Movie Review: “Majestic White Horses”

Released in 2001, “Majestic White Horses” is the first large format (IMAX) horse film and among few Big Movies to date from European filmmakers. This equine odyssey travels such little-known turf as General George Patton’s involvement in a daredevil World War II coup called “Operation Cowboy” that rescued 500 of Austria’s famous white Lipizzans. It is a stunning behind-the-scenes production on the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, spiced with legends even linked to the prophet Mohammed.

“The story of mankind could not have unfolded as it has without the horse,” explains actor Stacy Keach who narrates, as the opening shot of galloping steeds cuts birdlike to the Baroque opulence of the architectural masterpiece (with crystal chandeliers) that has been home to Vienna’s Spanish Riding School and its famous white stallions for centuries.

But far from a solemn trek through hallowed halls, the 40-minute production whirls the clock back through a Cliffs Notes synopsis on the evolution of the horse from a fox-sized primeval creature to more recognizable ancestors of the Lipizzan breed, and here the fun begins.

Veteran Austrian filmmaker Kurt Mrkwicka (pronounced mur-krish-ka), who wrote, directed, and executive produced “Majestic White Horses” is also an avid equestrian with show jumpers at home. Consequently, he makes the most of the giant screen. From thundering across the Moroccan desert on Arabian horses, to barreling along behind, then in front, of a four-horse team (Spain’s current coach driving champions), and even herding black bulls from the back of a Spanish Andalusian, Mrkwicka retraces the path of the Lipizzan’s bloodlines in a way that presents a visceral encounter, not just with this horse, but all his brethren.

Then seamlessly we’re back on the ultimate road to Spanish Riding School, having arrived via the on-screen birth of a Lipizzan foal (born dark-haired) seen from a vantage point inside the stall. No small feat-timing alone was a challenge, added to the fact IMAX? cameras are notoriously loud. “The camera is like a coffee machine [think espresso], a very large coffee machine,” the director remarks. When the newborn foal manages a spider-like stance for his first feeding after repeated wobbly attempts to stand, there’s a collective sigh of relief from the audience, along with “oohs and “ahhs.”

Among the film’s great strengths is its finesse in portraying natural horse behavior within the framework of the centuries-old traditional education of the Spanish Riding School’s equine elite-whose twice-a-week performances in Vienna (a major tourist draw), are sold out for the next two-and-a-half years! After seeing newly weaned colts move as one like a flock of birds, while their mothers clip-clop away over cobblestoned streets walked by generations of Lipizzans, not only is your appreciation heightened for the classical “high school” dressage training (a form of riding) the best of the stallions receive at the School, there’s a sense of the past and the present merging as one.

“For me, the large format is the highest quality in the picture world and the Spanish Riding School is the highest classical dressage work. The idea was to bring these two together,” says Mrkwicka. (No stranger to achievement, Mrkwicka was a two-time Olympic springboard diver, before his 35-year film career.) An epic film score by Emmy-award winning composer Laurence Rosenthal (“The Young Indian Jones Chronicles,” “Inherit the Wind”) dramatizes the slice of world cultural history provided by “Majestic White Horses”, and by the school, described at times as the Temple of the Horse.

Shot on location in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Spain, Slovenia, and Austria, “Majestic White Horses” was filmed in nine-and-a-half weeks (stretched over a year’s time), with 80 percent of the $4.4 million budget personally funded by Mrkwicka. Rated high in European test markets (“very, very good” by 91 to 92 percent surveyed), “Majestic White Horses” will debut fall 2001 in Atlanta and in Denver winter 2002. Negotiations are currently underway with additional locations in the United States, where horses are a $112 billion industry.

“Our history has been written on horses,” says Keach. Even little known chapters like General George Patton and a German officer who crossed enemy lines working together to save the Lipizzans of the Spanish Riding School.

BMZ Guidelines: An educational and entertaining horse film for all ages, with history lessons for any trivia buffs. Don’t let the live foal birth throw you; it momentarily becomes a choice “baby animal” moment. Cheaper than a ticket to Vienna, the close-up of the Spanish Riding School in performance beats a two year wait.

Reprinted courtesy of

IMAX? is a registered trademark of IMAX Corporation.

What did you think of this article?

Thank you for your feedback!