Why I didn’t like War Horse as much as I knew I wouldn’t


imposed upon the internet by K.E. McMurphy

Bear with me my lovelies, the title kind of makes sense…I was going to make my first one about ‘Why 2012 will be an amazing year for film/tv’ but as I just saw War Horse yesterday I feel I must talk about it.

So yes this is my first blog in the film corner of Anywhere in Albion. It ain’t about music, I wouldn’t say it’s ranting, and i’m not going to rave about War Horse either because it was not a remarkable, outstanding film. Before you judge me as a cold hearted bastard, I would like to point out to any Times readers that I’m not going to follow Wendy Ide’s ‘cynical as fuck’ path and completely write it off without making any decent criticism. (It may become clear as time/blogs go on that I really, really dislike The Times film critics as they are overly harsh, probably from undeserved smugness). But we must press on.

I must’ve watched the first two trailers for War Horse countless times over the space of about three or four months.. And I cried every time I did so because in my mind I remembered the staggeringly incredible National Theatre production that I went to see four years ago and how much it touched my heart and led to my fascination wtih the First World War. Also John Williams’ score is eargasmic (remember those little ditties from Star Wars, E.T. Jaws and Harry Potter? Yeah – that badass mofo) and it made my chin go all wobbly. When I took in the production value of this film I thought two things. One: This film is going to be a juggernaut, I must see it. Two: This film is SO big it’s not quite going to live up to its high expectations. You’ve got Steven Speilberg, one of the greatest directors of all time, the legendary aforementioned John Williams, two of Britain’s best screenwriters Lee Hall (Billy Elliott) and Richard Curtis (Blackadder, Love Actually, The Boat that Rocked and other quintessentially British happy-go-lucky films. I’m using a lot of brackets here aren’t I? I’ll stop) as well as a host of Britain’s best actors of the moment going in guns blazing with their accents and their moustaches and their projection…I’m mainly talking about Benedict Cumberbatch here ’cause he gave it some jolly good welly it must be said. You see this perfectly constructed behemoth of modern cinema and think: what could possibly go wrong?? THIS FILM IS GOING TO BE AMAZING. And the thing is perhaps it would have been, if the phenomenal theatre production hadn’t come along first.

The National Theatre’s production of War Horse premiered in 2007 to high critical acclaim and changed people’s perception of puppetry forever. Handspring Puppet Company created the horses out of bamboo. No more, the ‘Puppets? Wtf this isn’t Sesame Street’ response, more the, ‘Puppeteers? What puppeteers? I can’t remember seeing any puppeteers…’ response. When I remember going to see it, I don’t remember seeing the people dressed in black maneouvring Joey, I see an incredibly realistic bamboo bay horse staggering about No Man’s Land with barbed wire wrapped round its leg. War Horse changed West End theatre in that like The Woman in Black, and probably for the same reason that its so outstanding, it is remembered not for the fortitude of the actors, but for the story itself which wouldn’t we all agree theatre and film is after all? It’s storytelling at the very base of it and the story of a man and his horse captures our hearts. The play took a well-loved though not incredibly well-known children’s book and exploded it. It was an instant hit and the competence of the Olivier stage with its revolving drum only served to strengthen its success. So when you’ve already got this real and more importantly tangible play to see in London, the film seems to take what was so beloved of the novel and play and push it further from us. This is especially a shame as Spielberg has been so good at touching our hearts in the past. E.T.? Who DIDN’T cry when that little alien waddled off home? Jaws? Who DIDN’T weep in grief when the shark got blown up? Well, everyone, it was just me who felt tristesse ’cause I’ve got this funny thing about sharks…

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy War Horse the film. Hell and blast it I DID cry several times and there were some really decent bits of cinema in it. And I completely forgot about the goose! The goose was a puppet trundled along after the actors in the play, snapping and honking at their heels and was slotted in every now and then as comic relief for the dead men and horses. Classic. Bringing it back into the film was a great comic touch. The switching of shots between the cavalry charge and the riderless horses leaping over the German machine guns is haunting. The doomed look in Captain Nicholls’ (the brilliant and GORGEOUS Tom Hiddleston) eyes as he sees the machine gun pointed towards them and realises their Imperial mode of fighting has just come to its end was truly tragic, in fact for me the most moving part of the film. The exchange between a Geordie Tommie (I love Toby Kebbell) and a Düsseldorf soldier is probably the best scene in the film, the dialogue steering clear of the Disney-esque corn and cliché from earlier on. And of course, as many critics have said, the combined reaction of a large group of horses reacting to the sound of a fallen horse being put down is enough to make your stomach to a little flip.

To cap it all off, it has to be hats off to the horses of this film. They have been so meticulously well trained to put up with all kinds of shet. Plus, I’ve owned and ridden ponies, and although I’m not great at either of those things, my sister the vet is. She and her pony have a true understanding of each other and watching this film you can definitely see the rapport going on between man and horse the way I’ve seen it between my sister and Fudge (haters gonna hate). And it’s very realistic. At the end, when Albert embraces his mother and father after returning from the war, the horse is looking around, bobbing its head, not watching them adoringly with dewy eyes. Because as much as the horse love Albert, he is still an animal after all. By all means, I encourage people to go and see this film, appreciate it, cry if you want to because it is rather beautiful after all. But I absolutely urge people to se the play first, because it is through that visceral experience that you will really feel the heart-wrenching emotions that this story evokes.

Right well I think I’ve babbled on enough for one day, don’t you? Next time I WILL be speaking about the fantastic upcoming film add tv of 2012. You stay classy, internet trawlers 🙂 ♥

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One thought on “Why I didn’t like War Horse as much as I knew I wouldn’t

  1. Bob says:

    Interesting review.

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