Blu-Ray Review: The Black Stallion (Criterion) | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, September 23rd, 2021  

The Black Stallion

Studio: Criterion

Jul 20, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

For long stretches, Carroll Ballard’s 1979 adaptation of The Black Stallion is essentially wordless. The simple story practically tells itself visually: young Alec survives a shipwreck only with the help of a black, untamed horse who drags him to a deserted island shore. Stranded, the two becoming dependent on one another for survival—the horse needing the boy to find him food, and the boy looking to the horse for companionship and the willpower to struggle on. When they’re rescued, their bond continues as the boy trains his stallion to become a racehorse.

The Black Stallion is the rare film where each of its elements are just exquisitely composed. Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography is its greatest achievement; the first half of the film unfolds almost silently against the backdrop of a rocky desert island and the rolling seas, while the latter half is set in upstate, 1940s New York. The colors are gorgeous—especially in this new 4K transfer—and the recurring use of natural lighting lends the film a beautiful, Malick-ian look. The actors’ performances are subtle, but strong; Mickey Rooney earned a supporting actor nomination for his gentle horse trainer, and Kelly Reno does a fine job for a youngster. But, if there was an award for animal performers, the two horses that handled the bulk of Black’s onscreen time deserved it: one of The Black Stallion’s most famous scenes—where Alec befriends the wild horse in a long, single take—is an incredible exchange that probably would have been lauded were it between two adult, human actors, let alone a little boy and an animal. The Black Stallion is a high watermark in family filmmaking; children of all ages can appreciate its simple, dialogue-light storytelling, while adults will relish it as both a great film and a breathtaking piece of filmmaking.

Criterion’s Blu-ray release includes five of director Carroll Ballard’s early short films, each with an introduction from the filmmaker. Also included are three new interviews, one with Ballard, another with Deschanel, and the final one with set photographer Mary Ellen Mark. That’s a lot of content for a single package, but the film’s superb transfer should be its primary selling point. (If you’re a fan who already owns a previous edition, this is one of the rare times we’ll strongly recommend an upgrade.) This is a spectacular movie that will be made even better if you have kids to share it with.

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10


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