|Written by Noah Fleming|
|Monday, 24 January 2011|
“Secretariat” could have been great if the filmmakers stuck with keeping the story true and real to the day. Instead it has been Hollywood-ized a bit and thus making every bit predictable. Inevitably that is the problem with biopics. You invariably know how the film ends. After all it is based on a true story. So the only thing left for the film to do is remain strong and not pander to the tugging heartstring beats of Hollywood. Unfortunately, that is exactly what doesn’t happen here. It is one heart tug after another for these two plus hours.
One thing that I did find interesting, though it was likely a fluke, is that the film progresses just like the titular racehorse does in each of his races. The film is painfully sluggish at the outset. It eventually makes a surge somewhere in the middle and then leaps ahead at the end.
“Secretariat” is simply about the greatest racehorse who every lived, a Triple Crown winner whose race time and margin have never been approached in nearly 40 years. In addition the film has a bit about Vietnam war protesting and feminism. The family drama that Tweedy (Diane Lane) incurs seems to take a bit of a backseat, only serving to slow down the film, until it eventually comes together in the last 20 minutes.
There is no doubt that “Secretariat” is all about underdogs. Tweedy must balance her new career and her family, which is hampered particularly by the fact that one is in Denver and the other in Virginia. Tweedy assumes control of her childhood farm home and horses when her mother passes and her father is debilitated by dementia. She acquires a foal that is believed to be worthless, but she remains a strong believer in the foal’s racing potential. She hires Lucien (John Malkovich) as the trainer. Off and on for the rest of the film there are some races, each one showing Secretariat’s racing improvements. The pressure is on when she must cover a six million-tax debt from her father’s estate. This is all hinged upon Secretariat winning the Triple Crown.
There are moments in which the drama draws you to the edge of your seat, but then the tension breaks for far too long leaving one to doze off until the next racing segment. The characters are strong thanks to the actors and actresses more than the script. It seems like the script keeps the characters one-dimensional and it is only through the performances that the characters develop depth. Thank goodness for that.
“Secretariat” comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC encode and an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This is certainly nowhere near the best video presentation that Disney has turned out on the format, but it is still very good. My biggest complaint with the transfer would have to be the inconsistent black levels. They can be excellent in one segment and then in the next they are completely unresolved. This wreaks havoc on shadow delineation. Costumes and hair are blend together with the background, leaving virtually nothing distinguishable in the darker sequences. Other than the black levels the other primary issues is the amount of soft shots. Beyond that, the image is quite nice. The colors are nicely saturated, though sometimes the contrast level blows them out of proportion. Details in correctly established shots are quite revealing. Ultimately, this transfer will please fans, but it will not rank among the best of the year, especially for Disney.
The audio quality fairs a bit better than the video quality. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track delivers a tremendous sonic experience. This is only hindered by the original sound mix. The surround channels are a bit uneven throughout the film. They all but disappear when there is no race, and then come alive when the horses trounce around the track. However, for those racing moments the audio is terrific. The collective stamping of horse hooves around the track is astounding. The sound of galloping horses comes right out into your room. I have never heard such accurate phantom image placement. Normally when sound is panned to lie somewhere between the collection of your five speakers the sound falls apart due to the way we hear in the front versus the side versus the rear. However, in this case the hooves remain sonically intact in every position. The LFE provides substantial support during these moments. Dialogue appears a bit weak at first until the dialogue mixer seemed to have found his groove. Overall clarity is excellent. There are just a few balance issues throughout the film, which keep it from a perfect rating.
Fans will be pleased with the supplemental package of this release. This is a two-disc set, including both a Blu-ray copy and a DVD copy. There is an excellent audio commentary with director Randall Wallace. “Secretariat Multi-Angle Simulation” provides you with the opportunity to watch archived video footage of the actual 1973 Belmont Stakes race or a simulation with various commentators. “A Director’s Inspiration” is an interview between Wallace and the real Penny Tweedy. “Heart Of A Champion” introduces you to the horse, his owner and various individuals who participated in Secretariat’s racing career. “Choreographing The Races” is brief and self-explanatory. There about a half dozen deleted scenes with an optional commentary. Lastly there is a music video by AJ Michalka and a section of coming attractions.
“Secretariat” is a bit of a hit or miss. The lulls and predictably of the film are most troubling. However, the finale is worth the wait. The audio transfer fairs better than the video, but both are among the better Blu-ray releases. I would recommend this title to anyone excited about the genre or who needs a good long drama.