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|Kevin Krock, editor|
I read every single one of Walter Farley's Black Stallion books as a child. The film The Black Stallion, released in 1979, was one of the finest equestrian movies ever made and captured the beauty and spirit of the book series. I was interested in seeing The Young Black Stallion, especially since the film was produced by Frank Marshall, who did such a nice job with another special horse, Seabiscuit, in 2003. Additionally, director Simon Wincer had great success with Free Willy, another child and animal against the world story. The Young Black Stallion movie was filmed for exclusive release in IMAX theatres.
The story is very loosely based on the book The Young Black Stallion published in 1989 by Walter and his son Steven Farley. Set in 1946, a young Middle Eastern girl named Neera (Biana Tamimi) becomes stranded in a North African desert while on a trek to her family home, and happens upon a young colt. He leads her to fresh water and follows her as she (miraculously) finds her way home over the endless sand dunes. She tames the young horse and, disguised as a boy, races him to regain her grandfather's prizewinning horses, which were lost due to marauding soldiers.
Much of the story resembles a replay of The Black Stallion. Unfortunately, this film does not come close to capturing the emotion, the beauty, or the excitement of the first film. The Young Black Stallion runs a mere 50 minutes, which makes the story seem rushed, with character development almost non-existent. Most of the story is told visually, so much of the movie is long stretches of Neera riding The Black, or chasing The Black, or searching for The Black without any dialogue. The Black Stallion also used this technique, but to far better effect due to breathtaking cinematography and music.
I imagine that this film would have a much greater impact seen in its intended IMAX format, but seeing it on the small screen was not inspiring. I also found it jarring to hear American accents next to the Middle Eastern accents, with no attempt to put any native dialog with subtitles in. I imagine the filmmakers thought they would lose young audiences by doing this. As it was, young American actor Biana Tamimi stuck out like a sore thumb, and potentially confuses viewers: Why is an American girl being led through the desert? Is she just visiting?
On a more positive side, horse lovers of all ages will find something to enjoy in The Young Black Stallion. The horses used in the film are magnificent, and Biana Tamimi can ride very well. A stunt double was not used in the racing scenes.
You know a movie is in trouble when the extras are more interesting than the film itself. The Young Black Stallion includes six short featurettes, the most unusual of which is a prequel to the prequel: a 14-minute prologue to the film not included in the theatrical release. Entitled The Sire, the prequel explains that The Black was sired by a mythical horse just stepped out of a constellation to woo a lucky Arabian mare. Told in storyboards and off-camera narrative with footage of the romancing horses, this featurette will only appeal to hardcore equestrian lovers. In Finding Biana, filmmakers explain the process they used to find their young lead actress, Biana Tamimi. She had no previous acting experience at all, and the director hired her after seeing some footage of her riding her horse and reading some lines. He only met her after the contracts had been signed and the film was ready to shoot. The featurette shows clips of the video Tamimi sent to the filmmakers.
Shooting in Nambia and Building the Casbah are mainly set production featurettes that detail how the filmmakers chose their locations in Africa. Since they were shooting in extra-large IMAX film, they had to be very careful of the tiny details a landscape would show on the large screen. All the sets were built under very extreme heat conditions by crews assembled from all over the world.
A Story in IMAX describes the differences between filming in regular 35mm film and the large-format IMAX film. One major difference is the very loud cameras used with large-format, which meant every word of dialog had to be looped later in a recording studio. Luckily, they weren't filming Hamlet.
The Big Black Horse is a read-along that is a mostly still-picture story recapping The Black Stallion with an option of having the dialog read aloud by a narrator. There are some animated sequences, and the illustrations are excellent. I'm partial to the original story, so it was a nice bit of nostalgia to include in the DVD.
Taming the Stallions features the beautiful wild horses trained by handlers especially for the film.
Video, Audio and Interface
Even the best home theatre system cannot compete with the IMAX picture in its original format on the large screen, but the transfer to DVD is excellent. The picture is very crisp. However, the fact that the film makers had to loop every piece of dialog in a studio is evident. Or maybe it was evident after I watched the A Story in IMAX featurette; I'm not sure. However, all I can think about now, watching the movie, is that all the actors were standing around in a studio trying to match up their lines with their mouths months later. Pretty distracting, to say the least.
The interface is easy to navigate and contains selections of scenes from the movie. Since there are no commentaries and few extras, children will have little problem working with the menu.
The Final Evaluation
It is obvious the producers, the director and everyone involved in the making of the film wanted it to be a tribute to the original Black Stallion film and to the authors Steven and Walter Farley. I feel they sadly missed the mark by keeping the story so superficial. Perhaps with an extra hour they could have developed the film into something more memorable, but it's hard to say. If your children are horse-crazy, this DVD is worth a rental to investigate before buying. Otherwise, buy the original Black Stallion and enjoy it as a family.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Lisa here.
Kevin Doc Krock is been a long-time animation buff and home theater fan. He's been following the rise of the DVD format in the home market since its introduction, and he hopes to help you make the most of your family's home theater viewing time and video collections.
You can contact Kevin here.
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