Review by Gordon Justesen
Reno, Teri Garr, Clarence Muse, Hoyt Axton, Michael Higgins, Mickey Rooney
Director: Carroll Ballard
Audio: DTS HD 2.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 117 Minutes
Release Date: July 14, 2015
ďThis horse has got a leg like iron.Ē
The Black Stallion is perhaps the most artistic family film ever made. Having never seen it before, I was in no way expecting to be so immediately captivated as I was from the opening frame. The filmmaking displayed here is nothing short of exhilarating!
Director Carroll Ballard, a former schoolmate of Francis Ford Coppola (who produced the film) and making his directorial debut, pretty much lets his camera do most of the storytelling here. I was absolutely mesmerized by the fact that for most of the first hour of the film, there isnít any dialogue. We see a shipwreck take place at sea, a young boy go overboard only to be saved by a stallion that was also on board, and then witness the boy and horse bond into an extraordinary friendship on a deserted island.
Films in such recent years as Wall-E and There Will Be Blood have accomplished similar feats in opening sections being dialogue free and having images tell a story. For a family film made in 1979, this had to have been an unheard of task. And cinematographer Caleb Deschanel captures images in this segment, as well as the remaining portion of the film, that will stay with you long after your viewing.
The second half of the story involves story elements that are more familiar, but is nonetheless invigorating. The young boy, named Alec (Kelly Reno), is soon rescued and brought back home, along with his newfound Arabian horse companion. He soon meets a veteran horse trainer named Henry (Mickey Rooney). The film concludes in the expected fashion of a horse race, but with young Alec doing no less than riding the horse.
This is a film of true cinematic beauty. There were many moments that shared similarity with that of Life of Pi. And though the second half is nowhere near as potent as the first half (I havenít even mentioned Alecís up close confronting of a snake on the island), the entire enterprise is the work of absolute magic, and itís easy to see why itís considered one of the best family adventure movies of all time.
Once again, we have a film that I took forever to get around too...but the wait was worth it as I got to experience it firsthand via a breathtaking Criterion Blu-ray release! My visual senses were simply stunned by this magnificent presentation, the mastering of which was supervised by cameraman Caleb Deschanel himself! The first half set on the island will astound your eyes completely with soaring picture detail and depth. The quality is also quite riveting in darker sequences, especially the opening scene on board the boat which also displays a knockout color tone. Yet another fantastic looking disc in Criterionís unbeatable Blu-ray streak!
Equal high marks for the audio performance, as Criterion has equipped this release with a first rate DTS 2.0 mix. The first element that should be mentioned is the score by Carmine Coppola, which is another pivotal ingredient that distincts this from your basic family film. The score itself is riveting, and the way itís delivered in this presentation is even more so! Dialogue delivery is extremely well handled and balanced terrifically with the score and numerous set pieces, most notably the climatic horse race.
Yet another unique assortment of features from Criterion, starting with five short films from director Carroll Ballard: Pigs! from 1965, The Perils of Priscilla and Rodeo from 1969, Seems Like Only Yesterday from 1971 and Crystallization from 1974. We also have a lengthy, very in depth interview segment with Ballard and film critic Scott Foundas, and additional video interviews with Caleb Deschanel and photographer Mary Ellen Mark. Rounding out everything is a Trailer and an booklet featuring an essay by film critic Michael Sragow.
The Black Stallion is both an absolute perfect family film and a must see for filmmaking enthusiasts. Itís arrival on Criterion Blu-ray makes it even bigger must see occasion!