by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
Special coupon for Dinuba Platinum Theatre at the end of this review.
In 1982, Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse was published in Great Britain, becoming a deeply loved horse story to rival Anna Sewell’s nineteenth-century Black Beauty. Later, one American girl read it and begged her father to make a movie of it. Her father was Steven Spielberg. He saw a stage production based on the book, was impressed, and he made that movie.
War Horse is a glorious film. You feel a patriotic love of one’s country, whatever that country might be, and you see war as a dehumanizing meat-grinder of men. It’s the story of Joey, a part-thoroughbred horse raised in the Devon countryside. Bought by a drunken farmer who didn’t want the horse to go to the rich landowner (David Thewlis, Professor Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter movies), the colt is raised by Albert, the farmer’s son. Joey, a horse made for racing, is taught to pull a plow, is sold to a British Army officer at the start of World War I, is captured by German troops, a French farm girl, and British troops, and is sought by Albert.
Since it is a film about war, there is violence and danger. Bodies fly through the air, men are attacked with poison gas, horses die, tanks menacingly chase the innocent, and barbed wire is a menace to man and beast. These scenes can horrify adults, and I don’t recommend the film for children. It’s like watching Old Yeller and Bambi’s mother being shot by machine guns.
This is a Spielberg film, so the action scenes are exciting, the tender scenes rip out your heartstrings, and the John Williams musical score cues every emotion you are supposed to feel. Because it is a Hollywood film made in England, based on a screenplay adapted from a stage play inspired by a book, there are changes in the story. Characters are added and subtracted, motivations are changed, a lot of time is spent in pre-war Devon worrying about paying the mortgage on the farm, and it would be hard to keep the book’s first-person narration by Joey the horse without turning the film into a Disney talking-animal fantasy (although it is a release from Touchstone, a subsidiary of Disney Studios). The cinematography is gritty and bleak in the trenches, and rich with color in the English countryside (There are shots that evoke Rhett and Scarlett embracing in “Gone with the Wind”).
It’s a big, old-fashioned epic, old-fashioned in all the right ways. Take hankies or tissue and someone to hold onto, but leave the children at home. When it comes out on video, sit down with the children and watch it together, prepared to pause it and talk about the historical, political, and philosophical issues that come up, and ready to deal with the fear, anxiety, and crying that it might provoke. It is a powerful film that should be seen, but be aware of the emotional state of your children.
Editor’s Note: I just had a chance to see this movie as well and I have to see it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen and definitely an Oscar contender. Don’t miss it!
War Horse is now playing at Dinuba Platinum Theatres 6. Showtimes can be found on their website.