When it comes to making a slick Hollywood blockbuster Steven Spielberg has got them all beat. His film adaptation of the West End and Broadway smash hits, themselves based on Michael Morpurgo’s children’s novel, stands as a great lacquered testament to Tinsel Town magic and big budget production. It’s all there: Gone With the Wind style backdrops, the comic relief drunk with his own bumbling John Williams’ riff, an obnoxious goose, and enough heartwarming, triumph of the human spirit to melt an iceberg.
War Horse is the story of a boy and, well, his horse set against the backdrop of World War I era Europe. Jeremy Irvine plays Albert, an idealist with a can-do attitude and a desire to prove something. Not hard to picture, right? When his drunk, ex-war hero father brings home a horse, Albert is smitten. Maybe a little too smitten for comfort. When the war breaks out, Albert’s dad sells the horse to the army. Needless to say, Albert is really torn up about it, and he makes a vow to the horse—the requisite “Stay alive, no matter what occurs. I will find you,” although Irvine is no Daniel Day-Lewis.
From there our warhorse bounces from one owner to another taking various roles and inflicting heartache. From officer’s mount to lugging artillery up hills, this horse has seen it all. And through his many trials and travails we get a harried glimpse of the different sides of World War I. This happens to be the surprising inefficiency of the film. Spielberg movies are often finely wrought stories; everything has a place and nothing is too gratuitous. But in War Horse it’s hard to believe the attachments the various “owners” form with the horse, so brief are their relationships. Sure, this is the horse that united a war torn Europe—he is, ahem, the glue that binds the human spirit. But if you think about it, that’s kind of a wonky premise, cheesy to say the least.
But the name of the game is cheese. War Horse is stuffed with cheese, all kinds of it. The movie is, after all, a seasonal family flick, and the emotional punches run the gauntlet. There’s the aforementioned goose chasing off the pesky landlord, a little French girl who lives alone in the countryside with her granddad, those bucolic sound stage sunsets, and even an unlikely friendship between…horses. Did I mention the goose?
Truthfully, War Horse does have its moments. Most notable is the scene where two soldiers from opposing forces join together in No Man’s Land to rescue the animal trapped in barbed wire. The dialogue between the two is brotherly but with a bite of cynicism. They joke uneasily with each other. This scene sums up the horror and hypocrisy of war better than any equine could. The look of the movie, stylistically at least, is impressive. But do we expect any less from Spielberg? The answer is no. War Horse is exactly what we expect from Spielberg.
Blu-ray Special Features:
The DVD/Blu-ray War Horse combo pack comes with seven making-of featurettes, each seen through a different lens. There’s “An Extra’s Point of View,” an editing and scoring feature with John Williams, and photographs taken by the producer, Kathleen Kennedy, among others. Also featured in the combo pack is a digital copy to be watched anywhere on any computer or portable device.