Search This Blog

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

THAT Horse/War Movie

Greetings in 2012!

Hope you had a lovely holiday season and made some good New Year's Resolutions. One of mine, predictably, is to get my out-of-shape butt onto a horse as often as possible. Twice-monthly lessons are a distinct possibility. Yeah, I know, I will continue to be out of shape with that kind of schedule but that's about all I can manage right now. We'll see!
One of the activities I participated in during my break was going to see War Horse. I went with my husband, my mom and my 16-year-old son. He was especially keen to see the movie since he'd just finished studying WWI in History class. My husband was pretty "meh" about it, but he knew I would need moral support so he consented to go. How did he know? Watching me burst instantly into tears during the trailer we saw before another movie probably did the trick... My mother needed only a little convincing, being a big horse-liker herself. She normally avoids all dog and horse movies or books because they invariably have sad-to-extremely-sad parts (she has never seen/read Marley and Me, for example), but I said this theatrical experience was a must. The tenderhearted teenage daughter flatly refused to have anything to do with it. Weepy period dramas and rom-coms are more her speed, and a movie with shooting and animals in the middle of it sounded way too horrifying.

I actually had been thinking I would not write a post about War Horse because it seems like everyone else is doing so, but I can't help it. This story and movie have made a huge impact on me. I venture to say the same is true for many other horse people. It's not too often that we get a quality movie (arguably) "for us." We did get Secretariat just a couple years ago, of course, so Hollywood is really on a roll! (I have to say "quality movie" because there is always plenty of dreck being put out, like the most recent version of Flicka, or some dumb piece of crap featuring the latest teen heartthrob pretending to know how to ride, usually on a ranch. Disgusting!)

My first exposure to War Horse was when I saw something in the media a couple years ago about the play in London. Puppet horses, that people actually can ride? Huh? I was immediately intrigued. Why didn't someone think of this when I was a kid? I would have killed for a fake horse like that! The article explained that the script for the show was taken directly from a Young Adult book written by someone named Michael Morpurgo. Boom, I was on the library website reserving it. In the meantime I Googled War Horse and among other things, watched a fascinating video about how the play came into being.
The book arrived at my library branch a few days later and I immediately dove in. About two dozen Kleenex later, I was done for. My heart belonged completely to Joey and Albert and I was absolutely champing at the bit - pardon the pun - to see the play. DRAT! Why were plane tickets to England so expensive? The best I could hope for was for the show to be such a hit it would make its way across the pond to Broadway. The opportunity to see it in NYC was not out of the question, since I usually make it home to NJ for a week during the summer.

I don't remember when I found out that War Horse was going to be a movie, directed by Steven Spielberg, no less. Of course I was thrilled. At first I wasn't sure if it would be a film adaptation of the play, or a regular live-action movie but either way, thank goodness someone in Hollywood had the smarts to bring this wonderful and unique tale to the silver screen. I'm sure SS's clout there had more than a little something to do with it. I think he was persuaded to make the movie by his equestrian wife and daughter?

Then came the absolutely amazing coincidences and revelations from my friend Wendy Wooley over at From Racehorse to Showhorse. I was just agog at her her guy Jaguar Hope's connection to Ali Bannister, which resulted in Ali being hired as the Equine Consultant for the movie and an image of Jag appearing on the film crew's hats. How cool was that? I enjoyed telling people about the saga and was delighted that Wendy was wearing her hat when I first met her at the National Horse Show.
The last piece of the puzzle came together when I learned that yes, War Horse was coming to Broadway. Of course I was desperate to see it this past summer, but as it turned out I didn't make it home at all, and the play sold out almost immediately until October. I was stuck waiting for the movie just like everyone else. In the meantime I suffered as several friends back East went to see the play and raved about it. Videos like this only whetted my appetite. Can you believe the level of realism? Even watching that closely it took me a couple minutes to figure out how the horse's head, neck and ears were being manipulated. I still would really like to try riding one of those puppets, too, although I don't get how the "shoulder guy" can bear the weight of the apparatus and the rider. Can't you just see the ad in Variety? "WANTED: Actors who can ride and weigh less than 150 lbs. wanted for puppet show." :-)

As I have mentioned, the War Horse trailer immediately plunged me into a fine state of hysteria. After one viewing I vowed to get up and leave if they showed it before another movie, and I seriously entertained thoughts of not going to see the actual War Horse movie at all. But I decided it simply had to be done, and so off I went on Dec. 26 with various family members in tow.

What did I think? Well, fortunately there was a lot of movie wrapped around the parts that caused the most emotional turmoil, so I didn't run through every tissue I'd packed. And I stayed pretty busy mentally critiquing all the horse action, tack and riding. There was some juxtaposition of the two things as well.* In summary, I have to say that I loved War Horse. My favorite aspect was the way the camera captured the horse's expressions so beautifully. The horse actor who mainly plays Joey, Finder's Key, is a Hollywood veteran, and BOY, is he ever good. I say Finder for the Oscar! Of course it's extra-cool that he is an American OTTB. I have now read many comments about how he must be a WB of some description due to his lovely bone structure, but no, he did race right here in the US. Don't you just wish all our TBs were built so nicely?

The human acting was pretty good as well; I especially enjoyed Emily Watson as Albert's mother. The poor woman, she had the patience of a saint. Today's equivalent of the move her husband pulled would be sending your spouse out to buy a new minivan to haul your three kids and assorted clobber around, and having him come home with a Miata convertible instead because "some rich guy wanted it, too." Argh!

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when the French girl hides Joey and Topthorn. I don't remember if this takes place in the book or not, so I wasn't sure what had happened when the horses conveniently disappeared. But I urgently whispered to my mom, "I bet she pulled a Tempe Wick!" As it turned out, I was absolutely correct. Growing up in NJ, we had significant Revolutionary War locations and homes and battlefields on practically every corner (my home town was founded in the 1600s), and I think I visited most of them. The Tempe Wick story was obviously a huge hit with this horse-crazy youngster and I still remember the day we went to see her house. Click on link at your own risk, if you haven't yet seen the movie, since you will find out what the kid did with the horses!

Yes, a lot of the horse action is just plain silly, but I urge you to suspend your disbelief and simply watch the movie. For me, War Horse is going to be like Secretariat, in that while I did truly enjoy it, I'm sure I will be able to relax and appreciate it for what it is a lot more the second time around. Then I won't be internally (and sometimes externally, I'm sure Hubby got tired of me hissing at him) complaining about all the unrealistic mistakes. I used to think I was the only person watching movies with horses in them who fussed about every detail, but years of blog reading have taught me that there are many others doing the same thing!

Thank you, Michael Morpurgo for a really terrific book that opened my eyes to a horse event about which I knew nothing, namely, their treatment in WWI. And thank YOU, Steven Spielberg, for making this sad, but important story into a beautiful movie.

* WARNING: Spoiler Alert! Stop reading if you haven't seen it yet!
[For example, while I was busy bawling, cringing and shrieking in horror at Joey running through several barbed-wire fences, part of my mind was going, "This is ridiculous. He'd long since be dead - I've seen what one strand of wire can do to a horse, much less multiple fence lines." Also, absolutely impossible that Joey could become entangled to the point of immobilization, stand still for hours without perishing from blood loss, and emerge with only a scratch on his leg. Which the idiot doctor then pronounced as a “fatal wound!” Hah. That looked like it was worth slapping on some Corona and calling it good – no stitches even needed!]


  1. I have not seen it yet. I have a friend who loved it and one who did not citing it to be too violent. May have to wait until it comes out on dvd since we get out to see maybe 1 movie a year!

  2. I couldn't agree more with you! Especially about the barbed wire scene... I was cringing in horror when he hit the first one but by the third wire it had completely changed to skepticism.

    Finder sure is a heck of a horse! I thought the equine acting stole the movie personally. =-)

  3. Julie, I am surprised that your friend found it too violent. Unfortunately, all I can say is that she must lead a pretty sheltered life... War Horse was not NEARLY as violent as many other - not even set during a war! - movies that I have seen. There was little to no blood/gore present (human or animal) and a minimum of shooting. It was more "emotionally violent," is how I would describe it. It's very hard as a horse person to see them treated badly. Hope you'll be able to rent it and see it eventually!

    Jess, I have a feeling Finder's fees have gone up recently (ar, ar). People have been saying there should be an Eclipse Award for Best Equine Actor and he needs to get it!

  4. Love your review. So insightful! I knew it was a novel, but didn't realize it had been a play, too.

  5. Thank you, kshai1715! :-) I am still planning to see the play in NYC. My mother, drat her, is going in a couple weeks... not fair! I'm glad the show is such a success because then it's likely to stick around long enough for me to get there. I have no idea if it might also go on the road. If I do learn it's ever coming to St. Louis I will be on TicketMaster the next instant!


Thank you for your comment!