Secretariat (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Randall Wallace
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 123 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: January 25, 2011
Review Date: January 17, 2011
Though the superhorse film saga for our time is likely to remain Gary Ross’ Seabiscuit, Randall Wallace has done a credible job generating some tension and considerable amounts of prideful triumph surrounding the meteoric career of Triple Crown winner Secretariat despite his exploits being far more well known than those of the older champion racehorse. Though the film concentrates more on the life of the horse’s owner than it does on his trainer and jockey as Seabiscuit did, Secretariat is blessed with a great cast and a horse in the spotlight that was second to none despite a not-quite-perfect racing career. That lack of an unbeaten record actually works well for the film with non-fans unsure which races he won and which ones he lost. With his reputation as the greatest ever unblemished almost forty years after the fact, Secretariat does a credible job with both its human and non-human stories.
Longtime housewife Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) takes over her father’s horse farm when he (Scott Glenn) begins a slow and steady slide into dementia after the death of his wife. Though her husband (Dylan Walsh) isn’t always on board with her long separations from the Denver family home as she raises this astonishing red horse through the early years, she’s assisted greatly by her team on the farm: trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich), groom Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis), and eventually jockey Ronnie Turcotte (Otto Thorwarth) once Big Red, now renamed Secretariat, begins his racing career. Winning Horse of the Year honors after seven consecutive wins during his season as a two year old, his major tests are still to come: the Triple Crown races for three year olds where he faces a formidable challenge from Sham, a horse who soundly defeated him in the Wood Memorial. And with huge estate taxes closing in on her, Penny resists selling her wonder horse for a quick payday because she believes he has the mark of greatness about him and can't stand the thought of giving him up.
With Mike Rich’s screenplay focusing on owner Penny Chenery and her stubborn insistence of playing the horse race game her way even though she’s continually underestimated as a woman in a man’s game, the film offers Diane Lane a marvelous opportunity to etch a memorable portrait of a fierce and determined woman who never loses her femininity amid the insults of the arrogant men of the sport who surround her. Randall Wallace has filmed the big races convincingly enough, oftentimes making one feel he’s right in the midst of the action, but there are some dramatic lapses where the film meanders rather than racing ahead as it should. The husband and children left behind also get short shrift in the process with that story seeming incomplete and emotionally unsatisfying. With the action taking place between 1969-1973, there is occasional reference to the peace protests against the Vietnam War of the period (Penny’s two older daughters are active participants), but these add to the running time without offering much in the way of insight into family dynamics. All of the scenes dealing with the racing milieu, however, from the formal coin toss ceremony to press conferences before big races, are interestingly written, performed, and shot.
Diane Lane has a tour de force role as Penny Chenery. Direct, honest, and believably emotional, Lane’s work is among the best she’s delivered on the screen in a long time. No other characters get quite as much in terms of depth or delivery as this role. John Malkovich’s eccentric Lucien Laurin is delightful without being riveting as he often is when essaying offbeat characters. Nelsan Ellis is masterful as the deeply committed groom Eddie Sweat while Margo Martindale also makes the most of her scenes as the family’s loving assistant Miss Ham. As jockey Ron Turcotte, Otto Thorwarth, himself a jockey, gives an excellent account of himself with the dialogue proving himself to be a natural film actor.
The film has been framed at 2.35:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Though contrast can run a bit hot in some scenes giving flesh tones an oddly purplish hue, the color saturation levels otherwise are rich and well sustained. Clarity is first rate with lots of detail to be observed in both interior and exterior scenes. Black levels are excellent. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix doesn’t exploit its surround possibilities as much as it might have with the multiple race track sequences. Yes, bass can be very deep with those thundering hooves of the horses making good use of the LFE channel, and Nick Glennie-Smith’s music score is augmented with gospel tunes and piped into the rears to good if not always great effect. It’s an excellent surround experience featuring a wide soundstage at appropriate moments, but it never seems quite reference quality away from the racetrack.
The audio commentary is provided by director Randall Wallace. It’s a bit more philosophical than is the norm for this kind of thing, but the director’s presence is all over the bonus feature aspects of the disc, and it’s clearly a film he loves and is proud of.
Unless otherwise noted, the bonus features are presented in 1080p.
“Heart of a Champion” is a 15-minute EPK look at the making of the film with director Randall Wallace, producer Mark Ciardi, and stars Diane Lane, John Malkovich, James Cromwell, and some of the real-life people portrayed in the movie talking about the film. Video clips of the actual Triple Crown races are also shown in comparison with the film’s recreations.
“Choreographing the Races” is a 6 ½-minute look at how the races in the movie were filmed with five different horses portraying Secretariat during the course of filming.
“A Director’s Inspiration: A Conversation with the Real Penny Chenery” finds director Randall Wallace interviewing the real Penny Chenery (who has a cameo in the movie) getting her to mention things about the movie which were changed from real life and her impressions of that period. It runs 21 ¼ minutes.
There are seven deleted scenes which can be viewed separately or together using the “Play All” function. The viewer may opt to listen to director’s commentary about the reasons for the cutting of the scenes.
The movie’s theme song “It’s Who You Are” is performed in a music video by AJ Michalka (who plays the oldest daughter in the movie) in this 4-minute vignette.
A 3 ¾-minute simulation of Secretariat’s Preakness victory is presented and offers the viewer four different perspectives for commentary: a jockey, a reporter, a historian, and a spectator. The viewer can then watch the actual Preakness race in place of the simulation. This is presented in 1080i.
The disc contains trailers for, among others, Disney 3D Blu-rays, Tangled, African Cats, and Spooky Buddies.
The second disc in the case is the DVD copy of the movie.
4/5 (not an average)
An enjoyable and sometimes inspiring story of one of the wonder horses of the 20th century, Secretariat might not be quite as special or as complex a film as Seabiscuit, but in its own behalf, it’s imminently watchable, and the Blu-ray presents excellent audio and video encodes to make the viewing experience that much more special. Recommended!