Lionsgate // 1993 // 93 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // June 2nd, 2004
His spirit cannot be tamed.
The Silver Stallion has two well-known Australian actors in it, but has never been available in North America on DVD...until now. Lions Gate has released this brumby-loving family fable on a disappointing but acceptable disc.
It's hard to nail down exactly what The Silver Stallion is. It is a horse fable, looking at the Australian wild herds, but it is also a family film about our relationship with the natural world.
Elyne Mitchell (Caroline Goodall, Schindler's List) is an author living in the Australian high country. After a strong storm that frightens her daughter Indi (Ami Daemion), Elyne starts to write a story for her about Thowra the wild brumby (that's horse, for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) and his struggles against a rancher only known as The Man (Russell Crowe, Master and Commander). These two stories connect in a number of ways, and the lines between fiction and reality begin to blur.
While there are a number of strong elements in The Silver Stallion, there are also a number of serious problems. The clearest strengths are in the performances from the two leads. Caroline Goodall is wonderful as Elyne Mitchell, especially in the way she deals with her daughter. Although she has strong feelings about the treatment of horses in captivity, she suppresses those feelings in order to teach her daughter how important it is to consider all sides of an issue. Elyne's character gives the movie a complexity that many family movies about animals don't have, and a more complicated message than "people have done horrible things to the world."
Russell Crowe also does an excellent job as The Man (as he would like to be called from now on). His character is more developed than it needs to be. As a result, he is not the evil horse hunter that he could have been, but rather a strong competitor for Thowra in a long running battle of wills. He does seem evil when he is seen from the horses' perspective, such as when the brumbies are captured and broken by the men. There are many moments where he is seen as a kind and gentle man, though, strengthening the complex message that Elyne passes on to her daughter.
The only real weak link in the acting comes from Ami Daemion, who seems unusually flighty -- even for a teenage girl. Her character is little more than a recipient of the story, but every one of her lines feels forced and awkward.
The other major weakness is in the fable of Thowra. One of the difficulties in filming animals is that they are terrible at taking direction. While some of this problem can be avoided through good training or just running the camera until the animal performs the desired action. The makers of The Silver Stallion use both of these approaches to get their horse footage, but it never works out quite the way they would hope. A lot of the horse scenes are just panning shots of horses running by...over and over and over again. This makes the numerous chase sequences that are more repetitive than exciting. The tale about the horse often feels like a story a child makes up, loosely connected events strung together as they are invented. At the end of this story, the fictional story and Elyne's story begin to merge, and it compromises the moral strength of the film's ideology.
My other complaint is in the way the natural world is handled in the film. Through the script, it is clear that Elyne Mitchell is an expert on wildlife, and much of the early part of her story describes the lives of the wild brumbies in their natural environment. However, part of the way through the story, Elyne and Indi come across a young kangaroo whose leg has been caught and wounded, being watched over by its mother. They approach the kangaroo, free it, pick it up, and take it home. The young kangaroo cuddles up to them immediately and the mother quietly keeps her distance. Granted, I am not an expert on marsupials in crisis situations, but I cannot imagine that whole scenario happening without a lot of kangaroo bites. The baby kangaroo then becomes an issue as Indi does not want to release it back to the wild, a story element we have all seen too many times. This entire subplot does not work well, and merely exists to drive the point of the film home one more time.
The disc leaves a lot to be desired. The video is in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, but doesn't look that great. The image is drab looking and lacks definition. To be fair, most of these seem to be problems with the source print rather than the transfer. Still, it does not do justice to the beautiful scenery of the Australian high country. The sound is about the same. The Dolby stereo track captures the voices and music well enough, but does not do anything to impress. There aren't any extras at all, and that means no subtitles.
Families that love animals should give The Silver Stallion a rent. The footage of the horses and the Australian countryside is beautiful, and it tells the whole man vs. nature story better than many other family films. Unfortunately, the quality of the disc prevents me from making a strong purchase recommendation. Families that don't love animals will probably want to pass this one up completely.
Caroline Goodall and Russell Crowe did their best, and are free to go, once they have released any captive animals they have back into the wild. Everyone else involved is to spend a winter in the high country with the wild brumbies.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Rated G