Disney presents an astonishing true story bursting with hope, heart, and courage. Diane Lane and John Malkovich lead a celebrated cast in this inspirational motion picture from the producers of Miracle, Invincible and The Rookie.
Behind every legend lies an impossible dream. Witness the spectacular journey of an incredible horse named Secretariat and the moving story of his unlikely owner, a housewife who risked everything to make him a champion. Out of the gate with never-before-seen bonus features, Secretariat is hours of pulse-pounding entertainment for the whole family!
I remember it well. I was only 10 years old, but the image sticks in my mind and remains as vivid and awe-inspiring as it was that warm day in June of 1973 when Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes by an astonishing 31 lengths and became the first Triple Crown winner in a generation. My parents had taken me to see a New York Mets baseball game that day, only a few miles away from the site where Secretariat was primed to make history. I don't remember who the Mets played or whether they won or lost, but I remember the horse, what was at stake, and the amazing feat it accomplished. After the game was over, we went to the stadium bar and watched the race on a small TV. When Secretariat pulled away from its rival on the track's back stretch and began to amass a sizable, soon-to-be insurmountable, and ultimately historic lead, it took our breath away. Such power, such speed, such grace. I hadn't seen anything like it before. I haven't since.
The story of Secretariat is a natural for a film adaptation, and the Walt Disney Co., which over the past decade has cornered the market on inspirational, true-life sports yarns, has done a fabulous job bringing it to the screen. With eloquence and understatement, 'Secretariat' tells its tale of grit, perseverance, and sacrifice without an ounce of treacly sentiment. Honest emotion permeates every frame of this film, which touches the heart and raises our spirits in the best way possible. Watching a specimen as magnificent as Secretariat exceed expectations to achieve immortality is stirring enough, but the human thread that runs through this movie increases its power and resonance. Director Randall Wallace adopts just the right tone, emphasizing core values such as family, commitment, and loyalty, while still focusing on the thrilling races and pursuit of excellence that fuel the film's engine.
Yes, we all know how the story turns out, but thanks to Wallace's sensitive approach, our experience is never compromised or minimized. Sports films that tackle well-known figures and events face the challenge of making the familiar both interesting and exciting. Not all succeed, but 'Secretariat' does by pumping up our adrenaline during the race sequences, fostering a sense of admiration and wonder, and, most important of all, telling the fascinating story-behind-the-story of this blazing fast thoroughbred with fervor and reverence. Most of us have heard of the horse, but few know how Secretariat reached its lofty perch in the annals of racing history, and by taking the journey with the colorful characters that helped shape its legacy, we reap considerable rewards.
When her beloved mother suddenly passes away just as her father (Scott Glenn) begins to lose control of his faculties, Denver housewife Penny Chenery Tweedy (Diane Lane) leaves her quiet, routine life behind to manage the family's struggling horse business in Virginia. Her husband (Dylan Walsh) and brother (Dylan Baker) disapprove of her intense involvement for different reasons, but Penny forges ahead anyway, buoyed and motivated by the birth of a highly promising colt she calls Big Red. Knowing she can't raise a champion on her own, she enlists the services of the respected, outspoken trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) to prime the horse for racing, and together the two embark on the arduous path that would eventually lead Big Red, who just "loves to run," to the pinnacle of his sport. Along the way, Penny must combat severe economic issues, rampant chauvinism, naysayers, and her own doubts, all while struggling to keep her family ties strong, to achieve what she feels is Big Red's destiny.
'Secretariat' may not boast sumptuous sets or costumes, but it's still a classy production. Wallace respects his subject, and his enthusiasm propels the picture. Each component is meticulously polished and presented, so the movie runs like a finely oiled machine. Yet there's too much heart on display to ever call 'Secretariat' slick. Though it may not quite match the other great true-life horse racing saga of the decade, 'Seabiscuit,' 'Secretariat' comes darn close, thanks to its flawless pacing, respectful tone, sincere performances, and exciting race sequences that often put us up in the saddle with the jockeys or at eye level with the horse hooves as they tear up the track.
Without a doubt, Secretariat himself is the undisputed soul of this film, but Lane supplies plenty of heart. Her superior portrayal is full of conviction, but also marvelously restrained, as she balances Penny's conflicting emotions with a steel will and burgeoning sense of independence. She may not have received the accolades due her, but Lane files arguably the best performance of her career, and one that ranks alongside those nominated for this year's Oscars. Malkovich's stellar reputation is well known, and he doesn't disappoint. Though it would have been easy for him to overplay the crusty, loudly dressed Lucien, Malkovich keeps the character in check, fitting snugly into the ensemble, and his chemistry with Lane adds an extra ounce of feeling to a film that already bursts with emotion.
In many ways, 'Secretariat' follows a tried-and-true sports movie formula, but like the thoroughbred itself, this excellent film leaves its fellow genre entries in the dust. Captivating and inspirational, 'Secretariat' allows us to admire the beauty of a fleet-footed animal and the determination of a woman to beat the odds and follow her dream. That may sound trite and more than a bit cliched, but trust me, when it's done right - with honesty and elegance - it isn't.
The Blu-ray: Vital Dic Stats
'Secretariat' comes packaged in a standard Blu-ray case inside a slipcase with raised lettering. The two-disc set contains a 50GB dual-layered Blu-ray and standard DVD. Video codec is 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC and featured audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Typical of Disney discs, a slew of trailers and promos precede the film, but an on-screen option allows you to skip directly to the main menu, if you so choose.
'Secretariat' gallops onto Blu-ray sporting a spectacular 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer that consistently dazzles the eyes with pitch-perfect contrast, razor sharp clarity, and gorgeous color saturation. From the opening moments, this transfer thrusts us into the thick of the action, be it an exciting race, frenetic press conference, or quiet domestic scene. Just a hint of grain lends the image a delicate film-like feel, and no specks, scratches, or stray marks dot the pristine source material. Despite the film's crisp look, the picture exudes a lovely warmth that adds subtle impact to many scenes. Background details, such as distant falling leaves and the brick exterior of the clubhouse, are especially strong, and costume patterns - tweeds, plaids, and argyles - are always rock solid. During the race sequences, we can see the flying clumps of dirt the horses kick up, and wide shots are distinguished by marvelous depth that heightens dimensionality.
Brilliant color really punches up this transfer's wow factor, providing striking accents that enhance many sequences. Lucien's loud wardrobe - magenta shirt, peach jacket, and red sport coat - looks vibrant and lush, as do the jockey's uniforms, the royal blue blanket draped over Secretariat, and the yellow roses Penny receives after a victory. Black levels are deep and inky, whites are bright but well modulated, and fleshtones, though occasionally a bit ruddy, remain largely stable and natural-looking. Shadow delineation is quite good, and there's a breathtaking silhouette shot of Secretariat that's beautifully defined and textured. Close-ups, from the creases on Penny's fingers to Secretariat's bushy mane, flaunt a natural appearance despite astounding clarity.
Digital noise is completely absent, and no banding, pixelation, or edge enhancement destroys the picture's integrity. Disney enjoys a fine reputation regarding its Blu-ray transfers that dates back to the dawn of the format, and this superb effort will only gain the studio more well-deserved kudos. It's darn near perfect.
Not to be outdone by the video, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track outputs outstanding sound that intensifies the viewing experience. Realism is the name of the game here; no matter how much enhancement studio engineers have layered onto the track, the audio always sounds natural. Dynamic range is superior, with bright, clear-toned highs and resonant lows producing a polished aural tone that complements the story well. The surrounds are active but are sewn well into the mix. Distant rumbling thunder early in the film gives us a taste of multi-channel action, but the races ramp up the involvement of the rears, as crowd noise, music, and various ambient effects gracefully emanate from all corners of the room. Front-channel separation is also distinct, with seamless pans lending a nice fluency to the audio. The well-integrated bass frequencies especially impress - at times subtle (listen closely to the breathing of Secretariat and the voices of several male actors), at times weighty (the horse hooves pounding the racetrack), but never overpowering.
Dialogue is crisp, well prioritized, and always easy to understand, while various accents, such as the echoing loudspeaker at the stadium and kicked-up dirt on the track, further immerse us in the on-screen action. Finally, the sweeping music score by Nick Glennie-Smith enjoys excellent fidelity, filling the room with deep, pure tones and a marvelous presence.
Sports movies demand top-flight audio, but it's the nuances and naturalism on this track that set it apart from others in its class. From beginning to end, this is superior audio that approaches reference quality.
The bulk of the extras are Blu-ray exclusives (see below), but a couple also appear on the standard DVD.
'Secretariat' is much more than a stirring, beautifully mounted story about a legendary racehorse; it's a tale of perseverance, heart, and personal evolution that's emotional, exciting, and, yes, inspiring. It's a film the whole family can relate to and enjoy, and features excellent performances, thrilling race sequences, and a thoughtful, flowing script. Superb video and audio make this true-life yarn incredibly immediate and involving, and the extensive extras package, which contains a slew of Blu-ray exclusives, provides further history, as well as context and perspective from Penny Chenery herself. It may not have garnered a Best Picture nomination, but 'Secretariat' stands as one of my favorite films of the year, and I highly recommend it to all who love film, sports, and humanity.