War Horse Blu-ray Review
As I’m watching Steven Spielberg’s WAR HORSE galloping through World War I, I couldn’t help but think how incredible this movie would have been if Steven Spielberg had made it 25 years ago; before the Crystal Skull and before he became so jaded with movies that he lost sight of how to tell a true story of innocence lost. But it’s a testament to Spielberg’s greatness that even with an emptiness to the film, he can still make a movie that’s better than 95% of everything else that’s out there.
WAR HORSE tells the story of a young horse named Joey that is raised and cared for by a young boy named Albert (Jeremy Irvine). After Albert’s father risks everything to take a chance on the horse, Albert grooms Joey and trains him to become an unconventional work horse. But soon, World War I gets underway and Joey is sold to a British officer (Tom Hiddleston) to support the war effort. This sets off a series of ownership changes for Joey as he tries to survive the war and make his way back home.
You’ll hear many directors say they never want to work with animals and while most assume it’s because of the difficulties involved with getting animals to do what you want, I always felt that it’s more because it’s harder to convey an animal’s emotions and intentions than it is with a human. Spielberg had his work cut out for him with WAR HORSE because the audience needed to truly feel that Joey was more than just a horse, but that he was a horse with honor, integrity and loyalty. Spielberg showed this in several ways, from having Joey struggle leaving his mother to running to the aid of a horse he had befriended. Before we knew it, the audience was fully invested into the plight of Joey and as Joey felt sadness, so did the audience. Joey is the star of the film, and credit does have to be given to Spielberg for establishing him as a character so efficiently.
But too often, the emotions and joy we felt watching the film were in spite of Spielberg, not because of him. As Spielberg is so accustomed to doing these days, he relied way too heavily on the score from his trusty friend John Williams. At no point in the film was the audience allowed to react naturally to the events transpiring onscreen because we were constantly bombarded with Williams’ score. There’s no subtlety in the score of WAR HORSE, which made too much of the film feel forced.
Then there’s the cinematography of frequent Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski. Kaminski and Spielberg have worked together almost exclusively since SCHINDLER’S LIST. Kaminski was brilliant on List and has had numerous shining moments since then. But the last few times Spielberg and Kaminski have been together (WAR HORSE, CRYSTAL SKULL, MUNICH), it has been distracting. They rely too heavily on a light-generated halo effect that makes the settings seem unnatural and fake. This was especially true with any scene in daylight and all of the scenes on Albert’s farm. The frustrating thing about this in terms of WAR HORSE is that the lush England landscapes didn’t need any tricks or special film. Just showing a horse with a mountainside backdrop is enough.
With all of that said, the story is about a horse surviving incredible circumstances and making his way back home during a time of war. Spielberg may not be the same director he was when he did E.T. or EMPIRE OF THE SUN, but he’s still one of the best around and he tells the story in a manner that it’s impossible not to care for the horse. And I’ll admit; I cried on two separate occasions, so the movie does have heart. That care and genuine desire to root for the horse’s success is what carries WAR HORSE and makes it enjoyable in spite of its shortcomings.
Video: WAR HORSE is absolutely stunning. The outdoor scenery is beautiful and majestic, shining through incredibly well on Blu-ray.
Audio: As beautiful as WAR HORSE was, it sounded just as wonderful.
War Horse: The Journey Home (19:35): Steven Spielberg and key cast members show sit at a roundtable and talk about WAR HORSE. The idea is brilliant and as they were talking, I really enjoyed when they were talking. Unfortunately, there were too many scenes from the movie spliced in, so it was hard to ever get going. Spielberg had me chuckle when he said “I had never directed a horse that wasn’t under Harrison Ford”.
An Extra’s Point of View (3:06): Extra Martin Dew talks about his experiences on WAR HORSE. This was a nice featurette and something I’ve never seen before. At three minutes long, it was short enough so it didn’t drag on.
A Filmmaking Journey (1:04:13): This is a nice, extensive featurette about how WAR HORSE came to be. Spielberg talks about seeing the play for the first time in London. Then he and Janusz Kaminski talk about shooting in England and the challenges they faced shooting virtually the entire film outside. This is an engaging documentary and is well worth the time.
Editing and Scoring (8:53): Editor Michael Kahn and composer John Williams talk about what WAR HORSE meant to them and the inspiration they found working on it. Steven Spielberg pops up to praise both of them.
The Sounds of War Horse (7:13): The sound team talk about the sounds in WAR HORSE and how they tried to make the film sound authentic and some of the creative techniques they used to find sounds in the film.
Through The Producer’s Lens (4:04): Kathleen Kennedy talks about WAR HORSE and we see snapshots she took on the set. She took some beautiful pictures, but I’m not sure this merited its own featurette.
This set also includes the DVD and digital copy of WAR HORSE