Wednesday, January 4, 2012

War Horse

War Horse
seen @ UA Kaufman Astoria Cinemas, Astoria, Queens, NY

I remember when my sister went through her horse phase. She had this one horse doll that she always kept on her shelf. It wasn't articulated; it was just a model of a brown and white horse. I don't recall if its tail was hair or not. Sometimes I'd play with it when she wasn't around. I think she had a horse calendar and maybe even a horse poster at one time too. I definitely remember going to see The Black Stallion with her and my mother when it came out. It was playing at the other RKO theater on Main Street in Flushing - not the Keith's on Northern Boulevard, but the other one, whose name I can't recall. Point is, my sister loved horses.

Myself, I remember going to the petting zoo in Flushing Meadow Park as a kid with my mother and seeing horses for the first time there. I think I may have even gotten to ride a pony. I would've been about six, maybe seven. The summer camp in Massachusetts I worked at had horses, which some of the kids would ride. There was this one camper - a 13-year-old girl named Claire; I'll never forget her - who allegedly once inquired as to whether or not the fenced-off area that the horses roamed in were only "psychological boundaries." I say allegedly because I got this quote second-hand, but it's exactly the kind of thing she would say. One day I'll have to tell you about her.

I never had pets growing up, but I've seen first-hand how devoted people can get with them. Bibi and Eric, for instance, have a sign near the front door of their house that says something like, "In case of fire, please rescue our cats." I've known other friends whose attachment to their pet dogs and cats is unshakeable. So the relationship between Albert, the main character of War Horse, and the eponymous horse Joey, is certainly nothing unusual on the face of it.

The original source of both this film and the recent stage play of the same name is a young adult novel, and War Horse the film does feel like the kind of story written for that audience, even if it hasn't been marketed as such. An animal's loyalty to its beloved master, tested through time and circumstance, hits many of the same notes as anything out of Benji or Lassie, only on a much bigger scale in this case.

Some people who have fully embraced this film don't like the fact that its unabashed emotionalism and sentimentality has been a turn-off for others. I admit, I was hesitant to see it for this reason, especially since director Steven Spielberg is a Grade-A master at it. Now that I've seen the film, I find that my initial suspicions were more or less correct: the melodramatic aspects of War Horse are given the hard-sell like I couldn't believe. Especially that ending!

So is this a bad thing? Well, I can certainly be a sucker for sentimental movies just like anybody else, and I got caught up with this story too. But yeah, in the end I'm afraid the hard-sell was a bit much for me in this particular case. Sometimes I'm willing to accept it, other times not, and this one was the latter. Still, Spielberg seems more guilty of this tactic than other filmmakers, and I suppose I was hoping for something different here. 

Also, I'm willing to accept that I may be too much of a cynical bastard to take War Horse to heart. That's entirely possible. The manner in which Albert and Joey are eventually reunited (not a spoiler; this is a Spielberg film after all) literally had me going "Oh my god" as I saw it happen, as in "Oh my god is this really how it's gonna happen?" And again, I've been willing to go along with a film's melodrama on occasion, but this wasn't one. Spielberg does the emotional hard-sell better than anyone else, and it does not make his films inherently bad, but after all these years, it no longer comes as much of a surprise.

I thought I might have to get violent on somebody in the audience who talked on and off throughout the movie - a little louder than I would've liked, too. I don't think it was an older person; the old couple at the opposite end of my row did mutter intermittently as well, but not as loud as this other guy. Fortunately, the movie itself was generally louder, what with all the battle scenes. Also, the ticket clerk accidentally gave me a ticket for Tintin instead of War Horse. It wasn't a problem with the usher, though now I guess this means I'll have two Tintin tickets (after I see it, of course). Maybe I should've snuck into a Tintin screening afterwards, but I was really hungry and wanted to eat.


  1. Oh man I'm so behind on my reviews, I saw this on New Year's Day. I don't mind 'unabashed emotionalism and sentimentality' and I went it with that expectation in mind given the story. I cried a lot but then again I'm a cryer in general, but there are so many touching moments especially when the horse got caught in the barb wire thing. I do think Spielberg overdid it at the end with the 'Gone With the Wind' style sunset moment. Tintin was fun though, nothing melodramatic about that one :)

  2. That scene where Joey runs through the battlefield and gets caught on the barbed wire was indeed very thrilling to watch.


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