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War Horse

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war horseIt’s strange how recently we’ve gotten movies based on best-selling books (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and movies that tip their hat to earlier film makers (Hugo, The Artist).

This movie is based on a 1982 novel by Michael Morpungo (which became a stage play in 2007). And Spielberg clearly isn’t hiding his tribute to John Ford films and having a few scenes that look like they were straight out of Gone With the Wind.

The only actors I recognized in this were Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves) and Liam Cunningham (The Guard), but the real star is the horse, of course.

He was purchased by a drunk man naively getting into a bidding war at an auction. The problem was he needed a horse to plow. This diminutive creature can’t, but his teenager son loves the animal and promises to train it. The dad, perhaps in another drunken stupor, sells the horse. It’s now going into battle.

Steve Spielberg, who directed, decided to get away from World War II and jump back to the First World War. He brought along longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who gave us gorgeous visuals.

The soldier that promised to take care of the horse is nice. He even sends drawings. The problem is that war is hell, and the horse is lost in battle. This means his journey becomes a little like [couldn’t decide between Forrest Gump or the violin in The Red Violin, so take your pick].

The horse goes to the front lines, gets lost in battle, ends up on a French farm helping a little girl that lost her parents and grandmother.

The horse is about as expressive as an animal can be, and many of the scenes are powerful (although the manipulative score by Spielberg regular John Williams is more annoying than anything else).

I had a problem with a lot of the corny scenes and formulaic nature of the production. And it’s hardly the epic that Spielberg probably thinks it is.

There’s one scene that’s so schmaltzy (a blind boy yelling and whistling for the horse), I actually heard a critic in the front row laughing.

This movie is no Black Stallion, but it’s a movie you can bring the family to (if they don’t mind sitting for over two hours).

I had entertained the notion of writing this review in the form of a song, and I thought of America’s “A Horse With No Name.” I only got through the first half before giving up. It went a little something like this:

In the first part of the movie/I was looking at the crowd.

I had popcorn, Red Vines, lots of delicious things.

There were cell phones that started to ring.

The first scene, it was the horse we met

Orange red skies, no clouds/A drunk man, his throat was getting dry

A neigh was the only sound.

Then we’re dragged through a war, on a horse named Joey

It was scary/skies with bullets and rain

In war, they didn’t remember his name

And there was barbed wire that caused him some pain…

The song gets 1 star. The movie gets 2 ½ out of 5.

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