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Carroll Ballard
Kelly Reno, Teri Garr, Hoyt Axton, Clarence Muse, Michael Higgins, Mickey Rooney
Writing Credits:
Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Rosenberg and William D. Witliff

While traveling with his father, young Alec becomes fascinated by a mysterious Arabian stallion who is brought on board and stabled in the ship he is sailing on. When it tragically sinks both he and the horse survive only to be stranded on a desert island

Rated PG.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 117 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 7/14/2015

• Five Short Films by Director Carroll Ballard
• Conversation Between Director Carroll Ballard and Critic Scott Foundas
• Interview with Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel
• Interview with Still Photographer Mary Ellen Mark
• Trailer

• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


The Black Stallion: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1979)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 9, 2015)

Back when The Black Stallion hit screens in 1979, my dad raved about it, but I never saw it. Why not? I have no idea, especially because it seemed ike a movie more appropriate for then-12-year-old me than my then-45-year-old pops.

Making up for lost time, now-48-year-old me gets to see Stallion via Criterion’s Blu-ray release. Based on the 1941 novel by Walter Farley, the film takes us to an ocean liner off the coast of North Africa in 1946.

After a shipwreck, young Alec Ramsey (Kelly Reno) finds himself stranded with only one other survivor: a beautiful but feisty Arabian stallion he names “Black”. Alec frees the horse from the ropes that bind him and the two slowly develop a bond. We follow their relationship as well as other events that come along the way.

Perhaps the strongest aspect of Stallion stems from its quietness and subtlety. At many points during the film, we greet chances for the story to become mawkish, sentimental and manipulative. Given the events on display, the movie easily could’ve gone down those paths.

Instead, director Carroll Ballard keeps things remarkably restrained, as he lets the material speak for itself without too much outside interference. These tendencies become most evident during the long period in which Alec and Black bond.

In a style that foreshadowed 2000’s Cast Away, those segments lack dialogue. These scenes work very well, as they allow us to observe developments in a gentle but involving manner. Heck, it’s almost a disappointment when Alec and Black return to civilization, as those silent scenes offer so much charm.

Back in the “real world”, the movie features more dialogue, but it still remains restrained and emphasizes visuals and subtlety. It lets Caleb Deschanel’s gorgeous photography convey much of the material, and Ballard also ensures that various themes remain understated.

Take the relationship between Alec and horse trainer Henry Dailey (Mickey Rooney), for instance. A lesser movie would’ve shoved the “surrogate father” theme down our throats, nut Stallion keeps this notion restrained and lets us discern those relationship elements on our own without excess sentiment.

That tone pervades Stallion, all to its benefit. Honestly, if I wanted to find a weak link, it’d be Reno. Not that he offers a bad performance, but he lacks a lot of range or personality.

Despite that minor complaint, The Black Stallion offers a pretty satisfying little fable. It adapts a classic children’s story in a manner that should entertain viewers of all ages.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B

The Black Stallion appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Despite the movie’s age, the image looked pretty positive.

Overall sharpness seemed strong, with an image that usually seemed distinctive and well-defined. A little softness appeared at times, virtually all of which stemmed from the source material. Even with those moments, I thought the movie presented positive delineation.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects materialized, and I noticed no edge haloes. With a nice layer of grain, the movie showed no issues with digital noise reduction, and print flaws created no problems. This was a consistently clean presentation.

The palette of Stallion tended to be fairly subdued, with a warm feel much of the time. We also got some blue tints along the way. These seemed fine for the material.

Blacks showed good depth and density. Shadows were smooth and clear, with only a smidgen of thickness apparent on a few occasions. Those weren’t problematic elements, though, and the low-light shots usually came across with nice smoothness. I felt quite pleased with the transfer of Stallion.

The DTS-HD MA Stereo soundtrack of Stallion also worked nicely. In terms of the soundfield, the front channels managed to open up matters in a fairly good manner. Music showed nice spread to the sides and gave us quality stereo imaging.

Effects followed suit. With a fair amount of action on display, we got a good variety of components on the sides. These moved well and meshed together in a satisfying manner. Of course, the soundscape reflected the limitations of its age, but I thought it presented a pleasing array.

Audio quality had ups and downs but was usually fine. The lines mostly seemed relatively natural, and dialogue remained intelligible at all times. Effects also suffered from occasional distortion, but they generally sounded acceptably accurate, and they demonstrated decent heft when necessary.

The film’s score fared best of all. The music seemed full and rich, with crisp highs and warm lows. The mix could be inconsistent, but it appeared pretty satisfactory for its age.

As we shift to the disc’s extras, we begin with five short films by director Carroll Ballard. These include Pigs! (1965, 11:24), The Perils of Priscilla (1969, 17:20), Rodeo (1969, 19:33), Seems Like Only Yesterday (1971, 47:11), and Crystallization (1974, 11:18). Except for Priscilla - a fictionalized “life of a cat” tale shot for a humane society - all of these offer documentaries, and they’re fairly interesting. I like Yesterday best of the bunch, as it provides an intriguing series of memories that depict how life in LA changed over the decades.

All of the films come with new introductions from Ballard. All together, these last a total of 10 minutes, 50 seconds. He gives us good background about the different shorts.

We hear more from the filmmaker in A Conversation Between Director Carroll Ballard and Critic Scott Foundas. This goes for 47 minutes, 14 seconds and covers Ballard’s childhood and his interest in filmmaking, his early years in movies and how he came to Stallion, adaptation of the source and other aspects of the flick’s creation, its release and legacy, and other aspects of his career.

It’s too bad Ballard didn’t record a commentary for Stallion, but this interview compensates. From start to finish, Ballard provides a lively and engaging look at the subjects. The program moves at a good rate and offers a slew of useful notes.

Next we locate an Interview with Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. It runs 21 minutes, 26 seconds and looks at elements of the production, with an obvious emphasis on Deschanel’s work. Actually, this becomes a broader overview than I expected, as Deschanel touches on topics such as the lead horse and his training, so it’s not just a technical view of photography. It turns into a strong, informative piece.

After this comes an Interview with Still Photographer Mary Ellen Mark. In the seven-minute, 19-second reel, she chats about her documentation of Stallion while we look at her photos. Mark offers a decent look at her time on the set.

In addition to the film’s Trailer, we get a booklet. This offers a fold-out poster of Alec and Black on one side and an essay from film critic Michael Sragow on the other. It completes the package in a positive manner.

With appealing visuals and a restrained sense of storytelling, The Black Stallion becomes a likable fable. The movie keeps us engaged while it avoids heavy-handed filmmaking. The Blu-ray brings us good picture and audio as well as a nice array of supplements. Criterion turns this into a solid release for an enchanting effort.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.75 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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