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Old 15th Jan 2012, 12:51   #1
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Default War Horse

I had misgivings about seeing War Horse, having been to see, and been bowled over by, Michael Morpurgo's play at the National Theatre. Mr ono, on the other hand, had not been as impressed by the play as I was, so I was a wee bit surprised that he wanted to see Spielberg's movie version.

I raised an eyebrow in the very first scene, which depicted the boy Albert watching the foal Joey, who is to become the horse he so loves, being born. We see the foal lying on the ground, messy as you would expect having just emerged from its mother, but no nuzzling and licking from the mother horse, the foal simply gets to its feet and is immediately skipping around. Perhaps I've watched too many episodes of All Creatures Great and Small in my time, but I found this a bit odd.

I took some time to be really emotionally engaged with the characters, with the result that I found the first half-hour or so curiously flat, almost as if it were simply a prelude to what was to come. The point at which the film really got into its stride, for me, was a gorgeous scene where young Albert races Joey against a car being driven by the son of a local landowner, and thereafter I enjoyed it hugely.

It may be true that part of my emotional response to the film resulted from my memory of the play and therefore an anticipation of events and how I would react to them. But I can't deny that Spielberg took full advantage of his medium to present the audience with some tremendously memorable images, from a scene of hundreds of horses and men riding through eye-level grass, through a distance shot played through the sails of a windmill, to a pretty faithful rendering of one very stark scene which had such an impact in the play that I had wondered how it could be matched in the cinema.

Quite possibly I was suckered into the unavoidable sentimentality of a story that uses the relationship between a young man and a loyal, trusting animal to pull the audience's heartstrings and say: 'Look, these young men as are much innocents to the slaughter as these animals which simply submit to their fate.' I readily confess to feeling hugely sentimental about the relationships between people and animals and as such, I was always going to be bang slap in the middle of the target audience for this film. I was slightly more surprised that Mr ono really liked it too, seemingly more so than the stage play.

I sort of want to give it only , perhaps because I'm not sure it was quite such an artistic achievement as the stage play, and because I found some elements unsubtle. But given my eventual response to it, and how highly I would rate a film that could do that without any weight of expectation behind it, I think I have to give it .
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Old 16th Jan 2012, 9:50   #2
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Default Re: War Horse

I'm not particularly bothered about seeing this, but eldest of the amnerian offspring has recently read and loved the book and is enthusiastic. Would an 11 year old enjoy it, ono? Or is it too intense? It would be a just-the-two-of-us father/daughter moment and I'd rather it wasn't a horror show!
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Old 16th Jan 2012, 10:28   #3
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Default Re: War Horse

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Originally Posted by amner View Post
Would an 11 year old enjoy it, ono? Or is it too intense? It would be a just-the-two-of-us father/daughter moment and I'd rather it wasn't a horror show!
Saw it at the weekend and I enjoyed it but felt it was a bit predictable. The film is a 12A and I'm not sure an 11 year old wouldn't be upset by some of the WW1 battlefield scenes, and the fate of the two German brothers who abscond with the horses.

If you do go, take a box of tissues. I needed mine. Will I need tissues for the stage play? I have tickets for March.
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Old 16th Jan 2012, 10:34   #4
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Default Re: War Horse

My older daughter (18 ) saw this and thought it a very decent adapation of the book/stage-play (wihich she saw last summer) - so probably . "Predictability" in some of the scenes and cinematography are the things she was less keen on, and she didn't like the colouring of the final scenes (red-orange, something like a sunset silhouetting things, I gather) - which was perhaps too much for effect.

I'd like to see this but I'd rather go to the stage-play if I could.
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Old 16th Jan 2012, 14:42   #5
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Default Re: War Horse

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Originally Posted by paddyjoe View Post
Saw it at the weekend and I enjoyed it but felt it was a bit predictable. The film is a 12A and I'm not sure an 11 year old wouldn't be upset by some of the WW1 battlefield scenes, and the fate of the two German brothers who abscond with the horses.

If you do go, take a box of tissues. I needed mine. Will I need tissues for the stage play? I have tickets for March.
There was a lass in the same row as us who looked about ooh, ten years old, and she applauded at the end. I'd hope there was enough that was positive about the story to stop it turning into a wholly upsetting experience, but, ahem, horses for courses, if the youngster was of a particularly sensitive disposition, particularly towards the treatment of animals, you might better waiting for the DVD and watching at home to facilitate discussion.

Tissues are definitely necessary. pj, there were grown men weeping at the showing of the play that we attended, though I can't say categorically it will have that effect on everyone! You'll love it though, the animal puppets are astounding.
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Old 22nd Jan 2012, 14:34   #6
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Default Re: War Horse

What War Horse is, is a family film, calculated to affirm the best in human nature, in human/animal relationships, whilst giving glimpses of the more bestial elements of human nature through the portrayal of war's insanity, greed and inhumanity. What it also resembles (though long years prevent an accurate comparison) is Lassie Come Home, and very successfully it tugs at the heart-strings and the restoration of horse to owner/trainer is the miracle we expect it to be.

Perhaps this is where I found less to enjoy in Spielberg's rendition of the Morpurgo story. Like many Morpurgo's, I feel, it had a slow lumbering start and human characters are under-developed in comparison to the animal intelligence or predicament explored. Glimpses of character began to reveal in the mother (wisely explaining her husband's silence on his Boer War experiences) and in the character played by Tom Hiddlestone, the army captain who first takes Joey the horse to the fields of France. His part in Joey's journey is short but powerfully shot. For me, it was always the individual's response to Joey or their terrible predicament in war-time, that was the moving thing - not emotions for the animal itself. it is more upsetting to see the response of the German cavalry private (Eddie Marsan) who struggles to care for Joey and his horse-friend Topthorn when they are driven to the brink of physical endurance hauling artillery pieces up a hill, than to see what results from this effort. Likewise, the story of the elderly fruit-farmer and his grand-daughter who also briefly care for Joey, and the farmer's subsequent involvement in the end of the story, was by far the most enduring story I appreciated in the film. Animal distress and cruelty is always upsetting to see, but human horrors and emotions are, for me, the more potent, even in this focused film.

Much of the filming is eloquent, as to be expected, though very Spielbergian in places (camera shots climbing to the brow of a hill and a panorama of what lies beyond), and the closing deep-red sunset family reunion is excessively out of place, I agree. Clashing too in this scene is the alteration in music: where John Williams begins the film with Vaughan-Williams-esque pre-war idyll, sunrise birds twittering over birth in a rural England landscape, he closes with the strong 'affirming' horns and brass beloved of the close of American dramas, and the silhouetted figures almost take on a US farmstead home-coming feel because of this, which I found alienating. Perhaps this plays better for American audiences maybe.

I did notice that in the central scene in No-Man's-Land, both the German and English sides begin with clickings and hootings to call the horse out of the mire, but swell together into more bird-like chirrups and tweets, almost echoing the sounds of the dawn chorus heard at the beginning of the film.

Most of the dialogue works simply and well but, possibly due to it being a family film, and not one that deals with the full reality of life in the trenches, it does slip up at one obvious point where Albert is being mocked by the son of the local landowner and reminded of falling on his rear off the horse. Albert's best friend from the same village bursts out laughing in amazement and asks "You fell on your bum?" This might have earned astonishment and a laugh if it had been an anecdote told down the pub in Devon but after several months of near-death and agony in a Belgian trench (including the likelihood of having fallen on his bum there many times), I really don't suppose he would have had this response.

War Horse works brilliantly as a family film, and yes, is a tear-jerker, though according to your disposition, when and why you cry might be different. The action is much pacier and gripping in the second two-thirds, and of course, it is pleasant to catch a glimpse of the Cumberbatch in officer uniform

½ /
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Old 7th Aug 2017, 11:15   #7
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Default Re: War Horse

Shameless plug here, but if any Palimpsesters are in London between now and February 2018, and have an interest in Michael Morpurgo's work, do go and look at the Michael Morpurgo: A Lifetime in Stories exhibit at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. It is an expanded version of the exhibition that was on show previously at Seven Stories in Newcastle. You can see the life-sized Joey puppet from War Horse as well as a maquette from the production of the film, and watch filmed excerpts from the stage production. The exhibition revolves around Mr Morpurgo's notebooks in which he drafts all his books by hand, ephemera from his childhood, letters to friends, agents, editors etc discussing his work - fascinating if you are interested in the writing process. Also on display are lots and lots of original illustrations from his books, by the likes of Quentin Blake, Michael Foreman, Laura Carlin, Felicita Sala, Patrick Benson... and me! I was at the Private View a couple of weeks ago and met the man himself, which I think qualifies as the only time in my life I've stood and spoken to someone actually famous. Anyway, quite aside from my small contribution, it's a really good exhibition and the museum is great too.














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Old 14th Aug 2017, 16:19   #8
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Default Re: War Horse

Plug entirely justified, if you ask me! Sorry I'm not in country or capital, otherwise I'd be there, but if I find that changes I'll definitely take a look.
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Old 21st Aug 2017, 16:04   #9
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Default Re: War Horse

We saw the production in London a few years ago. We were impressed by how the puppeteers made the horses, even when stationary, make little realistic horse-like hoof twitches and head tosses.
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Old 30th Aug 2017, 6:15   #10
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I have the same feeling somehow.
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