Thursday, January 5, 2012

War Horse

How long has it been since we had a corny, sentimental, melodramatic, seven-year-old girl, horse movie? Not long enough. Disney's Secretariat came out just a year ago.

I had such high hopes for War Horse because I had heard of its success on Broadway. apparently, the puppet horses caused audiences to "become entranced by the mean of making the spectacle, an absorption that, aided by menacing sound and flashing light, focusses attention on the devastation of war and, contrast, the horsiness of a horse - the rearing, twitching, and nuzzling through which its nobility and affection pour out" (The New Yorker, January 2, 2012). Unfortunately, the film lacks the inventiveness of the stage production, making it a predictable bore.

In its defense, War Horse contains some of the best WWI scenes I've seen on film. They are not necessarily original in form, but they are beautifully filmed. However, the film-makers should have kept in mind the fact that a film about WWI doesn not need to be over-dramatized - the war itself is dramatic enough for a thousand Oscar wins. If one cuts out the long dramatic pauses, melodramatic facial expressions, and unrealistic staging, one can almost make out the bones of a really interesting story. 

There are a few little scenelettes which really capture the humanity of WWI through the experience of a horse. This is a unique perspective through which we haven't heard the story told. I don't think many young people today are aware of the role horses played in WWI; the first modern war the world had seen was conducted with some very old-fashioned methods.

To be honest, I left the theatre feeling angry. The sticky sentimentalism of War Horse made me feel sick. The characters are so shallow, you almost forget they're there - the worrying earth-mother, the drunken father, the clown of a friend (although his final scene is touching), the tragically ill little French girl and her quaint grandfather, the vicious German officer, the bumbling German stable man, the courageously frightened but kindhearted British cavalry officer, the crusty grumpy army doctor who is willing to leave his hundreds of human patients to tend a random horse.... Get the picture? I just wanted to smack my forehead and say "Puh-lease!"

Watching this film was like watching the SNL or French and Saunders spoof ofthis film. I would say it's the type of story kids would like, except I don't know if I'd want my kids to see some of those war scenes, not because they were graphic, but because WWI is just a really psychologically stressful patch of our history. Overall, I feel cheated by this film. I don't want to recommend it to younger audiences but it's of no value to an adult audience - it completely fails to find its place. I will remember certain scenes, specific shots, which appealed to me visually, and I think the story is a good one. But I would not pay to see this movie, now do I ever wish to sit through it ever again.

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