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Secretariat (Blu-ray Review)

14 Jan, 2011 By: John Latchem

Street 1/25/11
Box Office $59.1 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo
Rated ‘PG’ for brief mild language.

Stars Diane Lane, John Malkovich, Nelsan Ellis, Margo Martindale, Dylan Walsh, Kevin Connolly, Drew Roy, James Cromwell, Fred Thompson, Dylan Baker, A.J. Michalka, Nestor Serrano.

Randall Wallace’s Secretariat is a quaint, old-fashioned little movie that effectively harkens back to the classic formula of the inspirational sports drama.

Put in the hands of Disney, the story of one of the greatest racehorses ever essentially becomes The Love Bug with a horse. And that’s not a bad thing — I love The Love Bug.

Wallace quickly extracts the sports-movie elements from the real-life story of Secretariat, one of the greatest racehorses that ever lived, framing it as the story of Penny Chenery Tweedy (Diane Lane), a woman breaking through a sport dominated by men (not-so-subtly demonstrated early in the film as Penny barges into a gentleman’s club without an invitation). She has a hunch about the lineage of one of her father’s horses and assembles a motley crew to lead him to his destiny.

This is the kind of movie where every line of dialogue seems written with an eye toward making it into one of those books of inspirational quotes. (“You never know how far you can go, unless you run.”) But unlike most sports movies, Secretariat isn’t really an underdog (a sharp contrast to the film this one will mostly be compared to, Seabiscuit). Through a genetic quirk, he is gifted with both speed and stamina, and the only question is whether the humans around him can remove enough of the obstacles in their lives to let him run.

With Penny’s father’s death, the inheritance tax on his estate comes to $6 million. The obvious solution is to sell Secretariat before he has a chance at losing a triple-crown race. But Penny sees too much of her father’s legacy in the horse and refuses to sell, instead gambling on a risky scheme to sell his stud rights on the assumption he can’t lose. So essentially, they need the horse to win to raise the money to save the family farm, which is about as basic a plot as you can get in film.

But it really makes this a rarity for a sports movie in that the title character is not only the favorite going into the final competition, but ends up blowing everyone else out. The result is a matter of history, but Wallace manages to edit the race and various reaction shots to create a beautiful sense of awe about Secretariat’s accomplishment in running what may be the greatest individual performance in horse-racing history, the 1973 Belmont win that secured the first triple-crown championship in 25 years.

The Blu-ray extras are first-rate. Both the Blu-ray and DVD include a few deleted scenes, a music video and the “Heart of a Champion” behind-the-scenes featurette that includes interviews with Wallace, members of the cast and some of the real people who worked with Secretariat.

But the Blu-ray adds to that a great 21-minute interview between Wallace and the real Penny, still spry at 88. There are also additional deleted scenes, Wallace’s audio commentary for film, and a “Choreographing the Races” featurette (also available with the electronic sellthrough version) that delves into the different techniques used to film what turn out to be some excellent racing sequences.

Perhaps the most intriguing extra is a multi-angle simulation of the 1973 Preakness race, which offers footage of the real race as well as computer simulations from various points of view, such as the jockey’s, plus commentaries from track management, sports historians and fans.

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