Secretariat. So what if it's a feel-good movie? So what if it'll make me realize I don't have the passion or drive of Penny Chenery? I also don't own a horse. That aside, there's nothing not to love about this family-friendly masterpiece in the art of warming hearts and showing just how much one can accomplish when they dare to defy the odds and damn anyone who gets in their road.
Secretariat is rated PG for brief mild language and is available on blu-ray and DVD home video wherever fine home video is sold.
- Jess C. Horsley