The Black Stallion Reviews
Good acting and plot.
Shows how an animal has an impact on human being.
The beginning of the film was lacking and has no exciting happening in first 12 minutes.
Developmental shortcomings prove to be a much bigger issue in this film than I was expecting, and the film hardly wastes any time before unveiling this surprise, as immediate background development is more-or-less totally absent, leaving the drama to say nothing about leads who aren't that much more extensively characterized in a body that is certainly intimate with its characters, but more in a meditative fashion, rather than expository. Although the young lead and his peers find themselves in unique situations, no one is truly distinguished, while anything from the lead's grief over the tragedy of being marooned, to the lead's coming to embrace the changes in his character and lifestyle upon returning to civilization are shockingly not portrayed, and as smart as a lot of the writing is, and as engaging as the performances are, that notable lack of humanity defuses so much momentum in this drama as one of the final product's greatest shortcomings. The undercooking at least leaves the build-up to each segment to be thinned down, to where the focal shifts jar and convolute the progression of a narrative which says so little, through all of its uneven layering and, for that matter, excessiveness. Although the film saves a whole lot of time by expending exposition and what have, it still clocks in at just shy of two hours, and although that runtime is more fitting than I feared when I observed how much storytelling thins out its layers, there is still plenty of expendable material to further retard a sense of momentum in an underdeveloped and aimless narrative. Terribly lazy with its exposition and also rather limp with its pacing, this film does a lot to distance, but, hey, if all else fails, there are always good old-fashioned directorial dry spells, courtesy of Carroll Ballard, whose surprisingly artistic, maybe even storytelling is realized enough to be effective more often than not, but nonetheless too meditative on nothingness to carry much spark, resulting in some serious dull spells. There is so much potential to this film, yet it seems as though this film takes every opportunity to betray it, carrying many of the strengths of a more rewarding interpretation of intriguing subject matter, but ultimately falling too deeply into flatness to depth, unevenness to structure, and limpness to pacing and atmosphere to transcend underwhelmingness. These are the makings of a mediocre misfire, but at no point is this film ever that, being an absolute mess, make no mistake, but still compelling enough to you by, especially aesthetically.
In 1979, just before he saw the birth of his even more popular daughter, Caleb Deschanel really unveiled another pretty pair of eyes: his cinematographic eyes (That was a terribly cheesy way of putting that, but shut up and listen to the fun fact), for this was his first of many, many major projects as a director of photography, and boy, was it quite the introduction, showcasing Deschanel's trademark subtly dreamy lighting in the context of many a stunning visual, resulting in some haunting lyrical imagery. Perhaps the visual style isn't especially outstanding, but the film is pretty heavily reliant on it, and considering that we're working with a photographer as talented as Caleb Deschanel here, there is still a lot of beauty here which seems to do a better job of immersing you than the storytelling. If substance carries immersion value, then it is anchored by performances that bring more depth to the character than the storytelling, which is almost embarrassingly undercooked, and therefore lacking in acting material to present to a cast which still does what it can with what it's given, with Mickey Rooney (Man, that kid got old, by 1979, alone) being charming as a kindly horse expert who bonds with a boy whose passion is relatable, while young lead Kelly Reno adequately convinces as a boy who comes of age through harsh struggles, and returns home to face trial which will test his independence and care for a creature which saved his life. Shoot, even Cass Ole puts on a convincing performance (Jeez, I wonder how; look that up and you'll get it), so the acting certainly has its humanity, no matter how hard the storytellers seem to try to limit the depth of this promise story. A survival drama, a boy-beast bonding portrait, a racing film, and altogether an offbeat coming-of-age piece, this story concept is done a deal is injustice by bare-bones storytelling, but there is enough intelligence to Melissa Mathison's, Jeanne Rosenberg's and William D. Wittliff's script to not completely obscure potential, done some justice by decent, if questionable direction. Well, I must give this film a little credit for being a family affair which is unafraid to take on some edgy themes in a very lyrical, almost abstractionist manner, although that might simply be because I have to give credit to some inspiration to Carroll Ballard's direction, which exacerbates the distancing sense of vacancy to storytelling with a certain atmospheric dryness, but utilizes anything from the aforementioned beautiful visuals to plays on a dynamic score by Carmine Coppola which explores both tastefulness and near-wild tension in order to draw you into the tone of this quiet drama. The film's story is worthy, but its vision is questionable, expending true dramatic depth for the sake of a certain meditativeness that hardly has a place in any kind of filmmaking, especially family filmmaking, so the final product runs a great risk of misfire which it ultimately avoids on the back of reasonably realized style and storytelling, despite of all of the lack of realization.
Overall, exposition is absent, as is much of a sense of humanity, in addition to momentum which takes yet more blows to the plotting unevenness and dragging, and dull directorial dry spells, which secure the final product as quite decidedly underwhelming, yet promising subject matter is still done enough justice by decent performances and directorial highlights, and a haunting visual style, to secure Carroll Ballard's "The Black Stallion" as an aesthetically solid and dramatically serviceable, if rather lacking coming-of-age opus.
2.5/5 - Fair
Absolute Brilliance. Thrilling, breathtaking, wildly exciting;
at times quiet, thotful, contemplative, yet always enrapturing - you can get swept up into this movie (like I do) every time I watch it.
It washes across my soul upon each viewing.
It's thoughtfully and lovingly made. I LOVE the dad's story in the beginning. What a great dad.. And I love the crusty Mickey Rooney character. Haha. I LOVE the sweetness of Terri Garr, so heartwarming..
You are gently led in and it never ceases to satisfy. Never a false step. It took two years to film, and has been worth each moment, each frame captured here.
Watch it, watch it, watch it.
It's wonderfully timeless, a classic.
It was archived in 2002 by film historians as such.
This is the first movie I ever saw on VHS. I don't know how old I was, but I know Dad was alive. I don't know if there were four or five of us along on the trip, though I think there were five, because I think we were living in the house on Alameda at the time. I'll also say that I know Mom and Dad picked up a movie for themselves, but I don't know what it was, and I'm not sure Mom would remember if I asked. It was all a very long time ago. (And in fact, I'm generally considered the go-to person in our family for remembering things like that--I was the one who assured Mom that, no, the Disney Channel was new when we got cable.) I have very clear flashes of being in the store, pricing the various machines. I don't know much about the actual decision-making process, as I was doubtless not involved in it. But I assume I would have been involved in the decision about which movie to rent and take home. (We rented at first, but I couldn't tell you what the first movie we bought was.) At the time, I don't think we would have had a lot of options. That part of it, I don't remember. But I do remember the excitement and delight of being able to pause the movie. That was freedom!
Little Alec Ramsey (Kelly Reno) gets some of his own freedom. As the movie begins, he's on a boat with his father (Hoyt Axton), who basically pays Alec no mind as the boy wanders all over the ship. He sees a bunch of mysterious foreigners trying to control a fierce black stallion (Cass-Olé), which Alec watches every chance he gets. Then one night, the ship sinks under circumstances which Alec does not understand, though the adults might. Alec cuts the Black out of the ropes tying him in place in his cabin, and the Black, in exchange, helps Alec reach an island. Probably half the movie is the boy and the horse on the island, with the horse coming to trust the boy, who fed him sugar on the ship and has never hurt him. In time, though, they are rescued, and Alec goes home to his mother (Teri Garr). Apparently, the Black is considered salvage from the wreck or something, because he goes home with Alec as well. Only the Ramseys live in the suburbs, and their backyard isn't equipped for a horse. The Black runs away and ends up in the stable of Henry Dailey (Mickey Rooney). Alec goes after him, and what with one thing and another, he ends up training boy and horse to race.
Kevin Smith says he plays Silent Bob because he can't act, so he's given himself the role with no dialogue. This has always kind of irritated me. After all, Alec gets very few lines in the movie--a lot of the film is silent except for the score and the nature sounds. Even when he's around humans, Alec is not a talkative boy. IMDB provides a bit of backstory to explain why Kelly Reno doesn't have an acting career today; it seems his acting as a child was considered disruptive to the family, and he was seriously injured after graduating from high school. By the time he was recovered enough to consider getting back into the business, he had essentially no contacts left. However, it is left pretty clear that he walked away with the possibility of more acting available. It's hard to imagine what someone in Alec's situation should have acted like. After all, he has vanished from human ken for what is implied to be at least a few weeks. Not only that, but the book was written in 1941 and the movie seems to be set about then, so that would have been an even bigger nightmare for the boy's mother. All of that said, Kelly Reno does a fine job.
One of the things which struck me about the movie is how we in more urban environments don't ever think about horses as scary. From the very beginning, the Black is not a My Little Pony. He's big, and he's angry. Four men hauling on ropes are required to keep the Black in place, and the noises he makes are closer to screams than the sweet little whinnies we think of from horses. When, on the island, he kills the snake, he may actually be scarier than the cobra. Even in the relatively tame surroundings of Suburban Wherever, he's terrifying, which is how he ends up on Mickey Rooney's farm in the first place. The few times I've been up close to a horse, one of the first things to cross my mind is how big it is. In my brain, they never seem that big. Mickey Rooney, who knows a thing or two about horses, also distrusts the Black. He even gets bitten at one point. In fact, part of the appeal to the movie to what I assume to be its intended audience is the idea of something big and scary which will protect you from everyone else. It's your big, scary thing, and it only loves you.
The problem, really, is that one or the other part of the movie feels unnecessary to the other. It's not like those movies we've discussed where two interesting ideas were crammed into one bad movie. For one thing, this isn't a bad movie. Certainly, too, it's hardly as though either idea is original. However, the film has a hard time keeping the tone constant. The scenes on the boat at the beginning shift pretty smoothly into the scenes with Alec alone on the island with the Black. That part of the movie is quietly beautiful. It was apparently shot with great difficulty in Sardinia, but the scenery could be in any one of dozens of places in the world. Most of what we see, after all, is sand and clear water. The island seems in a place of stasis; all that exists is one horse and one boy. However, both horse and boy return to the Human World, where things are and must be different. The film doesn't really use its time on the island except to bond horse and boy; oddly, the mother only briefly expresses longing for her drowned husband, and the boy, not even that. While on the island, it could be ignored as part of his desire to survive. When he returns, it's a little jarring to think that learning to ride in horse races is more important.