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Steven Spielberg
Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, Niels Arestrup, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Celine Buckens
Writing Credits:
Lee Hall, Richard Curtis, Michael Morpurgo (novel)

Separated by war. Tested by battle. Bound by friendship.

From legendary director Steven Spielberg comes the epic adventure War Horse, a tale of incredible loyalty, hope, and tenacity. Based on the Tony Award-winning Broadway play, and set against the sweeping canvas of World War I, this deeply heartfelt story begins with the remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and his young trainer Albert. When they’re forced apart by war, we follow Joey’s extraordinary journey as he changes and inspires the lives of everyone he meets. Filled with spectacularly rich visuals — and complete with never-before-seen bonus features — War Horse is a “genuine movie masterpiece,” (Rex Reed) and one of the most powerful and moving stories of friendship ever told.

Box Office:
$66 million.
Opening Weekend
$14.527 million on 2376 screens.
Domestic Gross
$72.285 million.

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
English DTS-HD MA 7.1
English Descriptive Video 2.0
French DTS-HD HR 7.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 146 min.
Price: $45.99
Release Date: 4/4/2012

• “War Horse: The Journey Home” Featurette
• “An Extra’s Point of View” Featurette
• “A Filmmaking Journey” Documentary
• “Editing and Scoring” Featurette
• “The Sounds of War Horse” Featurette
• “Through the Producer’s Lens” Featurette
• Sneak Peeks
• DVD Copy
• Digital Copy


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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War Horse [Blu-Ray] (2011)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 27, 2012)

A few times in the past, Steven Spielberg released two movies in the same year. He topped himself in 2011, however; not only did he put out two separate directorial efforts that year, but also these hit US screens four days apart. The Adventures of Tintin made it first on December 21, and War Horse popped up on Christmas Day.

Perhaps Spielberg bit off more than he could chew, as neither film made an enormous impact. Tintin did pretty well at the international box office but clocked in with less than $80 million in the US and got good-but-not-great reviews. War Horse earned a virtually identical US gross and received a smidgen more critical love – including an Oscar nomination for Best Picture - but didn’t make much of a dent commercially anywhere else in the world.

Which is probably about right, for War Horse offers good but spotty Spielberg. Adapted from a novel, the film takes us to Ireland pre-World War I. Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine) develops an attachment to a newborn foal, and when the horse grows up, his father Ted (Peter Mullan) takes a financial risk and purchases the animal.

Ted wants to use the horse – now named “Joey” – to plow the fields, but all the townsfolk think this is folly. However, the tough beast proves them all wrong and shows his strength.

Before long, war erupts, and against Albert’s wishes, Ted sells Joey into the military. Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) takes custody of the horse but promises to return Joey to Albert when the war concludes. Determined to keep tabs on Joey, Albert eventually enlists in the services as well. We follow their separate journeys and adventures as they work toward a hoped-for reunion.

If nothing else, War Horse may go down as Spielberg’s most beautiful film. With cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, the film becomes a frequently lovely piece of work. Actually, the film does occasionally opt for stylized visuals that take on an uglier appearance – particularly during the war scenes - but it still leaves me with the impression of a golden Technicolor glow.

The whole thing comes with a very “John Ford feel”. Spielberg made his affection for Ford’s The Quiet Man known when he featured it prominently in 1982’s ET the Extra-Terrestrial, and that movie’s influence – along with Ford’s How Green Was My Valley - becomes obvious here. These efforts don’t share a ton of story connections, though the working family theme of Valley plays a part here. Nonetheless, one can easily sense Ford’s impact on Spielberg, as the movie comes across like an update on the earlier director’s work.

On the other hand, Horse embraces a more “epic” scope than those Ford films, and it does fine for itself in that regard. Indeed, the movie follows some real twists as it goes on its way. During the first act, we may believe that the tale will focus mainly on Albert and we’ll get a Ford-style drama about an Irish working-class family.

Once war begins, however, that changes and the title becomes more logical. (Hey, it’s not called Farm Horse, is it?) When Joey leaves Ireland, we lose Albert much of the time and focus on the animal.

That’s an interesting twist and a reasonably successful one, as I’m not sure how much I’d want to spend two hours down on the farm with Albert and his family. Not that they tell a bad story, but the notion of war from the horse’s point of view offers intrigue, and the movie takes us down a variety of fairly good paths.

But only fairly good, as War Horse simply lacks something that’d make it Special With a Capital “S”. Oh, it tries very hard to be Special, as it encompasses all sorts of dramatic themes and topics. Spielberg seems to envision War Horse as a mix of his more “adult” dramas like Saving Private Ryan and his earlier “escapist” fare such as ET.

Though not unsuccessful, Spielberg can’t quite make those two ends meet. A film like this probably would’ve worked better from a younger Spielberg; the director circa 1982 could’ve given the movie the kind of wide-eyed sentiment that he just can’t quite pull off these days.

Granted, the elder Spielberg probably executes the battle sequences better, but I still think the younger version could’ve made this a stronger film simply because he’d more aptly connect to the story’s heart. Older Spielberg comes across as a more anonymous director, one who can’t quite decide what path he wants to follow, so the end result seems less than enthralling.

Not that all the movie’s flaws stem from Spielberg’s direction. The story itself lacks cohesion because it tries to tell so many different tales. At its heart, it follows Joey, but even that title character gets lost in the shuffle more than occasionally. I understand that it would’ve been tough to follow events solely from a “horse’s eye view”, but I still believe we lose track of Joey too often and he becomes minimized during too many of the subplots. I like the concept and the manner in which we follow different aspects of the war through the miracle horse’s life, but the result lacks the consistency to make the notion fly.

Again, none of this makes War Horse a bad film, as it does keep us entertained and occupied during its almost two and a half hour running time. It also manages to tug the expected heartstrings and deliver a sentimental but engaging tale. It just doesn’t ever manage to elevate itself into the ranks of something special; this winds up as solid but unexceptional entertainment.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio A/ Bonus B

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.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.875 Stars Number of Votes: 48
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