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Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson

This film could be more traditional Hollywood and old school Steven Spielberg. The story follows the epic struggle of one magical horse as he struggles to survive a war and multiple owners to find his way home. Normally a story of this type would be told in animated form and some well-known actor would give him a voice. Spielberg is one of the few directors left in Hollywood that can take this sort of story and make it palpable in a standard live action film. Think Black Beauty, My Friend Flicka, and even just a little bit of Benji all mixed together. Yes in the old days there were plenty of precocious animal movies and television shows.

The movie

The movie follows the war horse himself and his young owner Albert. Albert’s beloved horse is sold to the cavalry so Albert enlists to fight the good fight during WW1. The film vaguely follows Albert as he leaves England during the war but it focuses more on his horse. Right away this is where the film makes its’ first misstep. The core of the story is supposed to be the journey of this boy and his horse as they attempt to reunite but instead the story becomes convoluted with the horses multiple owners becoming too central to the plot. We’re supposed to care about some of these owners yet we’re also supposed to want to see Albert and the horse reunited. Who do we root for? Often it’s just difficult to tell. Some of the subplots, as beautifully shot as they were could have simply been cut from the film and no one would have been the wiser.

Speaking of the way the film is shot, several scenes are just jaw dropping. Spielberg and his cinematography handle the look of this movie with a level of passion and care that you just don’t see often in these days of reality TV and shot on video movies (this coming from a guy who shoots a lot of projects on video). The closing scene of this film looks more like a painting than a scene from a movie, it’s just beautiful and it sells the emotional beat that Spielberg was looking for perfectly. There are a couple of similar knock out scenes with the horse hitting the action at full stride too. Not a single minute of the film fails in this respect. The sound mix and the very old Hollywood style score also perfectly fit this film. I took my parents to see the film in the theater and I got the feeling from them that they were watching a movie they might have seen when they were young and that in and of itself is an amazing accomplishment.

Unfortunately the film’s pace is inconsistent with long segments of unnecessary plotting and the come and go nature of many of the characters just doesn’t work here. There are so many characters that they don’t get the time needed for them to truly matter to us as they are apparently supposed too. There are a few scenes in the film that it would normally get dinged for by me too that actually do work here. The biggest one is the epic speech during one particular battle made by a military leader. Normally I hate the sort of melodramatic monologues with the swelling music but again, these types of scenes are classic Hollywood and this one is right at home in War Horse.
Steve Spielberg is an American icon, one of the most talented filmmakers of all time and much of what he is capable of is on display in this film. I do fear though that he focused on the craftsmanship of the film too much and not enough on refining the script during the early stages of working on this project.


The Video

Stunning, just stunning. I don’t think there was a film in 2011 that came even close to looking as beautiful as War Horse and it all comes through with shining color and clarity on this blu-ray. Dark scenes manage to produce inky blacks while not losing the details and the epic sepia coated scenes again look like paintings as they did in the theater. There’s some grain here and there but overall the video is stunning.


The Audio

The 7.2 Master audio surround sound here brings John William’s score to life as well as all of the sounds of the battles the war horse is put through. The sound is dynamic and immersive while still producing clear dialogue throughout. There’s only a few instances where the dialogue is just a little soft. You may have to ride your volume controls a bit too if you aren’t watching in a surround sound environment.


The Packaging and Bonus features

The packaging focuses simply on the horse and not the actors, which is a wonderful surprise. The cover art again fits with the old Hollywood motif of the film itself. Good stuff.

First off, Steven Spielberg really knows how to hold a grudge. I say this because the man hasn’t done a director’s commentary since the laser disc days. His disappointment in the failure of that medium has led him to refuse to do audio commentaries since. That’s unfortunate because aspiring filmmakers could learn a lot from listening to this man talk about his process while watching his films.

The combo pack features 4 discs with the film on the first disc, a second disc of bonus features, a digital copy, and finally an SD copy on DVD. There’s a bevy of documentaries and featurettes covering the look of the film, Steven Spielberg sharing the process of making the film, the look of the film, sound, video, editing, and music, and even a featurette focused on the work of the film’s extras. Even though there aren’t any commentaries all of these featurettes do offer up the goods on how this film was made.


It’s just such a shame that the script didn’t get a little more attention here prior to the filming of War Horse. Steven Spielberg and his team fire on all cylinders when it comes to the look of the film but the story just doesn’t really work.

Overall (Not an Average) 6/10

The Review
The Movie 5/10
The Video 8.5/10
The Audio 9/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10
Overall (Not an average) 6/10