“What kind of an ‘orse is that?” asks an enlisted man watching Joey from the trenches? The answer (as you’ve no doubt heard in previews): “A damn miraculous horse!”
Many potential viewers in the metropolitan area may shy away from this film because they’ve seen—or plan to see—the Tony-award-winning Lincoln Center stage production also based on Morpurgo’s book. I can assure you that while the story is the same, the experience is completely different. The stage production uses large-scale puppets made of wire and manipulated by humans to represent Joey and the other war horses to astonishing, almost frightening effect. This sophisticated, extremely theatrical device effectively draws attention away from the simple story it tells.
Such theatricality would never work on screen as Spielberg understands. In its place, he gives us all the benefits and pleasures of masterful filmmaking—scenery, settings (like the Narracotts’ beautifully rendered stone cottage), John Williams’ typically emotion-charged score, sound, light and action.
Except for Joey’s, the performances, while adequate, won’t garner any Oscars; the performers don’t have much to work with in the way of dialogue, and star that he is, Joey has none at all!
But Best Pictures don’t always rest on best performances by their actors. “War Horse” is a perfect illustration.
“War Horse” opens in wide release on Christmas Day.