Sunday, 8 January 2012

War Horse, dir. Steven Spielberg, scr. Richard Curtis, Lee Hall based on War Horse by Michael Morpurgo, st. Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Peter Mullan, David Thewlis, Benedict Cumberbatch

There's a bittersweet acceptance that came with the knowledge Steven Spielberg was going to adapt the National Theatre's acclaimed 2007 production of War Horse for the big screen. Never would such a story be in safer hands, yet the joy of the NT show lay in the very cinematic nature of the production, from John Tams' embedded folk, to Handspring Puppet Company's astonishing equine creations and equally impressive operators. Looking back, the story's shamelessly sentimental story of one boy and his horse set against the backdrop of WWI is of course, classic Spielberg material. Characterisation has been somewhat sacrificed here at the expense of spectacle, obviously, as there were just far too many sequences in the show aching to be expanded upon and enhanced, but it's the beasts themselves that Spielberg thrusts front and centre, magnificently shot by longtime collaborator Janusz Kamiński. Not since John Carpenter's husky from The Thing do I remember seeing such intelligent (and in this case, moving) animal performances. It also comes across as a very British film, from John Williams' channeling of Vaughn Williams and Tallis for his score, to the lush photography of the fecund Dartmoor landscape. Ultimately War Horse ends up being what it was always destined to be in the hands of such an instructive storyteller, a hugely enjoyable fable, lovingly crafted and performed, nothing more, but certainly nothing less.