Cast: Jeremy Irvine, David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch
Fordham University '15
"I am Ozymandias, king of kings: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" -Percy Bysshe Shelley
Review By: Kieran Newton
Last October, I happened to go see the play War Horse on Broadway. I came out of it with mixed feelings. The main allure of the play had paid off: there were teams of puppeteers who worked full horse puppets in a way that was terrifyingly realistic. Most of the time, you didn’t really care what was going on around the horses, because you were just enraptured by the lifelike qualities they possessed. This was a good thing, too—the story was pretty trite and overly dramatic, with enough cheese to make you gag. It was a play that shone on the technical elements, rather than the story it told.
So when I heard that Stephen Spielberg was making this play into a major motion picture, I was really confused. It wasn’t that great to begin with, and in such an adaptation, the phenomenal puppetry would be replaced with actual horses, which sort of misses the point. What sort of surprised me, then, was that I actually liked the vast majority of War Horse, even better than I did the play. It’s not perfect—the script is the rotten core of the film, sadly—but it did a pretty great job of telling this story in a way that was not only effective, but also pretty darn emotional.
However, I give almost none of that credit to the script, and maybe only slightly more to the story itself. War Horse is an epic, in several senses: it follows the journey of this horse through various locales, with different characters all interacting differently with this one horse, bringing out the humanity in each. He starts his life in Britain, on a small farm, before being sent to war in World War I, then escaping to a French farm, somehow getting back to the front, etc. Now, this could have been handled pretty fantastically; however, screenwriter Richard Curtis didn’t really have a whole lot to work with from the original play, and he didn’t improve much on the dialogue. While it’s pretty mundane throughout, the worst iterations of dialogue are at the beginning of the film, when young Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) is training the horse, named Joey, to come when he calls, pull a plow, etc. As an owner of three cats, I understand that one just sort of…talks to an animal, usually rather inanely, but regardless of whether it’s true, it doesn’t make good cinema.
So why, then, towards the end of this film, was I tearing up? It certainly wasn’t a result of the dialogue. Well, here is where the genius of Spielberg comes in. The cinematography, lighting, positioning of figures in the frame, framerate…everything that was on that screen was gold. As the movie progressed, I found myself becoming highly emotional just by looking at the technical brilliance of the film. The ending sequence is particularly striking, as well
These are the best moments in the film: where no dialogue is exchanged, because none is required. That is where the film shines. In comparison, then, the featurettes also on this four-disc package sort of…ruined the effect. They’re all interviews, most of them just sort of annoying, and really weirdly edited. I didn’t really care. If you want to listen to the producer, the sound designer, the editor, and an extra, of all things, discuss their own takes on the movie, then this BluRay is for you. If not, well, then maybe your money would be better spent elsewhere. The movie’s worth at least a viewing, but the disc doesn’t add much.