War Horse Blu-ray|
There is something universally appealing about a good horse movie whether the story takes us to some exotic adventure like Hidalgo or just around the track like Seabiscuit or Secretariat. But there is also something universally appealing about a horse, and War Horse drives that theme home every chance it gets in Steven Spielberg’s latest opus. Able to reunite families and bring peace to warring factions, Joey serves as both therapist and diplomat on his epic adventure that begins with his birth in the rolling green and rocky hills of England.
The first act of the film takes its own sweet time relishing in the unique characters and spending plenty of time panning around the impressive vistas of the land combining natural sunsets and post-process color timing to generate a dreamy Shire-like quality that had me expecting hobbits to wander through the scene at any moment. War Horse is a story about a boy and his horse. We watch the boy, Albert Narracott (Jeremy Irvine), witness the birth of Joey, then months later become his trainer after his drunken father (Peter Mullan) purchases the thoroughbred rather than the plow horse he was supposed to, not to mention spending the farm’s rent money to do so. With the farm and the family’s future in jeopardy, Albert must train Joey to go against his breeding and pull a plow. And while Albert and Joey succeed in their seemingly impossible task, nature has other plans as a violent storm wipes out the crop that was supposed to save the farm.
Left with no other decision Albert’s father is forced to sell Joey to a young British cavalry officer (Tom Hiddleston) who promises to care for the horse just as well as Albert has. During Albert’s tearful goodbye he manages to tie his father’s war pennant to Joey’s bridle; a symbolic gesture that will unify every future scene in the film. Captain Nicholls holds up his promise, at least until he falls in battle and Joey and his new pal Topthorn, a gorgeous black stallion, fall into the hands of the Germans where they are demoted to beasts of burden. Thankfully, Joey learned to pull that plow back on the farm and passes on that knowledge to Topthorn saving both their lives. And thus, Joey manages to touch the lives of everyone he meets starting with two German brothers who lied about their age to get into the army and are put in charge of the horses, and when they go AWOL taking the horses with them, Joey and Topthorn are quickly adopted by a young French girl and her grandfather for a second-act respite from the barrage of war.
War Horse spans several years starting just before World War I and ending shortly after the bells toll signaling the Gerrman defeat. During that time Joey has some incredible adventures and touches many lives including a dramatic scene near the end when Joey has become entangled in barbed wire and lies dying in the desolate wasteland known as No Man’s Land, sparking an impromptu peace as British and German soldiers work together to free Joey and finally dub him “War Horse”. By luck of a coin toss, Joey returns to the British trenches where he is ultimately reunited with Albert, who has since joined the army and seen his own fair share of battle. All loose ends are tied together quite nicely in true Spielberg storytelling fashion and efficiency, coming full circle with a reprise of the original horse auction and the reappearance of father’s war pennant.
Despite the impossible story or preposterous odds of a boy and his horse going through all this and actually being reunited, War Horse is a brilliant and touching film, but only because Steven Spielberg, the master of manipulation, is making sure to hit all those dramatic beats, insert that calculated color-timed sunset, and bring in long-time collaborator, John Williams to score the film with the mathematical precision to guaranteed no eye will remain moisture free during any part of this movie. And therein lies my only real complaint with the film. The film never really allows you to form your own emotional bond with the characters or the story. From the opening sweeping aerials shots of the English countryside complete with flute solo to the majestic sunset pose of Joey against the orange sky with swelling orchestral score, viewers are merely emotional puppets while Steven and Johnny are pulling your heartstrings.
War Horse looks amazing, but with Steven Spielberg in the director’s chair and Janusz Kaminski behind the camera we would expect nothing less. Combine that talent with amazing locations, impressive costume design and dazzling sets including an airfield that was eerily transformed into the living hell known as No Man’s Land, it is quite easy to get lost in the visual spectacle that is War Horse. The 1080p transfer gloriously delivers eye-popping color full of detail and textures with solid blacks and contrast. There are a few dreamy sequences where the colors are a bit over-saturated or the focus goes soft, but these are clearly intentional and used for and with great effect.
My sound system looks forward to every Disney Blu-ray as they are the only ones who consistently utilize the full DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix these days, and War Horse stampedes its way into you living room with powerful LFE that capture everything from galloping hooves to the blast of German artillery. You won’t appreciate the work that went into the sound of the film until you watch the bonus feature and learn how multiple horses were sampled and then combined to create a “language” for Joey. The mixing balance is flawless with dialogue clearly coming from the center channel and great panning for effects and immersive use of side and rear channels – truly one of the best sounding Blu-ray’s of 2012 so far.
It’s no secret that Steven Spielberg does not do commentaries, which is quite a shame because I tend to hang on every word the man says during his interviews and other behind-the-scenes features. He is so articulate and instinctively knows what we, the viewer, want and need to know. “War Horse: The Journey Home” is a set of two roundtable discussions where Steven and Kathleen Kennedy talk with the cast, crew, and creative team behind the film. It’s great stuff that will only leave you wanting more. “An Extra's Point of View” is a fun look at the life of an extra; namely Martin Dew who worked almost every day of the shoot playing multiple parts in War Horse including both a British and German soldier.
The rest of the War Horse extras are found on the dedicated supplement disc; the first of which is “A Filmmaking Journey”, a 64-minute sprawling documentary that covers everything from Kathleen first seeing the War Horse play all the way to the final wrap-party champagne toast. This feature covers everything you could possibly want to know yet still leaves you wanting more. “Editing & Scoring” is a short 9-minute feature where we learn how John Williams pretty much has free reign when it comes to working with Steven, and it’s easy to see why when you listen to the score for War Horse. “The Sounds of War Horse” follows Gary Rydstrom on his quest to find the most realistic and natural sounds to keep this movie authentic from recording on actual farms to locating a turn-of-the-century plow and having it pulled across Skywalker Ranch so they could record it for just a few seconds of footage. Even more amazing is the assemblage of miniature horse recordings, slowed down and used to create a language for Joey. And finally we have a 4-minute gorgeous photo diary taken during the shoot by Kathleen Kennedy. The other two discs in this 4-disc combo pack include a standard DVD and a digital copy that looks fantastic on my iPad.
War Horse is an amazing film that will appeal to the entire family. While at the core, it’s a story about a boy who gets a horse, loses a horse, and finds his horse, there is a much greater story going on here; a story about how one majestic animal can transcend politics and warring nations and unify and heal every person he encounters. Yes, the film doesn’t feel a bit manipulative at times, but with Bu-ray audio and visuals this amazing, Steven can pull my strings whenever he wants. Destined to become a timeless classic, War Horse is a must-own addition to your home video library.