BLU-RAY REVIEW: War Horse
A boy, a horse, and a war take center stage in Spielberg's latest, now on home video...
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There are certain moves which transcend time and were, are, and will be great no matter when you watch them. Many historical films are like this as they define a specific time and place for a specific audience and present a story that's both timely and timeless. War Horse is one of those movies.
Set during the years building up to and throughout the first Great War, War Horse introduces movie-goers to Joey, a English thoroughbred horse unlike any other. Raised in the English countryside by his young master Albert (Jeremy Irvine), Joey grows to become an unlikely hero. Forced to do the work of a horse twice his size, Joey becomes a local champion and later, his heroics seemingly continue to grow as the horse is forced to become a mount for a British cavalryman, the companion and friend to a weakened teenage girl, a work horse for the German war machine, and - finally - a top choice for the glue factory...at least for a moment.
Director Steven Spielberg delivers an engaging, exciting, and entergaining film that may be overly sentimental in every fashion, but still remains true to spirit and heart. War Horse is beautiful to behold thanks to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski's masterful eye (he also brought to life Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List). Likewise, the film's gorgeousness is only complimented more by John Williams' score, which - like most of Williams' work - is graceful without showing weakness and powerful without being overbearing. While there are a few plot points which may required audiences to suspend our disbelief a bit more than I'm comfortable with, War Horse delivers a film that'll both tug on the heart strings, make one sit up and cheer, and keep you watching from start to finish...which isn't bad for a film that's 2 hours and 27 minutes long!
No doubt the true star of the film has four legs and fur, but the acting by the talented cast - including the previously mentioned Jeremy Irvine as well as Tom Hiddleston , Benedict Cumberbatch, David Thewlis, and Emily Watson among others - is solid as well. Each plays their roles with easy and though there are a few overly dramatic moments which seem somewhat forced, the cast of War Horse never seems disconnected or disjointed.
The film on blu-ray is gorgeous with a bright, sharp 1080p video transfer that'll catch the eye and keep you watching. Textures are rich, colors bold, and blur nearly non-existent. Likewise, the film's Master Audio 7.1 DTS-HD surround sound track delivers the chatting of the hearth and home, the buzzing of nature, and the roaring of the battlefield. Again, Williams' score delivers impressive backgrounds while the sound stage fills with the dynamic effects which bring us into the film. One of the most impressive scenes delivers the galloping of Joey charging through the front lines, barbed wire and barricades trailing, the screeching of rockets and munitions overhead, and the agony cries of the wounded and dying all around. Though hard to watch - especially for horse-lovers - the scenes is brilliant to behold (even if it's a little far fetched).
As for special features, the 4-disc combo set includes a plethora that'll have most fans of the film watching for hours and hours. The longest and most impressive is the hour-long "A Filmmaking Journey," which explores the film's development, production, casting, location, characters, themes, battles, production design, and everything in between. While it could have been longer and included much more information, it's a pleasant addition that fans of the film will surely appreciate. For fans looking for more info, a much shorter 20-minute featurette - "War Horse: The Journey Home" - shows director Steven Spielberg chatting up two roundtable discussions - the first with the film's cast and the second with crew and creators. While it too could have been much longer and much more engaging, fans of the film will appreciate this expanding on the info presented in the previously mentioned featurette. Again, everything from the story's creation and the film's themes to the horse training and film's production is discussed.
Other special features include a short, 3-minute featurette - "An Extra's Point of View" - is shown from the viewpoint of Martin Dew, an extra on the film who was filming almost every day in various roles; a 9-minute "Editing & Scoring" featurette with editor Michael Kahn and composer John Williams, who both discuss their views of the film and their work on War Horse; a 7-minute "The Sounds of War Horse," which focuses on sound designer Gary Rydstrom's work on the movie; and lastly, the 4-minute "Through the Producer's Lens," which shows producer Kathleen Kennedy and her views (and photos) on the film. While there are a few things which could have been explored in more depth, War Horse includes a solid amount of bonus material that'll keep many fans entertained and learning following their enjoyment of the film.
It's rare for me to enjoy a movie that's near 150 minutes in length and, though War Horse may have its faults, it's still one of those films that, once watched, will resonate with the right crowd and be enjoyed again and again. A tale of loyalty, bravery, sacrifice, courage, honor, and love, War Horse will appeal to a large audience, including fans of war films, history buffs, horse-lovers, Spielberg addicts, and anyone who wants to see what an Academy-Award nominee looks like. No doubt War Horse will be appreciated by audiences of all ages for years to come.
War Horse is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of war violence and is available now on both DVD and blu-ray wherever fine home video is sold.
- Jess C. Horsley