Thursday, Dec. 25
"The Young Black Stallion" represents the Walt Disney Co.'s first dramatic movie made expressly for Imax's giant screens. While the movie helps advance the case for more large-screen dramatic films, it weighs in at a mere 51 minutes, making it a throwback to the B-movie programrs of the '30s and '40s that usually ran an hour or so. "Stallion" is designed to maximize the visual opportunities for Imax's cameras even as it minimizes the dramatic conflicts that make for a satisfying moviegoing experience.
The project was created by the writer and producer of the 1979 classic film "The Black Stallion", Jeanne Rosenberg
and Fred Roos
(along with producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy), from the final book of Walter Farley
's "Black Stallion" series, which told about the horse's days in Arabia as a colt. This was then entrusted to director Simon Wincer
, himself no stranger to horse movies, having helmed "Lonesome Dove", "Phar Lap" and "The Lighthorsemen".
Veteran Imax cinematographer Reed Smoot
gets the most out of the spectacular African locations along the Namibian Skeleton Coast, the Spitzkoppe and South Africa's Drakensberg mountain range with tracking and helicopter shots that make this very much a motion picture. Sometimes the sheer size of the screen almost defeats the movie's dramatic purpose. In one shot where a young girl must climb an outlook and gaze at the colt in the distance, it takes awhile for a viewer to pick out the two figures in so vast a landscape.
Whatever Farley's original story was -- it was completed by his son Stephen following his death -- not much winds up in this sketchy movie. In North Africa at the end of World War II, a young girl named Neera (Biana G. Tamimi) gets separated from her caravan when it is set upon by raiders. (Who these raiders are and what happens to the rest of the caravan are never explained.) The same raiding party then goes after a mare and her newborn colt. The colt escapes and is discovered wandering alone in the desert by Neera.
She names the horse Shetan, and without too much difficulty the two "orphans" somehow find their way to the casbah of Neera's grandfather (Richard Romanus
). How do they find their way? What do they eat? How is Neera able to make a fire? The filmmakers show no interest in the story of their survival.
Once Neera reaches her grandfather's place, Shetan runs off only to return a year later as a magnificent stallion. Without even a moment to break in the stallion, Neera simply climbs on Shetan's back and gallops off. Within a matter of minutes and against her grandfather's wishes, she enters Shetan into a desert horse race against several powerful mares that furnishes the movie's climax.
As one can see from this synopsis, characters and story are woefully thin. Even the villains (Gerard Rudolf, Ali Al Ameri
) do little more than furrow their brows. The movie exists for its splendid vistas and the final horse race. These elements do justify "Stallion", but if the Mouse wants to pursue Imax features, much more dramatic meat will have to go into the storytelling.
Young Tamini, who has ridden horses virtually all her life, makes a credible heroine even though little is asked of her as an actress. The other actors are stranded by the weak dramatic material.
Production designer Paul Peters and costume designer Jo Katsaras
give the film a Moroccan feel. William Ross' score also is a plus, though it contains more than a hint of Maurice Jarre's musical themes from "Lawrence of Arabia".
THE YOUNG BLACK STALLION
Buena Vista Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Simon Wincer
Screenwriter: Jeanne Rosenberg
Based on the book by: Walter Farley
and Steven Farley
Producers: Fred Roos
, Frank Marshall
Executive producers: Jeanne Rosenberg
, Kathleen Kennedy
Director of photography: Reed Smoot
Production designer: Paul Peters
Music: William Ross
Costume designer: Jo Katsaras
Editors: Bud Smith, Terry Blythe
Neera: Biana G. Tamimi
Ben Ishak: Richard Romanus
Aden: Patrick Elyas
Rhamon: Gerard Rudolf
Mansoor: Ali Al Ameri
Kadir: Andries Rossouw
MPAA rating: G
Running time -- 51 minutesG-13>Emma: Dina Waters
Michael: Marc John
Megan: Aree Davis
Running time -- 88 minutes
MPAA rating: PG