Friday, February 11, 2011

Eye of the Beholder

Black Beauty (1971): The original book was an early animal-rights polemic, told through the picaresque journey of a horse as he goes from a pleasant rural life on a country estate to a harder life as a London cabhorse, before finally being rescued when close to death from abuse. The film loses most of this thematic progression, instead giving us an adventure series and inserting sequences where, for instance, the eponymous horse spends a while with the biggest set of gypsy stereotypes this side of a Channel 4 reality programme, as a circus horse on the Continent (I'm not making this up), and as a warhorse in Afghanistan, leaving a trail of corpses in his wake (again, not kidding-- he's directly responsible for at least two deaths even before going to the Hindu Kush). This vignette-style treatment also leads to interesting narrative strands being violently cut off (what, for instance, will happen when the girlfriend of Beauty's soldier owner finds out that her father's needling the lad into going off to war lead directly to his brutal death in combat? We never learn). The horses are beautiful, the foals are cute and the landscapes dramatic, and the ending does get somewhere close to the bittersweet tone of the novel (despite a shoehorned-in and pointless cameo for Anna Sewell), but it's not really worth setting the Skybox for.

Movie count for 2011: 17