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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: War Horse

April 2nd, 2012

War Horse - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Two-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack, or Four-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack

War Horse opened right at the peak of Awards Season and was clearly made to win awards. However, while it earned a number of major nominations, including six Oscars, it wasn't able to convert them into awards. Did the film get shut out because it was good, but not great? Or was it robbed during the ceremonies?

The Movie

The movie focuses on one horse, Joey, who is born in the English country side early in the 20th century. Joey grows up to be a spirited horse, too spirited to be a work horse. Despite this, Ted Narracott decides to buy the horse in an auction. (Being able to prevent his landlord from buying her also comes into the equation.) However, he spends so much money that he doesn't have enough money for rent. Of course, Rosie, his wife, is furious, but Albert, his son, who was there at Joey's birth, desperately wants to keep the horse. He even offers to train the horse. (Ted can't due to an old war injury.) He's got a connection with the horse, but will that be enough to teach a horse like that to act like a Clydesdale?

That sets up the first part of the movie. How it plays out is a spoiler, so I'll move onto next arc of the movie.

When World War I breaks out, Ted has to sell Joey to the army or lose the farm. Albert is devastated by this and even volunteers to be in the army, but is rejected because he is underage. Captain Nicholls buys Joey and while Albert is heartbroken, Captain Nicholls swears he will take good care of his new mount. Joey turns out to be the fastest horse in Nicholls' regiment, but it turns out speed is no match for a machine gun and Nicholls is killed and Joey is captured by the Germans, along with Topthorn, the horse belonging to the leader of Nicholls' regiment.

It isn't long before Joey and Topthorn are no longer in the hands of the Germans having been found by Emilie, a young French girl living with her grandfather. She has brittle bones, which makes riding very dangerous for her. Despite this, and over her grandfather's objections, she is intent on riding one of the horses. Eventually, on her birthday, her grandfather grants that wish, but her ride ends with the Germans capturing her and taking Joey and Topthorn back, only to force the animals to pull artillery till they die.

We flash forward to 1918 and Albert has joined the war, with his best friend, Andrew Easton, and under the command of David Lyons, his landlord's son. He's come partially to fight the Germans, but also to find Joey.

At this point, we really run into spoiler trouble, so we'll end the plot summary there.

As I said, War Horse was clearly made to win Oscars, but I think this worked against the film in two ways. Firstly, it raises expectations to unbelievably high levels, levels that almost no film can hope to achieve. Secondly, the filmmakers were trying way, way too hard to be sentimental. I rolled my eyes on several occasions while watching this movie. Some of these moments came from emotionally manipulative moments, some came from cheesy dialogue, and surprisingly, some came from the heavy-handed score. Rolling your eyes is something that shouldn't happen in a film that earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Granted, for every eye-rolling moment, there are a couple that were genuinely emotionally moving, so overall the film is good in that regard, but not great.

On the other hand, the film is fantastic in its technical accomplishments. Steven Spielberg certainly knows how to create an impressive looking picture and the action scenes are very well done. They have the gravitas and help create an epic story. I just wish the emotional aspect of the movie lived up to the cinematography, the art direction, the directing, etc.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD are limited to a single featurette, War Hourse: The Look. This is a six-and-a-half-minute featurette on the locations, the clothing, the art design.

The two-disc Blu-ray combo pack adds War Horse: The Journey Home and An Extra's Point of View. The former is a 20-minute featurette on the making of the movie, which is mostly some members of the cast and crew talking around a big table. The latter is a three-minute featurette with one of the extras, Martin Dew, that is in the film extensively.

The four-disc Blu-ray combo has all of that and includes A Filmmaking Journey, an hour-long making of featurette. Editing and Scoring is a nine-minute featurette on the editing and the scoring... self-explanatory really. The Sounds of War Horse is a seven-minute featurette on the sound design / mixing, which earned the film two Oscar nods. Finally there's Through the Producer’s Lens, which is about Kathleen Kennedy, who is one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. Arguably the most powerful person who isn't a household name.

Both Blu-ray combo packs have DVDs and Digital Copies.

Looking at the technical specs, this movie is reference material, or damn close to it. The level of details is high, the colors pop, the blacks are deep, there are no compression issues, or technical glitches. The 7.1 audio track is immersive and powerful. There are plenty of ambient sounds, good directional effects, while the bass kicks in, especially in the battle scenes, while the dialogue is always clear.

The DVD costs $18 and the Two-Disc Blu-ray is $25, which is a little too much to pay, considering there are not a lot of additional extras. On the other hand, the Four-Disc Blu-ray is $28 and the second disc does have about an hour and a half of additional extras and along with the technical presentation, it is the best deal.

The Verdict

War Horse is a very good movie, but it is not among the top ten of the year and shouldn't have earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. If you are interested in just renting it, the DVD is a good deal. But if you are interested in buying, then the Four-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack is better than the Two-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack.

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