So you are going to watch War Horse, Spielberg’s movie of 2011. Here is what you need to know. (No spoilers here, this is safe to read.)
This is a traditional movie in many ways. But which traditions? Well, you are going to see a (non-satirical) picaresque fictional story about a horse in First World War times, derived from a book for children.
So the foremost tradition is that of the horse movie. You get everything you would expect: themes of friendship between a youngen and a special horse who is one of the most important characters, stunning visuals that only nature and animals can provide, gallops, adventure etc.
Because the horse is perhaps the main character, he is going to suffer. Be prepared for this. However, it’s all in good taste.
Now remember the story has something of a picaresque quality, without really belonging to this genre. To me this means the hero goes through adventures in different places during his life, and whether characters reappear later is anyone’s guess. These episodes may sometimes seem a bit disconnected from each other, however this is part of the wonder, you would exclaim: “what an interesting life”! And I have to say, this falls quite nicely upon a traditional horse movie character who would like his freedom.
So if the plot is sometimes stretched, well, in my opinion this is just part of the genre. There is no satire though.
The First World War is the circumstance that keeps these episodes together. But this is only a war movie to the extent of old, traditional war movies. I mean, this isn’t a remake of Private Ryan, gore isn’t the focus. This isn’t an ultra-realistic movie in any way and Spielberg has been able to mix these 2 genres (war and horse) in a tasteful way.
I guess I mean to say, there is war in the movie, but it isn’t exactly a war movie, it isn’t focused in showing the raw horrors of war, and if it were, you might care that much less about the horse. You gotta like the horse, otherwise the movie won’t make sense! And I understand this is true, that horses did indeed suffer in that war.
The fact that the Germans speak English put some people off; they wanted to see subtitles. I guess they were expecting a contemporary war movie. But remember that children are to be included in this audience... I, for one, felt it refreshing to see raw realism – which would be pointless here anyway – give way to a more direct way to tell the story. This looks back to old war movies, in which foreign characters might speak their own languages a bit for effect, but not when you really had to understand what they were saying. In many ways, that was a better way to just tell a story.
Some people complain that the first part was slow. Another complaint is that there wasn’t enough friendship established between the horse and the boy. I thought the balance was perfect between these two opposing forces.
Finally, you get traditional John Williams music, not so memorable but perfectly adequate. And Spielberg is the perfect director to manipulate your heart, which makes many people mad at him. How dare he?!
Now you are prepared to be entertained by a pretty good film, knowing that it won’t change your life.