Synopsis: DreamWorks Pictures’ “War Horse,” director Steven Spielberg’s epic adventure, is a tale of loyalty, hope and tenacity set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during the First World War. “War Horse” begins with the remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him. When they are forcefully parted, the film follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets-British cavalry, German soldiers, and a French farmer and his granddaughter-before the story reaches its emotional climax in the heart of No Man’s Land.
The First World War is experienced through the journey of this horse-an odyssey of joy and sorrow, passionate friendship and high adventure. “War Horse” is one of the great stories of friendship and war- a successful book, it was turned into a hugely successful international theatrical hit that is currently on Broadway. It now comes to screen in an epic adaptation by one of the great directors in film history.
Release Date: December 25, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Historical
Although Disney is mostly known for their animated features, much of the company’s works in the fifties and sixties were made up of live-action adventure serials for both the big screen and television. Such famous titles as Zorro, The Hardy Boys, and 50,000 Leagues Under the Sea were among the many live-action adventure shows and features that held a very certain ascetic of low budget production with grand scale showings. Now, some 50 years after the original “Mickey Mouse Club” serials were last shown, director Steven Spielberg pays tribute to these classics in the new movie War Horse, an episodic series of short stories told of the many different types of people involved in the first World War through the focal point of a horse named Joey and his young owner Albert attempting to find each other through the chaos of the conflict.
War Horse begins in the Scottish Highlands, where a stubborn old farmer named Ted Narracot (Peter Mullan) buys a young stallion in order to plow what seems to be an impossible piece of rocky land on his property in order to grow crops to sell for the upcoming war. His son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) takes a liking to the horse, names him Joey, and takes the task of training him. When the war comes to a head in Europe, the family is forced to sell Joey to a young British officer (Tom Hiddleston) who takes Joey as his mount in an attack on the German forces. From there, Joey becomes the property of several other individuals including a young German boy and his brother who attempt to escape the war, a young sick French girl and her grandfather who live in occupied France, and to an empathetic German handler in the German heavy artillery unit. Throughout Joey’s journey we see how these people’s lives are affected by the First World War along with the hope, despair, violence, and final armistice of it.
War Horse was made for the sole purpose of recreating the feeling and style of classic cinema. The characters are simple and usually summed up within two or three lines of dialogue a piece, the settings are basic yet romanticized landscapes made to ignite feelings of both potential and comfort in the audience, and the acting is very stern with as little dialogue used as possible to sum up scenarios. While this can become slightly boring and somewhat played out at times, the movie has the advantage of constantly changing viewpoints and scenarios by telling a group of small stories rather than one straight narrative. The best of these short stories comes when a German and British soldier attempt to cut Joey from barbwire during a lull in the battle, showing a more humane side to the German’s than what is present during the rest of the movie. The movie also attempts to be a movie for all age groups and interest levels, with the war scenes being fast paced and tension driven while leaving out any excessive violence and gore. This works well enough and makes the movie safer for children and sensitive types to watch without taking it out of the war movie genre.
The story of War Horse is told in a sort of The Things They Carried war stories format. Beginning in the Scottish Highlands showing what pre WWI farm life was like, the movies point of view moves from the life of a British Calvary man, A.W.O.L. German soldiers, residents of occupied France, and finally into the trenches of no man’s land fighting. Joey the horse, while the central focus of the movie, works more as a set piece than a character through most of it, having the audience focus more on the lives of the people he interacts with. This device works very well for a movie about World War I, being that there has never been that great of focus on the wars history compared to large amounts of screen time World War II receives. The shifting focus allows for several small stories to be told within the movies framing and keeps it from becoming stale at any point.
The writing does however seem to become extremely thick at times. The ending especially attempts far too hard to pull on the audience’s heart strings and convince us that the suffering and life of the horse is more important than the wounded soldiers and mass casualties of the war. The ending also seems to tack on a short but forced full circle scene that does little more than make the ending ten minutes longer than it needs to be. But despite the thickness and over dramatics of certain scenes, the movie’s story manages to be entertaining and does capture a sort of classic serial feel.
Everything in War Horse visually is over blown in order to create a feeling of older cinema while shooting with modern movie technology. The first half of the movie takes place primarily in The Scottish Highlands, with several sweeping shots of the hills and sky used for dramatic effect. From there, as Joey moves throughout Europe, the style never particularly changes as different farms, fields, and barracks are shown in the same romanticized and grandiose fashion. The only time the scenery and tone does significantly shift is during the ending battle scenes, which turn to an almost verbatim copy Â of the famous Saving Private Ryan D-day opening, where one solider is used as the central focus so as to show how disorienting and personal trench warfare can be.
While the style could be said to fit the motif of the movie’s old time epic feel, it does at times become hard not to laugh at how typically cinematic it looks. The sky’s colors are often impossible shades of blue, red, and grey and many of the war scenes are too played out and choreographed for their own good. Still, it is a fun movie to look at and any fans of such purposely retro films such as Australia, Moulin Rouge, and Peter Jackson’s King Kong will be entertained by the shooting style.
Arguably the master of cinematic scores, John Williams is at the helm of War Horse‘s nostalgic soundtrack. The music is mostly made up of flighty string armaments with the tones ranging from fast paced race music for the lighthearted scenes to somber funeral marches for the more dire moments. The music, like most of the movie’s features, is meant to invoke a feeling of older cinema; which it accomplishes quite well. It is however somewhat underplayed in many of the scenes, leaving some of the better pieces unnoticed and leaving what could have been a very grandiose soundtrack as little more than background noise.â¨
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Steven Spielberg
- Producer(s): Lee HallRichard Curtis
- Screenwriter(s): Tom Hiddlestone (Captain Nichols)David Thewlis (Lyons)Emily Watson (Rose Narracott)
- Story: Benedict Cumberbatch (Major Stewart)
- Cast: Jeremy Irvine (Albert)Peter Mullan (Ted Narracott) Michael KahnJanusz KaminskiRick Carter
- Cinematographer: John Williams
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA