I wrote this goofy little “review” after watching War Horse a few years ago.
14 War Horse’s and a goose
I wanted to like this movie, I really did. What could be more endearing than a story about a boy and his horse, torn apart by war? Set in the early 1900’s against the backdrop of the sixth deadliest conflict in history and directed by Steven Spielberg – it was bound to be an epic experience. It was not. At least it was not for me.
“The Movies 3” theatre in Rawlins Wyoming was not showing War Horse over the holiday’s like most of the larger theatres. I would wait to see it a week later when I returned home. It sounded like an excellent way to ring in the New Year. With a pocket full of Kleenex and a hefty amount of expectation, I purchased a ticket and strolled into theatre #1, now showing “War Horse.”
The theatre was virtually empty. I laid my coat at the end of an empty row and went up front for a three dollar box of chocolate covered almonds and a four dollar root-beer. The price of a ticket and concessions might explain the large number of empty seats.
With concession items in hand, I walked back into the dimly lit theatre to find the entire row next to my coat occupied. Looking around the theatre, I could not help notice that except for a few scattered movie goers, my row had suddenly become very popular. Not wanting to appear rude, I chose not to pick up my coat and move to a less popular row. I picked up my coat and stared at the row-invaders who in turn, stared back. I pretended to shake out my coat blatantly in the faces of the invaders, intending to dispel any doubt as to who was here first. I sat next to a gentleman who smelled like nicotine and stale gym socks and made weird, guttural noises.
There is something about witnessing a person attending functions alone that makes some nervous. I personally enjoy going to the movies by myself. I can enjoy an entire movie without listening to another’s narrative. I can focus wholly on the movie and not worry about what the other person may or may not be thinking and if they smell bad or make weird noises, I can take comfort in knowing they won’t be going home with me.
The man setting to my right was obviously very uncomfortable that I chose to come back to my designated seat. I would not yield. I was here first. I scooted as far to the left as I could, sat at an almost 45º angle to the big screen, and tried not to breathe too deeply. The man shot several sideways glances in my direction throughout the movie, presumably looking around for the “other person” who surely accompanied this lone movie-goer. I’m telling you – it freaks people out to see someone go to the movies without a date. You can get the same reaction standing with your back to the door and facing everyone in an elevator full of people. Try it sometime, it’s a kick.
The movie opens with a minimum of four different foals/colts portraying Joey, the equine actor. I just don’t get it. With today’s technology in CG – can they not find two doubles portraying the same horse to look at least believable? I understand the need to utilize multiple horses in a move that encompass the lifespan of the horse. I understand the need for stunt doubles. I get it, really. I read they used 14 doubles to portray Joey from foal to adult horse. I have little doubt that if given the time, any horse enthusiast worth their salt could point out every 14 of those horses. From markings to confirmation – none of them matched; even the gates of the different horses were off. Granted, I suffer from a healthy dose of OCD and probably notice such things more than the normal person would. I might expect such a thing in pre-CG and spaghetti westerns, but in today’s computer generated graphics and special effect technology…come on…slap a little air-brushing on the horse and at least make it somewhat convincing.
I did not care for the casting of the lead role for Albert, played by actor Jeremy Irvine. I kept waiting for the type of on-screen connection between human and horse l saw in The Black Stallion, starring Kelly Reno as Alec. Nope. Flat. I felt the movie could have relied entirely on the interaction of the supporting actors and horses.
There were a few scenes, while hard to watch, almost brought me to the edge of my seat…almost, but not quite; just when I thought it was about to happen, my butt would slide back into the seat with disappointment as cold as the theatre seating itself.
The scene where Joey runs through the battlefield and becomes entangled in barbed wire would have been more dramatic had it been believable. Anybody who’s been around horses knows that a horse can cut his leg clean-off in 2 feet of a single strand wire. Had that scene actually occurred, it would be unlikely the horse’s body would have remained attached to his head.
The movie was predictable. I felt like I was watching a remake of Black Beauty; especially when Topthorn entered the scene. Everyone knows the equine side-kick in any movie is as doomed as a Cartwright boy’s fiancé. Topthorn’s fate, although sad, was no surprise. The most unnecessary scene of the movie enters here. Did they have to show the tank ominously rolling toward Topthorn’s dead body? I had to look away, even though I was assured later they didn’t actually show the dead horse being squashed under the tracks, I could not watch it. I understand the conflict Spielberg and Michael Morpurgo, author of the original book of the same name, was trying to portray; the impending coming of advanced heavy artillery and military warfare that rapidly rendered the horse in battle obsolete. I felt the same effect was better portrayed in the scene where Joey jumps over the tank and into the trenches; much less disturbing, for sure.
The scene where Tommy and Fritz free Joey from the barbed wire was the one redeeming scene in the whole movie for me. Might it have happened? Unlikely. I suppose in real wartime, someone would have shot the horse and continued on with the killing of each other. Regardless, when a dozen or more wire-cutters flew out of the enemy trenches, I actually smiled for the first time during the movie. Other than a goose making an occasional appearance throughout the film, it would be the last.
To sum up a rather long critique (and my first ever) – I found War Horse predictable, unbelievable and the characters lacking charisma. If the horse could actually have survived such a Calvary charge or the barbed-wire episode, being forced to watch his own premier of War Horse, “Joey,” I fear, would have died from boredom.