War Horse appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Expect very few concerns here.
Overall sharpness seemed excellent. A few wide shots came with a smidgen of softness, but those instances occurred only a couple of times and remained brief. Instead, the vast majority of the flick appeared accurate and concise. I witnessed no signs of moiré effects or jaggies, and the image seemed to lack edge haloes or artifacts. As expected, the image came without print flaws; it was consistently clean and fresh.
Colors varied with its mix of settings; they ranged from warm and romantic to cold and desaturated. The Blu-ray represented all these tones well, though it looked best with the more dynamic hues; those appeared vivid and full. Blacks seemed dense and tight, while shadows were clear and smooth. This ended up as a fine presentation.
Spielberg movies always come with good soundtracks, and that remained true for this film’s DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix. As expected, the various battle sequences offered the most obvious “demo reel” material, as those tended to open up the soundscape in an impressive manner. Sound designer Gary Rydstrom earned an Oscar for his Saving Private Ryan work; while the audio for War Horse didn’t quite live up to the 1998 flick’s highs, it still delivered a high octane mix when necessary.
You’ll find the majority of those moments in the film’s second half, as the first hour-plus tended to focus more on the bucolic Irish farm sequences. Those still seemed solid, as they offered a nice sense of place and environment. The entire package blended together smoothly to create a consistently involving soundscape, and when we entered the war, it kicked into higher gear. Elements moved around the room in an accurate manner and the track engulfed us in the action. This turned into a terrific soundfield.
Audio quality lived up to the soundscape’s standards as well. Speech appeared concise and clear, with a natural feel at all times. Music seemed bright and full, and effects packed a real punch. They were always accurate and they showed excellent punch during louder moments. This was just a notch below “demo level” audio, as the track appeared well above average.
Across this two-Blu-ray set, we get a mix of extras. On Disc One, we start with War Horse: The Journey Home. a roundtable discussion that involves director Steven Spielberg, producer Kathleen Kennedy, director of photographer Janusz Kaminski, production designer Rick Carter, screenwriter Richard Curtis, editor Michael Kahn, costume designer Joanna Johnston, and actors Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, and Toby Kebbell. (Note that Kaminski, Carter, Curtis, Kahn and Johnston don’t appear until the program’s second half.)
“Journey” discusses story and characters, cast and performances, working with horses, script areas and editing, costume and visual design, sets and locations, and general production thoughts. The program delivers a pretty good overview. At no point does it threaten to become particularly deep, but it’s fun to see the various participants chat and interact, and we learn enough to get us interested in the Blu-ray’s deeper components.
We also find An Extra’s Point of View. It goes for three minutes, six seconds and follows extra Martin D. Dew on the set. Despite its brevity, “View” delivers an enjoyable take on the life of the bit player.
When we shift to Disc Two, we get the lion’s share of the package’s bonus materials. The big attraction comes from a documentary called A Filmmaking Journey. It fills one hour, four minutes, 13 seconds with comments from Spielberg, Kennedy, Kaminski, Carter, Watson, Irvine, Hiddleston, Johnston, Curtis, Kahn, Kebbell, author Michael Morpurgo, executive producer Revel Guest, equine artistic advisor Alexandra Bannister, equine hair and makeup supervisor Charlotte Rogers, horse master Bobby Lovgren, American Humane Association representative Barbara Carr, Duke of Wellington’s grandson Arthur Mornington, costume supervisor David Crossman, military advisor Dr. David Kenyon, stunt coordinator Rob Inch, special effects coordinator Neil Corbould, master armourer Simon Atherton, screenwriter Lee Hall, military advisor Andrew Robertshaw, and actors David Thewlis, Peter Mullan, Benedict Cumberbatch, Patrick Kennedy, David Kross, Celine Buckens, Niels Arestrup, Rainer Bock, and Robert Emms.
“Journey” examines the source material and its adaptation, how Spielberg came on-board, sets and locations, cinematography, costumes and production design, cast, characters and performances, working with horses and shooting military scenes, stunts and effects, and some general thoughts. “Journey” takes a path that follows the film’s chronology; we examine the subjects in the order followed in the flick. That sounds like it could become disjointed, but it actually works well. We learn quite a lot about the production in this smooth, informative show.
Three featurettes follow. Editing and Scoring goes for eight minutes, 53 seconds and offers material from Kahn, Spielberg and composer John Williams. They discuss – shocker! – editing and music. This is a competent piece but not one that seems particularly insightful.
The Sounds of War Horse lasts seven minutes, 13 seconds and features Spielberg and sound designer/re-recording mixer Gary Rydstrom. We hear about the sources Rydstrom used to create the various sound effects in this consistently interesting chat.
Finally, Through the Producer’s Lens runs four minutes, four seconds and includes info from Kennedy. She chats about the film while we see photos she shot on the set. I don’t think her comments add much – they’re pretty general and “happy talk-ish” – but I like the ability to see some of her photos.
A third platter brings DVD version of the film with one extra: a featurette called War Horse: The Look. It goes for six minutes, 29 seconds and offers notes from Spielberg, Irvine, Johnston, Hiddleston, Cumberbatch, Carter, Kaminski, and Kennedy. “Look” examines costume and production design as well as cinematography. Though it stands on its own, “Look” just takes a little of “A Filmmaking Journey”; if you’ve watched that show, you’ll find nothing new here.
(By the way, at the risk of sounding petty, does Spielberg’s pronunciation of “war” drive anyone else crazy? Instead of the more standard “wore”, he says “warr”. I’m not sure why this irks me so much, but it does!)
We also find a separate digital copy of War Horse on a fourth disc.
With War Horse, Steven Spielberg delivers a piece of good – though often sentimental – entertainment. I like the film but don’t think it rises close to the level of the director’s better work, however; Spielberg creates something professional and enjoyable but not better than that. The Blu-ray boasts excellent picture and audio along with a generally informative package of bonus materials. Spielberg fans will want to check out this one, but don’t expect greatness from it.