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The friendship between a boy and a horse who are separated but whose fates continue to be intertwined over the course of World War I.
For more about War Horse and the War Horse Blu-ray release, see War Horse Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on April 2, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston, Niels Arestrup, Benedict Cumberbatch
Director: Steven Spielberg
» See full cast & crew
War Horse Blu-ray Review
"Be brave! Be brave!"
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, April 2, 2012
Whereas the 2010 Academy Awards nominees seemed to justify the expansion of the Best Picture category to ten slots, the 2011 nominees begged the question: is there really a benefit to nominating so many films? While The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball and Tree of Life earned their places at the Best Picture table, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, and War Horse were polarizing, overly sentimental films nominated solely for their subject matter (September 11th), performances (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer), or filmmakers (a little known up-and-comer named Steven Spielberg). Apparently there wasn't a tenth film worthy of filling out the list either. Certainly not Drive, Martha Marcy May Marlene, 50/50, We Need to Talk About Kevin or David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Or even The Adventures of Tintin, a superior Spielberg production in almost every way.
Still, there's something to be said for War Horse; something that can't be said for Extremely Loud and The Help. Like Hugo and The Artist, Spielberg's adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's 1982 children's novel harkens back to the Golden Age of cinema, an oft-overlooked era of sweeping silver screen epics and magnificently shot, grandiose classics. And while its maudlin gait and unbridled histrionics will strike many as antiquated, Spielberg rarely pulls in the reins, allowing War Horse to run wild and free wherever its heart leads.
War Horse quite literally tells the story of Joey, a loyal thoroughbred born in England, trained by a young man named Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine), and eventually purchased by a British cavalry officer (Tom Hiddleston) to serve in the first World War. But the field of battle is littered with machine guns and tanks, armaments that render the horse-led charges of old futile and obsolete. Horses and riders are mowed down by the thousands, as the British struggle to adapt to the new rules of warfare. Joey survives the worst of it, forging a special bond with a black horse called Topthorn and making his way across wartorn Europe, where he's captured and put to work behind German lines pulling heavy artillery. Meanwhile, Albert is finally able to enlist in the army, where he encounters a new danger all his own: deadly mustard gas attacks. Against all odds, Joey and Albert overcome every obstacle placed in their paths; paths that inevitably cross when Joey, weary and scarred after years of front-line fighting, reunites with his old friend and master.
Spielberg, like Morpurgo before him, goes to great lengths to cast the British and German soldiers in a reasonably sympathetic light, using Joey as a means to examine the very human commonalities of the opposing forces. With little care for causes or politics, a horse is, in many ways, a perfect vehicle for crossing the lines in a World War I saga, and it's easy to see what attracted a director renowned for his uncompromising portrayals of WWII to the tale. Longtime Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski captures it all with heart-aching beauty too, be it the sun-struck hillside of a farm in Devon, a dusk-veiled field strewn with fallen horses and soldiers, the mud-spattered trenches of no-man's land, or the debris-dusted cities and villages caught in the middle of WWI's clashing titans. The sights and sounds of Spielberg's war are more authentic than anything else, though, with performances ranging from distressing but weepy to effective but schmaltzy to moving but stagy. The horses are the more convincing actors, truth be told, even though Irvine, Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Thewlis, Emily Watson and their co-stars are pushed to embrace the theatrics they employ, rather than choosing to do so of their own volition. That said, the resulting tone is as gallant and nostalgic as it is detrimental to the film's war effort, and the tenor of the picture is at least consistent in its grand strokes, much as it will wear out its welcome with modern moviegoers.
Sentimentality is a divisive beast, driving some to tears and others to scowls, and War Horse is a divisive melodrama through and through. The first World War provides a decadent spread of overtly saccharine sweets by which Spielberg indulges his cinematic appetites, and the power of the film suffers accordingly. For every haunting shot of a cavalry horse breaking through enemy lines without its rider, for every breathtaking scene in which Joey witnesses the horrors of the war, there's a teary eyed lament, an impassioned speech, or an act of anthropomorphic valor that seems at odds with the realities of the battlefield Spielberg strives to evoke. War Horse wears its heart on its sleeve without exception, and the connection between Joey and Albert goes beyond loyalty and breaches the boundaries of horse whispering fantasy. Elements that resonate in the original children's novel simply don't have the same impact in a movie intended for adults; Joey leaps off the page more easily than he leaps off the screen; his relationship with Albert is more touching than it is as realized by a cast and crew of hundreds. Had Spielberg walked a finer line between reality and fantasy, War Horse might have taken me along for the ride. As is, it held me at an emotional distance, desperate to feel something, anything, as genuine and heartfelt as a boy's love for his horse.
War Horse Blu-ray, Video Quality
War Horse makes its high definition charge with a strong, able-bodied 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer that captures the breadth and beauty of Janusz Kaminski's cinematography. Colors are lovely and lush in Devon and fittingly dingy and dismal behind enemy lines; black levels are deep and evocative, without any poorly delineated shadows or unsightly crush; and contrast is both filmic and consistent, with few inconsistencies to speak of. Detail also impresses, even though some slight ringing and inherent softness creeps into the presentation here and there. Fine textures are wonderfully resolved, closeups are revealing, and every last bit of debris, speck of dirt, and mud-spattered uniform is as refined as Kaminski's photography allows. The horses fare magnificently as well, matted manes, wounded legs, tattered hides and all. Better still, there isn't any significant artifacting, banding, aliasing or aberrant noise to contend with, making the presentation as proficient as it is pristine. War Horse may have been a Best Picture underdog, but its bow on Blu is a visually stunning thoroughbred.
War Horse Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Disney's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track stays the course too, showcasing Gary Rydstrom's masterful sound design and John Williams' sweeping score through each eruption of battlefield chaos and stirring crescendo the mix has to offer. Dialogue is clean, clear and intelligible in times of peace and war, and horse vocalizations highlight the heart and soul the filmmakers infused into the animals. Voices and whinnies aren't just confined to the center channel either, having been given the freedom to roam the soundfield as they see fit. The rear speakers create a full and immersive war-torn Europe, as tanks, machine guns, charging cavalries, distant skirmishes, chirping birds, rustling trees, and the chatter of nervous soldiers stream from every direction. Directionality is precise, cross-channel pans whip across the soundstage, and the nuances of Rydstrom's efforts are more than apparent. LFE output is momentous as well, lending legitimate weight and heft to every machine of war (be it built from flesh or steel), cavalry charge, ground assault, explosion or collapsing steed. The end result is even more overwhelming than the video presentation, and easily one of the best lossless mixes of the year thus far.
War Horse Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
War Horse Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
War Horse may alienate many a modern filmfan, but others will declare it one of the best movies of 2011. It really just depends on how you respond to Spielberg's cinematic sensibilities, tearful and sentimental as they are. Fortunately, Disney's Blu-ray release won't divide audiences. With an excellent video presentation, a marvelous DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track, and a solid selection of high quality special features, War Horse won't soon be forgotten.
War Horse: Other Editions
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War Horse Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Blu-ray Sales, April 2-8: War Horse Rides High on Blu-ray - April 12, 2012
For the week ending on April 8th, Steven Spielberg's WWI epic War Horse has the top spot for total Blu-rays sold. This Blu-ray debut is a strong one for the film - 36% of its overall sales came from Blu-ray - which enjoyed both a worldwide box-office gross of ...
• Exclusive Giveaway and Filmmaker Interviews: War Horse - April 4, 2012
Blu-ray.com and Walt Disney Home Entertainment are offering two Blu-ray.com members the opportunity to win a copy of War Horse, which arrives on Blu-ray this week. As an added bonus, we're pleased to present two roundtable interviews, one with director Steven Spielberg ...
• This Week on Blu-ray: April 3-10 - April 2, 2012
Of this week's vintage offerings, the most highly coveted may be the Blu-ray debut of Roman Polanski's Chinatown. Thirty-eight years after its theatrical premiere, the film still maintains its power to entrap and disturb audiences, thanks to taut direction, Robert ...
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