No, really. The horses were totally, completely safe. So were the people. In fact, everything about the filming of War Horse was safe. It was like being wrapped in bubble wrap topped off with a HAZMAT suit and a life jacket.
Okay, I’m obviously exaggerating, but honestly not by much — Steven Spielberg and the rest of the War Horse crew reiterate how humanely the horses were treated on set in the special features about once every two minutes. It’s oddly prophetic, since I know the special features were completed well before HBO’s Luck was cancelled after three horses died during filming, but it’s eerie how much horse safety is emphasized in these special features after the topic was the talk of the entertainment industry earlier this month.
The Film: Though I generally agree with Alex’s review, I have to add that I liked it a bit more than he seemed to because I enjoyed the fact that it was a throwback to earlier Spielberg feel-good films — in particular, it reminded me a lot of Empire of the Sun, a film that unfortunately seems to be forgotten in the Spielberg cannon. Spielberg’s post Saving Private Ryan work has really been a mixed bag to me, so I felt the uplifting War Horse was a nice return to what made him such an icon in the first place. It was also nice to see Spielberg not use a big star for a change, which made it easier to get into the movie. Still, Alex is completely right when he says the movie drags in some parts, especially with characters that drift out of the narrative as quickly as they appear. The film quality itself on the Blu-ray is flawless, the type of top-quality you would expect from a film like this.
The Features: Unfortunately, if you want to see all of the special features — including the hour-long “making of” documentary A Filmmaking Journey — you have to buy the ridiculously stupid FOUR disc combo pack, which comes with 1) a Blu-ray of the movie with some features, 2) a Blu-ray with some more extra features, 3) a DVD with its own “making of” feature, and 4) a digital copy. The only way to get disc #2 is in the four-disc set, so you’re likely going to be stuck paying for extra copies of the film that you don’t even want. Luckily if you buy the smaller sets the various documentaries have a lot of overlap, so you’re not missing much.
Disc 1 Features (Blu-ray)
War Horse: The Journey Home
An Extra’s Point of View
Disc 2 Features (Blu-ray)
A Filmmaking Journey
Editing & Scoring
The Sounds of War Horse
Through the Producer’s Lens
Disc 3 Feature (DVD)
War Horse: The Look
As much as I love special features, I’ve seen so many by now that unless a film has major production problems they’re not particularly interesting. As I said above there’s this constant focus on how safe the production was for the animals and the people in the war scenes. There’s a lot of hunky-dory patting on the back, though since Spielberg constantly uses many of the same collaborators (like John Williams and editor Michael Kahn) they spend a lot of time talking about how much fun they have working together.
I was very disappointed that the various making of documentaries didn’t mention more about the War Horse stage play. Although the movie is a different adaptation of the book than the play — the scripts were adapted by different people — it’s obvious that the movie was greatly inspired by the play (Spielberg notes that he initially wanted to do the film because he saw the play in London in one of the documentaries). There are probably legal reasons why they couldn’t which would’ve led to someone suing someone else, so I guess that explains it.
Overall the features aren’t going to make any major revelations on how you make a film (except that it has to be SAFE), but if you enjoyed the movie there’s plenty to like here.
Movie Review: A throwback hybrid between Spielberg’s feel-good movies and his war movies. (7.5/10)
Blu-ray Review: While the movie is beautiful on Blu-ray, the 4-disc set is for fanatics only. Even the 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo ends up repeating the same points, but there’s nothing revolutionary on either discs that will change your perception of filmmaking or anything else that makes the features “must see.” (6/10)
War Horse will be released on Blu-ray, DVD, and video-on-demand on April 3.