War Horse (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 1080p AVC codec Running Time: 146 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English, HR 7.1 French; Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 45.99
Release Date: April 3, 2012
Review Date: March 28, 2012
When Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) spends thirty guineas for a horse to plow his rocky Devon fields, he brings his family to the brink of ruin, but son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) works tirelessly to turn Joey the thoroughbred into an invaluable work horse. But their idyll doesn’t last long as a drenching rain ruins the family’s harvest and Ted must sell Joey to Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) as his cavalry horse for use in World War I. When the officer is killed in the opening battle, Joey and his horse mate Topthorn go through a series of owners, sometimes French, sometimes German, sometimes English as they struggle through four years of war basically as beasts of burden. War finds Albert in the trenches in France, too, but he’s never forgotten the promise to his horse that one day he’d be reunited with him and bring him back home.
Though the nature of the story (adapted for the screen by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis) is episodic once the horse leaves its Dartmore farm, Spielberg manages to sustain audience interest for nearly two and a half hours simply through a startling set of bravura sequences. From Joey’s training for a cavalry charge through the opening battle of the war (startling imagery as horses and riders emerge from a wheat field) where once dominant men on horseback meet the dawn of a new day facing down machine guns, Spielberg makes the most of his virtuoso moments. The No Man’s Land battle sequence easily compares with his opening to Saving Private Ryan, and you’ll never feel more like cheering when Joey, facing down a monstrous German tank after four years of servitude, makes a mad dash for freedom ending in some of the most chilling scenes ever filmed. Along the way, we meet a wonderful array of humanity from a French grandfather (Niels Arestrup) and granddaughter (Celine Buckens) to a German horse handler (Nicolas Bro) who thinks of the horses’ needs before his own. The film’s visual appearance runs the gamut, too. The Devon scenes which bookend the film are painterly in look and tone, reminding one of The Yearling with the strong greens, blues, and oranges. In the climactic World War I scenes, of course, the color is almost completely gone from the image as the damaged earth looks depressingly lifeless and utterly destroyed. These craftily composed scenes add greatly to one’s emotional roller coaster with this movie and virtually assure not a dry eye will be found when the closing credits begin rolling.
There are loads of terrific performances on display. Jeremy Irvine’s determined Albert expresses tremendous emotion through his eyes and body language as his beloved “brother” (his words) is taken from him and miraculously makes a return four years later. Emily Watson as his mother makes a sturdy, believable farm wife for Peter Mullan’s defiant but usually inebriated Ted. Niels Arestrup has some heartbreaking scenes as the grandfather who loses everything due to the war, striving to get Joey back to retain at least a bit of a happier past. Toby Kebbell has some memorable climactic scenes in his rescue of Joey and a friendly bit of jingoistic banter with a German soldier. Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch (as Major Stewart who owns the horse Topthorn who becomes soul mates with Joey), and David Thewlis (as a surly neighbor of the Narracott’s) also make fleeting but effective appearances.
The film’s 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Color saturation and consistency is superb throughout the lengthy narrative (the bright oranges of the final scenes are tremendously striking but never bloom), and flesh tones are wonderfully realistic. Sharpness is usually first-rate except for a few shadowy scenes where the image goes quite milky and indistinct. Black levels are excellent. The film has been divided into 27 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound design is a magnificent achievement. John Williams’ symphonic score is rapturously beautiful and always immersive through the entire soundstage. Ambient sounds, be they slight twitters of birds or the massive artillery of the war scenes, are maximized for optimum impact with system-threatening levels of bass occurring on occasion. Dialogue is always discernible and has been placed in the center channel.
Each of the Blu-ray discs in the set contains bonus material. All featurettes are in 1080p.
Disc one offers “War Horse: The Journey Home” which is divided into two parts. Spielberg and producer Kathleen Kennedy welcome cast members Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, and Toby Kebbell to talk about their experiences making the movie. Then, the pair invite film editor Michael Kahn, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, production designer Rick Carter, writer Lee Hall, and costume designer Joanna Johnston to talk about their involvement in the project. This runs 19 ½ minutes.
“An Extra’s Point of View” introduces us to Martin Dew who was one of about one hundred extras who pretty much played parts throughout the entire shooting of the movie as townspeople and soldiers on both sides of the war. This runs 3 minutes.
Disc Two contains the majority of the bonus material.
“A Filmmaking Journey” is an inclusive behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film from pre-production right through the final drink after the last shot was taken. This 64 ¼-minute feature features original author Michael Morpurgo as well as key production personnel (listed in the above feature), many members of the cast, a look at the locations used for the movie and the eight adult horses and two young horses that played Joey during the shoot.
“Editing and Scoring” features interviews with Oscar-winners Michael Kahn and John Williams at work editing the footage and composing and conducting the score for the movie respectively. This runs 8 ¾ minutes.
“The Sounds of War Horse” allows Oscar-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom 7 ¼ minutes to describe his work on the picture including his quest for various sounds to give Joey a distinctive voice.
“Through the Producer’s Lens” offers a short featurette showing some of producer Kathleen Kennedy’s still photos shot during the film’s production. This lasts 4 minutes.
The third disc in the set is the DVD copy of the movie.
The fourth disc in the set is the digital copy of the movie.
4.5/5 (not an average)
An exceptional movie that combines a triumphant story of overpowering will and love against the backdrop of one of the ugliest wars ever fought, War Horse is a memorable and heartwarming saga that will pull you along willingly through a series of unforgettable adventures. This Blu-ray release offers reference audio and brilliant video quality and a generous array of bonus features to deepen the film experience. Highly recommended!