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Criterion Release: The Black Stallion

July 14, 2015

By John Corrado

The Black Stallion Blu-rayToday, The Black Stallion is being released on Blu-ray, through Criterion.  After surviving a shipwreck that claims the life of his father (Hoyt Axton) in 1946, Alec (Kelly Reno) is left stranded on an island, developing a close bond with the wild stallion that survived alongside him.  When they are rescued, the boy starts grooming the horse to become a champion racer, under the guidance of elderly retired trainer Henry Dailey (Mickey Rooney).

Directed by Carroll Ballard, who later made Never Cry Wolf and Fly Away Home, and executive produced by Francis Ford Coppola, The Black Stallion became a surprise critical and commercial hit when it was released in 1979.  The film went on to receive a trio of Oscar nominations, including recognition for its sound and editing, and Mickey Rooney.

Although the film moves at an almost deliberately slow pace, and the beats of the sometimes overly simplistic narrative have become predictable, The Black Stallion is a commendable film for the way it allows the story to mainly unfold through images.  And the cinematography is beautiful here.  With long stretches free of dialogue, some of the most memorable sequences are focused entirely on developing the relationship between Alec and his horse, introducing symbolism of loyalty and primitive connection.

Lensed by Caleb Deschaneal, in its best moments the film achieves visual greatness, capturing the undying bond between humans and animals, through a collection of sweeping and often breathtaking images.  For a piece of mainstream entertainment, that is more artistically inclined than the majority of family movies, it’s understandable why The Black Stallion is considered a classic, and the stunning picture quality of the Blu-ray does justice to this adaptation of the famous children’s novel.

The Blu-ray includes five short films directed by Carroll Ballard, a conversation between him and film critic Scott Foundas, as well as a new interview with Caleb Deschaneal.  The package also features an essay by film critic Michael Sragow.

The Black Stallion is 117 minutes and rated G.

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