I knew what I was going into with this movie. I knew this was going to be a schmaltzy tear jerker the likes of which Steven Spielberg can deliver. Which, on a little side note, I was a little surprised by how many people call me or this movie “faggy“ when I mentioned I was going to watch it. I didn’t know watching something sentimental made people exclaim homophobic epithets but whatever.
The point is even expecting what I knew from Spielberg, I still wasn’t expecting what ultimately came from War Horse. My conversations with people when they ask about it usually go like this:
So you see War Horse?
How was it?
–Bad. It is super schaltzy.
Well yeah, it’s Spielberg.
–No dude. It’s bad…REALLY bad here.
And things end with them with them having a quizzical look on their face. So, I guess I need to elaborate a little bit more. Yes, I am aware Spielberg is a little sentimental. However even with movies like ET, the emotions and the feelings still came up rather organically. Elliot and ET were both likable characters and their friendship was developed over the course of the movie. So even when Spielberg played with your heartstrings by having ET be all sickly, it didn’t feel like outright manipulation. With War Horse, it feels like everyone in the movie is shoving a funnel down your throat and force feeding you saccharine crap. Nothing comes natural at all and instead, we have to be TOLD how to feel about things.
Take for example the very beginning of the movie where the family gets the horse of this movie. Local farmers and land owners are bidding on several horses. The lovable poor farm owner is on one end and the EEEEEEEVVVILLLL greedy land owner is on the other. You want to know how he is evil? Because the first time we see him, John Williams personally tied me down to my theater chair and slapped me with his baton while screaming in my ear “HE’S A BAD GUY! HE’S A BAD GUY! HE’S A BAD GUY!“ Then, instead of being practical and buying a plow horse, our protagonists father blows all his money (including rent money) on buying the horse of our movie? Why? Because he wants to show up his greedy landlord. As an audience member you are thinking this is petty dickish behavior that makes the father the bad guy because he put personal feelings in the way of, you know, feeding his family. But Spielberg and Williams slap you around some more assuring you he is just being damn adorable. The next scene we get said landowner asking the father for the rent he is due and the father not having it. The landowner, very rightly, calls him an idiot for giving away all his money in an attempt to show him up and says he will give the land to people who will actually pay rent. The son and mother then beg for an extention on their loan which the landowner, charitbly, gives them. The landowner says though that if they don’t pay the extention, he has to take their land which is met with many a “How could you!“ from the family and more orchestra stings that he is greedy and evil.
This is what I have to deal with here. For one that the material isn’t strong enough for us to judge things on their own; that we have to be assaulted with audio/visual cues as to how we feel. But not only that, is that there is a disconnect between what the director wants us to feel and how the audience really thinks.
Everything is just so damn over the top. It doesn’t take that much to get us to care for an animal. For crying out loud most movies of this genre are built solely around the premise animals are cute and plot be damned. But it’s not enough that the boy Albert loves the horse, but he has to spend every waking hour staring at it and writing it letters and pining for it like Edward does to Bella. It is not enough that the war horse in question is lovable by itself, it has to be Lassie levels of intelligent. I swear the way they built this up as some super horse I thought they were going to have it talk.
You can almost tell what the writers were thinking in trying to give the horse so much personality. The plot, isn’t really about this boy Albert and his horse. Instead the movie follows the horse as it changes owners through the years of WWI. It’s rather hard to have the narrative focus on something that can’t talk and only has one facial expression. I guess if Paul Walker can do it a horse can do but you can’t really have a movie with growth or progress when it’s focused on an F’n horse. It doesn’t feel like anything is driving the plot and merely meanders around. I wasn’t so much wondering at this amazing horse but looking at my watch and wondering when this will end.
Now I would be lying if I said there was nothing good in this movie. The small storyline involving a little girl and her grandfather getting the horse I really liked. The girl was adorable enough to make you go “Awwwwwwwwwww“ and Niels Arestrup does a fantastic job. He’s not anyone you know by name but when you see him you probably recognize him. Here it doesn’t matter the writing is bad he sells it like his life depended on it. There are some scenes on the battlefield which are effective and some scenes in the end that still make you water up (or just me I guess).
I still didn’t really hate this film. Oh it’s bad, that’s for sure. But I’m pretty much chalking this up to everyone having an off day. I hear this movie was an attempt to salvage the source material which seems unfilmable due to the narrative being through the eyes of the horse although with Spielbergs use of animation in TinTin that makes me question even that. But yeah, I started the holiday season with the wrong Spielberg. This one really didn’t do it for me.