Movie sequels are a staple, each in their own way trying to recapture the magic of the original project and propel it in new and more interesting directions (and in the case of The Godfather, break the mold). This weekend’s theatrical release examples are Pacific Rim Uprising and Sherlock Gnomes, hopefully to satisfy the entertainment requirements of fans of action spectacle and family-friendly escapism. Thirty-five years ago this weekend, the debuting film which sought to capture both those action and family-appeal quadrants galloped into movie houses with this intriguing tagline: “They came by night to steal the magnificent stallion. Now, the boy will journey halfway around the world, brave any danger, take any risk. He had to save The Black.”
Again presented by executive producer Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios, The Black Stallion Returns (1983) adapted Walter Farley’s second book (1945) in his remarkable 20-tome series and brought back two of the 1979 original’s key players (Kelly Reno as young Alec, Teri Garr as his mother), with The Black Stallion’s Oscar®-nominated editor Robert Dalva handed the reins as director, hypnotic landscape cinematography by the reliable Carlo Di Palma in locales domestic (New Mexico, New York and California) and exotic (Algeria and Morocco), and lush atmospheric scoring by the accomplished Georges Delerue. The original film’s aura of mystical oneness with nature and the forging of the initial bond between a lonely, shipwrecked boy and the wild horse for their mutual survival and triumph takes on additional layers of derring-do and selfless heroics, when the stallion’s Arabian owners reclaim the prized animal to compete in a monumental race that will determine inter-tribal supremacy. Not unlike the plucky young protagonist Atari of Wes Anderson’s fanciful animated fable Isle of Dogs, a non-sequel also opening in theaters this weekend,the teenage Alec has to journey to faraway places and make improbable alliances to recover a four-legged buddy. Alec’s desert-land confederates are played with persuasive, wily distinction by Vincent Spano, Woody Strode, Jodi Thelen and Ferdi Mayne, and their teamwork is formidable, particularly as the film takes on the fast-paced contours of a full-on multichapter cliffhanger not unlike Republic Pictures serials of old, as The New York Times’ Vincent Canby noted: “It is funny, unpretentious and fast-paced. It has a kind of comic-book appreciation for direct action and no time whatsoever for mysticism or for scenery for its own sake, though most of it was shot in Morocco and is fun to look at. Nothing too unpredictable ever happens in the Richard Kletter-Jerome Kass screenplay, but that also is its charm. As the stalwart hero, Kelly Reno is very appealing, possibly because he's a lot less passive than he was in the first film. He and all of the other members of the cast act as if they were having a picnic, recreating the simple, straightforward pleasures of a pre-World War II B-movie, which, more than anything else, The Black Stallion Returns resembles.” Naturally, the climactic race that reunites rider and steed in a harrowing competition on a punishing Sahara terrain is the sort of breath-catching, tautly edited thrill ride that is the stock in trade of action-driven originals and sequels. Indeed, there are reasons aplenty to embrace this particular film follow-up on its exciting Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.