Steven Spielberg’s World War I epic War Horse remains one of the best films to come out in 2011 as the film marks its tenth anniversary.
First a book and then a stage play, Spielberg successfully translates the source material into a feature film. He’s no stranger to World War II but this marks his first time tackling the Great War. An interesting thing about this film is that Spielberg doesn’t consider it a war film. It just happens to be set against the war! Regardless, you cannot ask for a better filmmaker to adapt the property. Spielberg teams up with many of his longtime collaborators: Kathleen Kennedy, Janusz Kamiński, Michael Kahn, Rick Carter, and John Williams. All of them put in marvelous work as usual.
War Horse is about Joey, a bay Irish Hunter horse, raised by Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine), before Joey finds himself sold and in the service of the British Army. Albert is too young so he’s unable to serve alongside Joey at the start of the war. Captain James Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) promises Albert that he’ll look after Joey but he gets killed in action. Before we know it, Joey goes on a journey. First, he’s captured by the Germans. A German soldier, Gunther, takes Joey and a few other horses while he goes AWOL. Before we know it, Joey is found by a young French girl, Emilie (Celine Buckens). It’s when Emilie’s grandfather (Niels Arestrup) lets her ride Joey that they encounter the Germans.
It isn’t until Joey makes his way to No Man’s Land that he starts down the path that brings him back to England. By this point, it’s 1918 and Albert is fighting in the war. One of the most touching moments is when both the British and Germans work together in order to free him. Toby Kebbell plays the British soldier while Hinnerk Schönemann portrays Peter. Spielberg doesn’t play this moment for laughs. On the film’s bonus features, Spielberg comments that it is the scene that he “is proudest of in the movie.” In fact, the film makes an effort to humanize the soldiers fighting behind enemy lines. From an audience standpoint, we’re on the edge of our seats, not knowing what’s about to happen. Will Joey survive? Will the shooting startup during their efforts to free him from the barbed wire?
The final scenes during the war are what makes the end of the film so poignant. We look at Joey with a sense of hope and so we turn to him as the film gets deeper into the war. When you look at the themes of the film, there’s something to be said about how humans bond with animals. We especially see this with Joey! There’s also this theme of courage–a primary reason as to why Steven Spielberg chose to direct.
Spielberg and company takes advantage of what the English scenery has to offer. The Dartmoor, Devon countryside alone offers some beautiful landscapes and visuals. The Duke of Wellington’s residence has a long connection with horses and is the location for the cavalry charge. Funny enough, the location also stands in for multiple countries in the film. You want to talk about production designer Rick Carter’s work? He transforms an airfield into No Man’s Land! It’s very impressive work! Throw in the rain and one can begin to really understand why war is hell.
Much like Saving Private Ryan, the camerawork is handheld. Unlike the 1998 movie, Janusz Kamiński gives the film a very different look. It’s more brownish in color. Everything is just so gorgeous about this film. Michael Kahn certainly had his work cut out in editing the film.
John Williams earned a pair of Oscar nominations for a pair of Spielberg releases in 2011. The score is the complete opposite of The Adventures of Tintin. Williams starts out with sentimental and gentle strings before later switching over to a brass sound. It makes the work easier for Steven Spielberg as the sound starts coming together. There is a lot of music but I am not complaining. Williams changes it up in terms of the recording sessions. It is less like his typical score sessions and more like a concert.
War Horse earned six Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Art Direction, Cinematography, Score, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. Spielberg missed out on a directing nomination but it was a crowded year for contenders.
War Horse shows why Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
SCREENWRITERS: Lee Hall and Richard Curtis
CAST: Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Peter Mullan, Niels Arestrup, Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irvine, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Kebbell
Touchstone released War Horse in theaters on December 25, 2011.
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