Tuesday, August 28, 2012

War Horse: The Movie

Reading War Horse was one of my reading highlights of 2011.  I was gripped by this slim yet intense tale of a horse enlisted in the British war effort during World War I, and the young boy/man determined to be reunited with his beloved horse.  I was psyched when I found out (through Wowbrary--did you know that you could find out the latest DVDs and recorded books ordered for the library if you subscribe?) that we had received copies of the  film  directed by Steven Spielberg, so that I could blog about it here!

The movie is fairly faithful, more or less, to the book, except for the characterization of Albert's father.  Albert's father is not nearly as sympathetic in the book as he is in the movie--he's a typically conflicted and complicated father character as is often found in Stephen Spielberg's movies. The garish nightmares of World War I battles, especially Verdun and "no man's land", are painfully moving; the British troops' first surprise attack (on horseback and brandishing rapiers) on the Germans quickly turns against them when the Germans retaliate with machine guns.  Modernization of war (from soldiers on horseback to machine guns and poisonous gas)  is a key aspect of the novel, and this is portrayed to devastating effect, especially when the camera pans out and you see nothing but dead/wounded British soldiers and horses on the battlefield.

The opening scenes, in which Joey is sold to Albert's father and is trained by Albert, are a bit slow and may discourage viewers who don't know that the action and mood are about to change rather dramatically.  The scenery is gorgeous, the horses are beautiful, and the bond between Albert and Joey is tenderly established, but I found myself wishing that the crux of the story--Joey being sold for the British war effort--would get on with it. The languid pace of the initial scenes is probably deliberate to contrast with the sharp increase of drama that follows it.  The young actors are excellent; the young girl playing Emily was charming and heartbreaking, but she seemed slightly too mature for her character (my only complaint about the actors). 

For an adaptation of a sophisticated children's/young adult novel, the movie succeeds very well.  The novel is told through Joey's point of view; of course, making the movie through the horse's point of view was not really possible, but several details do honor that aspect (such as the audience literally seeing Emily's first entrance through Joey's eyes). It does get a bit overly sentimental, but that's pretty standard for most Spielberg movies.  It's a crushing account of the British war effort during World War I; just absolutely harrowing.  Fans of the novel will be satisfied with this fine adaptation of a unique novel.

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