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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Black Stallion Returns: Limited Edition (Blu-ray)
The Black Stallion Returns: Limited Edition (Blu-ray)
Twilight Time // G // Region Free
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted July 28, 2016 | E-mail the Author

Four years after Carroll Ballard's The Black Stallion (1979) rode a fairly large wave of critical and commercial success, Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Studios attempted to recapture lightning in a bottle with The Black Stallion Returns. Not surprisingly, it brought many of the original film's strongest elements along for the ride: fine lead performances (more specifically, Kelly Reno as protagonist Alec Ramsay [now well into his teenage years] and Cass Ole as the eponymous horse*), exotic locales, and a rousing score that punctuates the more dramatic moments, to name a few. It's even based on the second of twenty-one Black Stallion books by Walter Farley, and gave Oscar-nominated editor Robert Dalva (who cut together the original) his first and only credit as a feature film director.

Unfortunately for The Black Stallion Returns, family films work best when they aim for more than just the kids. That's not to say it's a completely missed opportunity; it's just one that feels a lot more conventional and by-the-book than The Black Stallion, whose stylish approach and strong atmosphere set it far apart from your average family fare. There are still plenty of terrific sights and sounds, though: largely shot on location in Morocco, Algeria, and Italy (with cinematography by the great Carlo Di Palma, a frequent collaborator of Michelangelo Antonioni and Woody Allen), The Black Stallion Returns looks like a million bucks and, like the original film, feels almost mystical at times. The orchestral score by prolific Georges Delerue (Platoon, Silkwood) doesn't hurt either: the main theme and its many iterations provide plenty of support along the way, especially when young Alec and "The Black" are together.

The Black Stallion Returns' story, on the other hand, runs a distant second. We're reintroduced to young Alec and his mother (Terri Garr, returning here for what amounts to a cameo appearance), whose freshly-painted barn is burnt to the ground and "The Black" is horse-napped by the enigmatic Ishak (Ferdy Mayne), who claims to be the rightful owner. Not surprisingly, Alec gives chase and somehow ends up on a plane bound for Casablanca, Ishak's stomping grounds, where he discovers the rescue attempt is just beginning. Long story short: it's the kind of family film that has a dastardly villain named "Kurr" (Allen Garfield), many of the Arab characters are played by non-ethnic actors, and it even features a climactic race that can only be won by a brave young boy. It also can't help but feel doughy in the middle, making the film's modest 103-minute runtime feel more drawn out than the (longer) original.

Still, The Black Stallion Returns' relatively light tone makes it passable family fare, though I'd imagine it would hold more weight now with (a) anyone who saw and enjoyed it as a kid, or (b) new audiences with a strong connection to the original film or book series. Those entirely new to the franchise, of course, should start from the beginning and/or proceed with caution. Either way, Twilight Time's Blu-ray package aims to overtake MGM's respectable 2006 DVD; even without the benefit of strong bonus features, the obvious A/V improvements make it worth a look.

* - A second horse, El Mokhtar (desired by the producers, but unavailable for the first film), also portrayed "The Black" in this sequel but died from an abdominal illness before the production wrapped. He appears in many close-ups, as well as the final racing sequence.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

MGM's 2006 DVD was a solid effort for its time, but this 1080p transfer marks an obvious improvement in every regard. Image detail, textures, black levels, and color reproduction are much improved overall, with minimal dirt and print damage along the way. It's also encoded very well with no flagrant digital issues (compression artifacts, excessive noise reduction, etc.), serving up a pleasing film-like presentation that's likely the next best thing to a theatrical showing. Carlo Di Palma's cinematography, highlighting the sun-baked Moroccan, Algerian, and Italian locations, gives The Black Stallion Returns an appropriately epic backdrop that rivals the original film. There's still room for improvement at times, but Twilight Time's Blu-ray is strong enough to impress die-hard fans and first-timers of all ages.

DISCLAIMER: The images featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent the title under review.

The audio is presented in either DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or 2.0 mixes, both of which replicate the film's original two-channel experience just fine (and just for the record, MGM's 2006 DVD only offered a Dolby 2.0 Surround track). There isn't exactly a night-and-day difference between the two options, as they're both capable efforts in their own right. Dialogue and background effects are well-balanced and rarely fight for attention, while a few moments of LFE (and, in the case of the 5.1 mix, occasional bursts of surround activity) support several of the action sequences and music cues along the way. This is a surprisingly deep listening experience at times for a family film approaching the 35-year mark, just as the original film was. Optional English subtitles have been included during the film, as well as a separate lossless Isolated Music Track that showcases Georges Delerue's rousing (and out of print) score.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

The interface is plain but perfectly functional, with quick loading time and the bare minimum of pre-menu distractions. This one-disc release arrives in a standard clear keepcase with poster-themed artwork and a short Booklet featuring production stills, promotional artwork, and the usual essay penned by Julie Kirgo. Aside from the isolated music track, bonus features are limited to the film's Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes) and an MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer.

Final Thoughts

Sequels rarely match or exceed established classics in any genre, and The Black Stallion Returns is no different. Yet it's still got some of the same strengths as the 1979 original, including dependably good lead and supporting performances, a rousing score by Georges Delerue, and stunning visuals by cinematographer Carlo Di Palma. That said, the story is more than a little paint-by-numbers in some respects, and ticks many of the boxes associated with your average, predictable family film. Those with a nostalgic soft spot for this 1983 sequel should consider Twilight Time's Blu-ray a Recommended buy; despite the lack of extras, the A/V presentation is a definite improvement over MGM's 2006 DVD. New audiences or casual fans, on the other hand, should probably rent it or stick with the older disc.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.
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